Watching Tuesday's twists and turns in the Democratic presidential nomination contest reminds one of a prize fight where, in the midst of the 15th and final round, all of a sudden one of the candidates lands a knock-out punch. In this political race, of course, it was Barack Obama throwing the punch, but he must campaign on knowing his was only a technical knock-out over Hillary Clinton.
And no one knows technicalities better than the Clintons.
Obama has -- technically -- won enough delegates to claim the nomination, but Clinton has staggered up off the mat -- again -- claiming she has enough of what it takes to carry on the fight.
Is she punch drunk?
By every practical measurement, the race is (and has been) over, but technically, Obama is not the nominee until the delegates gather in Denver in August and actually cast their votes. Clinton staggers on, hanging onto this nano-thread of justification.
So, as newly-minted presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama turns his gun sights on the general election and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, it is appropriate for the rest of us to stop and take a brief look back at this epic Democratic battle.
In hindsight, I think the Clinton campaign was really over the day once-vaunted Clinton advisor Mark Penn wrote his "inevitability" memo. Running with that theme, Hillary herself told several news outlets last fall, months before the first ballots were cast, that she was so sure she was going to win the nomination that she had never -- never -- even considered a world where she would not.
But that world soon delivered her a shocking double-fisted wake-up call that she and her advisors should both have been able to anticipate. First, Iowans let her know they do not like to be told who they are going to vote for. Second, 68% of Iowa Democrats told us they were angry with the political system, in part as demonstrated by such arrogance as was exhibited by Clinton's self-claim of "inevitability." While there were victories and votes along the way, Clinton could not represent the change that, ultimately, voters wanted. She didn't realize -- or refused to believe -- what the nation had long been telling me and other pollsters: that Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton just was not going to work.
The Clintons are prototypical Baby Boomers -- committed to ideals of peace and justice but overwhelmed with themselves. They (we, because I was born in 1948) are consumed with being the center of attention, the bride and groom at every wedding, so much so, that the ends don't simply justify the means, they are one and the same. Getting elected is the game, the final goal, the definition of self-worth. In his recent book, former White House spokesman Scott McClellan decried the mentality of "the permanent campaign" that he said permeated the White House of George W. Bush (the other Boomer president), which in some respects mirrors the Clinton behavior.
Sad to say, Bill Clinton became best known for the hallmarks of Boomerism -- self-centeredness and permanent adolescence -- as exhibited by the Lewinsky affair and all the other, lesser controversies and scandals.
The obsessions and legacy of the Clintons led to what the American voters thought was their antidote -- the election of Bush, the boy who woke up and discovered he was president. Of course, they were wrong.
Bush's exemplification of permanent adolescence could be seen almost immediately. The big new story out of the White House in early 2001 was his penchant to award everyone with childish nicknames, but there were other indications. Then, discussing the threat of Iraq in 2002, Bush said "After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad."
We soon discovered that loyalty and clubbishness trumped experience and judgment, and an inability to admit mistakes destroyed credibility around the globe and three decades of Republican prestige in handling foreign policy. All the credit that the GOP earned through Richard Nixon's efforts with China and Ronald Reagan's tactics to successfully unravel the Soviet Union from within has been lost by the inflexible, inward-looking approach in dealing with Iraq and, now, Iran.
After 16 years, Americans have finally declared, state by state, caucus by caucus, primary by primary, that they have had enough of the Boomer generation in the White House.
In the final analysis, Hillary Clinton is smart, charming -- and the wrong person for the times. Voters have moved beyond Boomerism. Now, Americans will choose between an older version of duty, honor, glory, and a return to the American Century vs. a new vision of global pluralism, diversity, change, and youthful vigor.
Is Boomer Power gone forever? It is impossible right now to say one way or the other, but one thing we do know is that it has, at least, suffered a serious setback.
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