Monday, December 3, 2007

Oprah's Rewriting Every Line for Clinton-Obama Race

This post is a follow up to my last entry, "Going Down? Hillary Clinton on the Defense in Iowa." In that essay I noted how Barack Obama has closed the gap in Iowa, and his momentum is threatening Hillary's inevitability.

For a great follow-up, check out Dan Gerstein at the Wall Street Journal, who argues that Clinton's sorry response to Oprah Winfrey's Obama endorsement tops the recent implosion of the Clinton juggernaut:

It's tempting to write off the celebrity-endorsement bout between the Obama and Clinton campaigns - with Oprah Winfrey in Barack Obama's corner and Barbra Streisand in Hillary Clinton's--as just another episode of the Democratic Party's long-running series of superstar superficiality.

But there's actually a meaningful and telling metaphor wrapped up in this fleeting game of dueling divas, one that helps explain why Sen. Obama's much-hyped yet largely unfulfilling candidacy is finally breaking through, and why the Clinton juggernaut appears (at least for the moment) to be breaking down.

Indeed, after spending much of this year struggling to escape the experience box that the Clinton campaign had so adroitly stuffed him into, Sen. Obama could not have asked for a better, more striking contrast of surrogate symbols to draw out his major differences with the front-runner, and to drive home his increasingly trenchant argument that Mrs. Clinton is the candidate of the status quo.

Let's start with the "O-factor." Oprah is the Swiss Army knife of political validators, a spectacularly accomplished black woman who is admired by Americans across every demographic, and would thus be a boon to any candidate. But her particular potency for Sen. Obama in this contest is not her race or gender or even the sum of her many parts, but what she is perceived to be lacking--a political agenda.

More than anything, Oprah is a uniquely transcendent figure in our public life: engaged in serious debates and willing to put her money where her mouth is, yet unsullied by the ugly political and culture wars of the past two decades, and independent in her thinking and affiliations. In this, she personifies the new post-Bush, post-partisan, post-boomer politics Sen. Obama is preaching. She is the way we want things to be (at least those of us outside the narrow margins of the ideological extremes): genuine, unifying, trustworthy, aspirational.
Read the whole thing. Gerstein's play on the lyrics to "The Way We Were" is a riot! What's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget, right?

Here's Gerstein:

So how did the Clinton campaign respond to the news that Oprah would be stumping for Sen. Obama this coming weekend? Instead of sticking to their core message, and showing the confidence of a true front-runner, they fell into the tit-for-tat trap of countering with the endorsement of the polarizing, '60s-studded Streisand - in essence, the anti-Oprah. In doing so, the Clinton camp did not just fail to blunt or dilute the O-factor, they managed to accentuate it by unwittingly suggesting Mrs. Clinton stands for--like the Streisand anthem--the way we were.

To many Democrats, that brings back broadly positive feelings of peace and prosperity. But for hard-core activists, that could also mean the misty, waffle-colored memories of triangulation, corporate friendliness and job-killing trade pacts (among other liberal gripes about Bill Clinton). And for less partisan primary voters, it could be the scattered pictures of equivocation, Whitewater, Lewinsky, and a continuation of the petty, divisive politics that have come to define the Bush-Clinton years for voters across the political spectrum.

Oh was all so simple then! If we had the chance to do it all again...would we? could we?

You gotta love it!