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Fight or Unite?
When Obama talks about change, what he doesn't say is that Democrats have been arguing among themselves for years about how to achieve it in a pitiless political culture war or diplomacy, fight or unite? When he talks healing, his crowds go wild; when Clinton talks about fighting, hers do. Her advantage is that the party has its own military-industrial complex: the union bosses and activists and local pols who are well practiced at the art of war and have the scars to show for attempts at compromise. In lining up behind Clinton, they were placing their bets on the likeliest winner, the brand name with the long memory, and the candidate most likely to give their conservative foes apoplectic fits.
New Hampshire was especially Clinton country, full of veterans of battles at her side going back to the day 16 years ago when together they helped breathe life into Bill Clinton's presidential ambitions. All weary and wise, all steeped in the hard work of small steps, they had no time for the airy (they said empty) hope Obama was peddling; it was as if it diminished everything they'd fought for so long, the way he made it sound easy, as though if only we were more polite to one another, all our problems would just sort themselves out.
It's an awfully handy thing for a candidate running on a promise to change the system to show he could actually do it. That, after all, is what Iowa caucuses are for little sealed rooms with lots of measuring instruments in them so you can see if your hypotheses hold true. By any standard measure, Clinton's calculations worked: she built the organization, spent the money, put up huge numbers in Iowa. In any other year, it would have been more than enough to win. And Obama, he was supposed to be all style and no substance, the Howard Dean of 2008, whose base was a bunch of college kids who showed up to his rallies but wouldn't make it to the perpetually confusing caucuses.
But a funny thing happened on caucus day. Those college and even high school kids showed up at their precincts; there were three times as many young voters at the caucuses as in 2004, and more than half of them caucused for Obama. In a shock to the Clinton campaign, which had counted on turning out high numbers of women voters, Obama captured more female supporters than his rivals. Both Clinton and John Edwards, who edged past her into second place, played the game by its normal rules and played it exceedingly well. But Obama changed the game. Just as he had promised.