Throughout this campaign, the issues of most concern to the blogosphere have not been the issues of most concern to the national media. When we obsessed about residual forces, they ignored it for months. When we obsessed about blank check Iraq funding, that never really became an issue in the campaign. When we worried about FISA, that never appeared pretty much anywhere else. When we talked about partisanship, that was never picked up anywhere else either.
This all works in reverse, too. Many prominent bloggers said they favored Edwards toward the end of the campaign, and a similar pro-Edwards trend was found in blogosphere straw polls. Three weeks ago, Edwards and Obama were essentially tied in terms of support on Daily Kos, but things broke heavily for Edwards at the end. The main reason, as far as I can tell, was because many of us in the blogosphere finally decided that we liked the anti-corporate rhetoric coming from Edwards, and didn't like the occasional right-wing talking point coming from Obama. While that might be how we made our decision, it certainly wasn't how voters in Iowa made their decisions. This wasn't about unity or bi-partisanship. Every candidate promised to be bi-partisan. Clinton ran ads to that effect. Edwards promised to put Republicans in his cabinet.
Toward the end, many voters broke for Edwards. However, more voters broke for Obama, specifically new and young voters. Tonight, Obama won because he did something many campaigns have claimed they would do in the past, but never until now had never actually accomplished: he turned out young voters and new voters in record-smashing numbers. This has long been the holy grail of progressive politics, and until now no one had been able to pull it off. Well, Obama pulled it off. That is a remarkable an historic accomplishment. That is why he won.
The notion that the youth that put Obama over the top is somehow hell-bent on bi-partisanship is about as misguided as the idea that FISA would have an impact in the Presidential campaign (while FISA should have had an impact, it just wasn't going to happen). Young voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, as voters under 30 broke 60%--38% for Democrats in 2006. The youth of America isn't navigating a path between the two parties, they are overwhelmingly siding with one party. What they want is change and youth within the party, not an older generation's status quo. They want a change in America, and a change in the Democratic Party.
I think Obama, simply in terms of his demeanor and his biography, strongly appeals to politicos from a new generation and a new socioeconomic class because he strikes them in some sort of gut, intuitive level as being from that class. Multi-ethnic, post-Vietnam, highly educated, raised in a major urban center--these are many of the cosmopolitan, self-creating, forward looking aspects of life for many younger professionals. As much as we may or may not like Bill Clinton, coming from a little town in Arkansas is not a story many Americans can relate to anymore, because we just didn't grow up that way. Even John Edwards's story of growing up in a mill town when the mill closed seems very, very rustic for a northeasterner such as myself, since our mills closed down sixty years ago to move to places like North Carolina. These rustic visions of America simply are not where people are at these days, especially news junkies and activists within the Democratic Party and the bluer parts of America. Those people instead look to places like Harlem, where Bill Clinton now keeps his offices. People moving into the gentrifying areas of Harlem probably like Barack Obama quite a bit, and probably feel some sort of gut-level, identity-based connection with him that they can't even quite put their finger on at this point.
I can't quite put my finger on it either, but the rise of Obama, I believe, is largely based on a new vision of personal identity that will inevitably come to impact our national political discourse. Whether or not his speeches and policy ideas continue to live up to that identity remains to be seen, but it does give him an edge on the rest of older, predominately Baby Boomer field that, generally speaking, will not trumpet their urban or multi-ethnic roots. If he can continue to tap into this new identity and socio-economic wave, his campaign will be difficult to defeat, especially if it is combined with strong African-American support. A coalition of African-Americans and the professional, creative class (both within the netroots and the party establishment), would be a devastating coalition in a Democratic primary that I am not sure anyone could defeat.
Everything since that time has simply backed-up my gut feeling from thirteen months ago. Obama attracts his support predominantly from younger voters, well-educated voters, urban voters, non-Christian voters, and African-American voters. These demographics are disproportionately grouped into the generations that have followed the Baby Boomers. Even leaving his rhetoric aside, the simply fact is that Obama represents those voters from a demographic and cultural perspective that no other candidate can match. Tonight, he won because he turned those voters out in record numbers. Pundits scoffed at such high turnout projections, probably because they had seen every previous such claim from a campaign fall flat. Well, tonight Obama succeeded where all other campaigns have failed in the past.
Congratulations to Barack Obama and his supporters. This is a historic victory for change. John Edwards should also be proud that despite facing a massive deficit in spending and media coverage, he still managed to finish ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa. That is a testament to the strength of a populist, progressive message. Tonight, we saw a new generation take charge in the Democratic Party, and a populist, progressive message perform very strongly. This isn't exactly the result I hoped for, but I'm still pretty happy.