I can’t really explain why the following passage stuck in my mind from Frank Richs’ column in the New York Times yesterday. Something about it just caught my attention and has been hanging on in the background ever since. Speaking of the winners of the Iowa caucuses:
The two men are the youngest candidates in the entire field, the least angry and the least inclined to seek votes by saturation-bombing us with the post-9/11 arsenal of fear. They both radiate the kind of wit and joy (and, yes, hope) that can come only with self-confidence and a comfort in their own skins. They don’t run from Americans who are not in their club. Mr. Obama had no problem winning over a conclave of white Christian conservatives at Rick Warren’s megachurch in Orange County, Calif., even though he insisted on the necessity of condoms in fighting AIDS. Unlike the top-tier candidates in the G.O.P. presidential race, or the “compassionate conservative” president who refused for years to meet with the N.A.A.C.P., Mr. Huckabee showed up last fall for the PBS debate at the historically black Morgan State University and aced it.
The “they” who did not see the cultural power of these men, of course, includes not just the insular establishments of both their parties but the equally cloistered echo chamber of our political journalism’s status quo. It would take a whole column to list all the much-repeated Beltway story lines that collapsed on Thursday night.
One thing that struck me was the admission that the established leaders of the parties and the professionals of political journalism can’t grasp what is happening in this year’s primaries. The second thing was the comment that these are the two youngest candidates. I had known that Obama was the youngest candidate, but I had never really considered the age of Huckabee. Back before Huckabee was a top candidate I noticed in my study of the candidates that Mitt Romney was the youngest of the major Republican candidates and he was a couple of months older than Hillary who was the oldest of the major Democratic candidates. That was an interesting split between the two parties in my mind.
Looking into the ages now I find that Huckabee is two years younger than the next youngest candidate (John Edwards) and only 6 years older than Obama. I wonder if part of this is more than just the rhetoric of change, but the evidence that the electorate is ready to pass the reins of leadership over to a younger generation. If Huckabee goes on to get the Republican nomination there is only one viable Democrat left who could represent the Baby Boom generation in the general election – that would be Hillary Clinton (unless by some miracle Rill Richardson can leap from 4th place to 1st among the Democrats).