Within the Machine Beats a Human Heart

The New Hampshire woman whose question caused Hillary Clinton to tear up and open up, the person who may have helped Clinton win in New Hampshire and avert a likely fatal blow to her candidacy, voted instead for Barack Obama. Maybe the tender moment didn't go over well with the questioner, or perhaps it was trumped by the excitement and hope of Obama's candidacy. But the anecdote begs the central question: In 2008, will the hearts or heads of the Democratic Party decide the Democratic nomination?
 
Clinton is now campaigning for both — not to be outdone by another gifted politician like her husband, she intends to snuggle with the media, pour on the emotion and “humanize” herself, to use the buzzword her own people employed when speaking of her wet-eyed, voice-quavering episode. In her latest online mailing, delivered the morning after a stunning victory shocked even her, Clinton wrote (or someone on her payroll did), “in the days ahead you and I have to keep speaking from the heart. We have to keep listening and learning, always understanding that this campaign is about high aspirations for America and hard work.”
 
Some General Foods International Coffee moments are on the way. Consider yourselves warned.
 
Clinton's comeback in New Hampshire was staggering but also substantial. She won for the “right” reasons: She drew contrasts between her and her rivals’ records, she tapped the establishment she and her husband had befriended 15 years ago, she organized well on the ground. And of course, she completely changed her pitch in the eleventh hour. Throw in some sympathy and you get women turning out in force; what more would you need to produce a 3 percentage point gap?

Obama had the crushing crowds. He had made history in Iowa. And he, of course, had those poll numbers that turned out to be nothing but hope. But hope continues to fuel the Obama campaign as it heads to large states with less homogenous populations than New Hampshire and Iowa. His inspired supporters are undaunted, fired up and ready to go. After losing to Clinton in the unprecedented upset Tuesday night, Obama raised $500,000 between midnight and the following afternoon.
 
As Hillary recreates herself, rapidly, we will see less of Bill. And those silver-haired ’90s stalwarts in the Clinton camp, Cabinet secretaries and generals, will be seen or heard only on cable television, but never on stage. When she appears from now on, Hillary will likely stand alone, flexing those “experience” muscles ever so subtly, talking up change with young people in the front row and borrowing even more language from Obama to always refer to “we” and “you” and “us.”
 
She will be speaking from the heart, all right, while she targets Obama's lack of readiness, lack of specifics and lack of experience. It will be a challenge to blend both — the softer side of political vanquishing — but something tells me Hillary can pull it off. It is said the Clintons never make the same mistake twice. They failed completely to see Obama's movement coming, but they are coming after him now like never before.
 
Democrats have a choice to make, a difficult one. Will muscular, operational politics win out over the politics of transcendence and aspiration? Can a machine beat a movement? Who is the better choice? The better president?
 
Clinton's victory brought the party to earth, reminding everyone that her message about the economy, healthcare and national security offers stability and comfort to so many voters throughout the party, even to those who don't like her much. She remains that safe choice voters aren't likely to regret choosing later on, and while that may not make her the appealing candidate, it makes her the powerful one and maybe even the right one. Choosing Obama would feel better. Choosing Clinton might feel like eating vegetables. But they are good for you.