I have been watching the Democratic presidential primaries from afar. Though I earlier said I would support the institutional candidates, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, if pressed, I ultimately decided that whoever won the Democratic primaries deserved to win, and whoever eventually lost deserved to lose.
At the moment, the loser is Hillary Clinton. And it's not just because of Obama's pretty words -- it's because her campaign looks like John Kerry's in 2004. Bill Clinton is Tereza Heinz Kerry, the tempestuous spouse. Campaign Manager Mark Penn is a combination of Mary Beth Cahill and Bob Shrum, the clueless Beltway insiders. And when challenged, Hillary the candidate is either too silent or too wonky -- Kerry in a nutshell. There's a great list of reasons for Hillary's losses here.
But what of Obama? As I wrote earlier, Americans believe in recurring motifs in their history. Or rather, American politicians believe in using myths about their predecessors to create the 'rendezvous with history' meme that is essential to any campaign. This does not happen in Estonia, though on occasion President Ilves' continental bowtie reminds me of Jaan Tõnisson's gentlemanly top hat.
But in America, the 'torch is passed' concept is central. Clinton resurrected Franklin Delano Roosevelt; George W. Bush preferred his cousin Teddy. Reagan, in a truly old school move, had Calvin Coolidge's portrait hung in his office. You see, as a person born in 1911, Reagan could actually remember Coolidge.
For Republicans, Reagan himself has become the new motif. Every Republican candidate must appear 'Reaganesque' to win the nomination. John McCain is 'Reaganesque' because he is old and he was endorsed by Sylvestor Stallone, whose series of Rambo and Rocky films in the 1980s pit the rugged American protagonist against commies and terrorists, the arch enemies of freedom.
For Democrats though, it's more difficult. Clinton brings to mind a stained dress, Carter the Iran hostage crisis, and Johnson the Vietnam body count. Democrats have to go all the way back to John Fitzegerald Kennedy to resurrect their 'rendezvous with [partisan] history.' Even DNC Chairman Howard Dean has been parading Harry Truman around in an effort to reconnect the Democratic Party to its elected forebears.
And so, for Obama, it is Kennedy, the youthful, exuberant, and short-lived American president who has been summoned for the purposes of presidential myth making. It was, after all, the powerful endorsement of both Sen. Edward Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, which finally gave Obama the veneer of establishment credibility.
But is Obama really a sunny and optimistic Kennedy? Or is he more a fire and brimstone Lincoln? Either way, there's some powerful myth making in the works as we speak and it could result in the eventual naming of new international airports and highways. Goodbye Honolulu International Airport, hello Barack H. Obama International Airport? An Obama victory might even result in the issuance some new currency, just so Americans can pay for goods with the audacity of hope. The wheels of American history are turning again. Stay tuned.