Saturday, January 12, 2008

EDITORIAL>>Vote bashes big media

Election nights are refreshing even when they are personally disappointing because they keep reassuring us about who ultimately is in charge. It is not the cacophonous media but the voters.

Until election night we are never sure. The media — and we mean all of it from the big round-the-clock news networks, the nattering commentators, pollsters and analysts, the bloggers and the well-financed independent groups that spoil for a piece of the fight — seem to take over the election process exponentially every season. It is one reason that the polls show that most Americans are already worn out on the 2008 presidential race and it has barely begun.

The people of New Hampshire nevertheless went to the polls Tuesday in record numbers and gave the media a collective raspberry. Republicans picked John McCain, who was long ago written off because he wouldn’t patronize the party’s right-wing cliques and told everyone in the party what they didn’t want to hear. They picked him over slick Mitt Romney and the Republican flavor-of-the-month, Mike Huckabee, who netted only 11 percent of the GOP vote.

But Democrats and independents gave the chattering class the biggest Bronx cheer by handing Sen. Hillary Clinton an impressive plurality. It may have been a very purposeful rebuff. Women voters who had found appeal in Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, returned to Clinton in astounding numbers, perhaps because they resented the harsh treatment of a sister who dared to run for president.

The big-media bias against Clinton was never so evident as in the week between Obama’s Iowa victory and the New Hampshire primary. The announcers and commentators on Fox, CNN and MSNBC and the big-city papers trumpeted polls showing Obama climbing to a double-digit lead in New Hampshire. There was a celebratory mood. A Washington paper announced on its front page, “The fall of the House of Clinton.”

Rush Limbaugh, who has savaged Clinton relentlessly for years, expressed amazement this week that the “mainstream media” like the networks and The New York Times had kicked her around worse than he had.

There was the “crying” incident, where her eyes glistened and she had a catch in her voice while answering a question from an Obama supporter at a town-hall meeting. It was the biggest single event of the season and the most thoroughly analyzed, along with that hearty belly laugh back in the fall.

Was it contrived? Or were the moist eyes genuine, in which case was she too weak to lead the nation in time of crisis (the judgment, by the way, of the woman who asked the question)? Mitt Romney’s frequent emotional moments when he finds it hard to go on do not merit the same attention.

(We would note that strong presidents have been known to cry. Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation in the time of its greatest peril, cried inconsolably at times, most poignantly when word came that relatives of his wife who were fighting for the Confederacy had been killed and again when he learned that a mother had lost all her sons in combat for the Union. He sat down and wrote her one of the most moving letters ever written. You will never detect a tear in the eye of George W. Bush. No pantywaist, this president.)

Inside of two weeks, the Republican field has turned upside down. The celebrated front-runners — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson — are suddenly at the bottom and the front-runners are McCain and the biggest long shot in 50 years, Mike Huckabee.

Lots of Republicans have decided that there are worse things than apostasy (i.e., immigration, taxes and election-spending reform) if it is accompanied by sober frankness. So for the moment McCain is in remission. And they like a guy with a beautiful smile who says he is just like them, that is, an ordinary person.
That is Mike Huckabee.

New Englanders did not care much for Huckabee’s religious opportunism, but his appeal has spread beyond the conservative evangelicals and fair-taxers who organized his victory in Iowa. He is easily the coolest candidate of either party on television, now widely compared to Ronald Reagan.

He compares in another way to Reagan, the Teflon president. Nothing his opponents and critics belatedly throw at Huckabee sticks: the Wayne DuMond scandal, his frequent tax increases, spending frenzy and government largesse, the softheartedness for aliens, or his insatiable hunger for loot when he was governor.

Huckabee will get a big boost, if not outright victories, the next two weeks from South Carolina and Michigan. He understands and compels the media better than does any of its denizens. And it turns out that everyone was wrong. He doesn’t need money to win. He suddenly has the best name recognition of the GOP candidates.

The only person who can stop Mike Huckabee before the nomination is Mike Huckabee. But we remember that the bad Huckabee can be formidable.