I’m certainly not in the habit of citing Frank Rich with approval, but there is much to consider in this recent piece of his. And his central thesis--that the appeal of both Obama and Huck can be traced to the degree to which both men seem to be an "anti-Bush" when it comes to Iraq--is probably not as off target as I wish it were. On the other hand, if it were really true that dissimilarity between them and Bush accounts for their popularity, it would seem that Ron Paul’s numbers ought to be higher than they are. So I think Rich may be only half (or three quarters) right about that. Much of Obama’s popularity stems from his desire to pull up stakes and come home from Iraq. It is far from clear, however, that this has much to do with Huckabee’s appeal. For one thing, Huck hasn’t indicated support for a policy like that and, indeed, when he talks about Iraq seems to be pretty supportive of the endeavor. Rich hangs too much on Huckabee’s comment about Bush’s "bunker mentality" in Foreign Affairs--though I do agree (now) that it was shrewd of Huck not to back away from it and apologize (even if, as a matter of right, he ought to have done).
I also think this business of explaining Huck and Obama’s appeal as a reaction against the Bush/Clinton era is more than a bit over-stated by almost every commentator who cites it. It’s less that, I think, than a simple generational shift and a desire for youthful energy in politics. It need not come from an actual youth . . . though I think it helps. It is, as I stated in an earlier post, a longing to be included in something great about America. We want to be given a reason to love our country and to feel as though we can work toward making her even more lovable. This is more of a mood than an opinion, I realize. It is also directed less at Bush/Clinton than at the broad-based boredom we’re all developing with baby-boomer self-absorption. This does not mean that we’re likely to reject self-absorption in a general or a noble way . . . our fascination with self-absorbed people is probably just getting a makeover in the personalities and glittering generalities of Huck and Obama. We also like folks like Bono, George Clooney and such. We like Oprah better than Jerry Springer because she’s "doing something important" with her show. If we liked Bill Clinton because he made us feel comfortable with our vices, maybe we like Huck and Obama because they make us feel comfortable with our self-righteousness.
Also see this report out of Iowa and note Obama’s comment, "You’re the wave and I’m riding it" . . . so much could be said about that. It’s even more generous to history, in a way, than Woodrow Wilson’s suggestion of a river-boat pilot. And it’s also more hip . . . Obama as a surfer-dude? But seriously, the appeal stems from his flattery of the people and the suggestion that he will facilitate their doing something important. He’s their ticket to greatness. If he keeps this up, I don’t see how Clinton can recover.