Having been in the US for more than a week in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, I’ve been keeping more than one eye on the campaign.
On the Democratic side, it is clearly becoming a two-and-a-half horse contest, with John Edwards likely to hang on in the hope of becoming the Vice-Presidential nominee – it worked last time so why not this?
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has weaved a rather crooked path thus far. She has talked up her involvement in foreign affairs, and talked about her experience, as opposed to that of Barack Obama. There is a clear problem here, in that the Clinton administration denied that Hillary was playing a key role in foreign policy making at the time, and her claims merely remind people that they weren’t keen on such involvement on her point at the time.
Unfortunately, the Obama message - change - has proved to be very attractive, so Hillary has begun to claim that only she can deliver change. Unfortunately, the people running her campaign are exactly the same people who were running things during Bill’s presidency. Can they actually change things, or would they run things the same way as before? The latter seems more likely, especially if you have traded on their experience previously.
So now, it is time to attack Obama for promising more than he can deliver. John F Kennedy would weep to hear such an argument, and the concept that giving people hope should be a negative one, for me, says far too much about the ambitions of a Hillary Clinton presidency. So far, hope has been triumphant, and with rough parity in terms of resources, Hillary is going to have to work awfully hard to save this.
Her big advantage is that the Party leadership is broadly supportive, although there is always the risk that supposedly loyal allies will peel off if they believe that Obama can win.
So, why does Barack Obama appear so credible? He is, I must say, a pretty inspirational speaker. He name checks the key figures, the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., and he talks of hope whilst looking serious. He can smile, and does it often enough to appear likeable. He also looks like a leader and a visionary, and appears to understand just how unpopular America appears to the outside observer – although that’s an interesting point in itself.
He is convincing in terms of building a ‘big tent’, rather than a ‘rainbow coalition’, the latter being something which has been a dream of the Democratic Party leadership for so long without ever becoming a reality. On the other hand, building a coalition from across the political spectrum can, if done sincerely, win elections and allow meaningful action.
I hope that Obama can win the nomination, even though he will find it harder to win the Presidency than other potential Democratic nominees might. The notion that we might have an American president with whom we can share common values is one that we should relish, especially if we are serious about changing the world by example rather than diktat.