Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sucking Inveitability Out Of The Aura

It was bound to happen, and so it has.

It didn't occur in one single day. It's never tidy like that. In this case, it took about three weeks or so.

But like a balloon that slowly loses air after time, temperature and other natural elements, the aura of Hillary Clinton's Democratic presidential nomination is losing its inevitability.

You don't have to trust me, but it's hard to argue with the Gods at Google. Type "aura of inevitability" into the search engine and 9 of the first 10 entries feature Clinton. The story lines are no longer flattering.

The start of this turning point is easy to target. Her convoluted answer at the Oct 30th Democratic debate on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants was a misstep. And it was enough to awaken a restless political press corps. If she is in fact beaten by a young, idealistic African American from Illinois, it will be this moment historians point to for decades to come.

And then they will turn to the polls --- often, so unreliable in tricky, fickle Iowa --- but the only thing we have to tell the temperature of the water at a given point and time.

A late November poll puts Obama ahead in Iowa. It's within the margin of error, but the smartest of the herd know it's the perception that counts. Obama is up and moving. Clinton is down. (Has she (gulp?) hit her ceiling?) He's more honest and trustworthy. He's more able to cultivate change. So say the likely-caucus goers in the Hawkeye State who have unchecked power in the nominating process of our presidents.

Suddenly, a usually formidable 14-point lead in New Hampshire is terribly shaky.

Because Iowa will change everything immediately. Voters don't make these decisions by themselves. It's almost as they take other people's judgements into the voting booth with them. If Iowa says Hillary isn't acceptable or electable, a voter in New Hampshire doesn't want to get caught on the wrong side of the argument -- on the wrong side of change . . . or progress . . . Any real liberal couldn't sleep with himself at night.

So the storyline has changed. Because it had to. It's easy to blame the journalists for making it so. And the evidence is everywhere to back it up.

Hillary is beginning to pile on. Every pundit reads that as running scared.

Meanwhile, her chief rival is smiling, at ease. Throwing jabs back, but playfully. That means he's confident.

Rick Klein at ABC writes, "About that inevitability thing . . . just kidding."

But to be fair, making this a contest is helpful to the process and ultimately, the voters. The more these candidates are forced to engage, the better battled-tested they will become, and the better we are served.

The "regular people" out there complain this process is too long, too superficial, too overly hyped. But the truth is -- in its tawdry, complicated, imperfect way -- it works.

If Clinton is to be the nominee, or our next president, she's needs a watershed moment. A gut check. She needs to be tested, knocked down, challenged. Vulnerable.

It's a tad ironic that speaking on a slightly different topic today, Rudy Giuliani may have said it best.

"I think one of the things we need from people running for office is -- not this pretense of perfection. And the reality is all of us who run for office . . . we're all human beings. If we haven't made mistakes, don't vote for us. Because we've got some big ones that are going to happen in the future, and we won't know how to handle them."

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