The warrior and the priest

A leading argument among Obama skeptics is his weak showing versus Clinton among blue-collar voters. The op-ed notes that presidential candidates often fall into one of two camps, warriors and priests.

In modern times, the Democratic presidential race has usually pitted a warrior against a priest.

Warrior candidates stress their ability to deliver on kitchen table concerns and revel in political combat. They tout their experience and flout their scars. Their greatest strength is usually persistence, not eloquence; they don't so much inspire as reassure. Think of Harry Truman in 1948, Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and, in a somewhat more diluted fashion, Walter Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004.

The priests, whose lineage runs back through McCarthy to Adlai Stevenson, present a very different face. They write books and sometimes verse. They observe the campaign's hurly-burly through a filter of cool, witty detachment. Their campaigns become crusades, fueled as much by inchoate longing for a "new politics" as tangible demands for new policies. In the past quarter of a century, Hart, Bradley and the late neo-liberal Paul Tsongas in 1992 each embodied the priest in Democratic presidential politics.

Some candidates transcend these divisions. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was a warrior who quoted Aeschylus. Bill Clinton blended a warrior's resiliency with a priest's promise of transformative ("third way") politics. But most Democratic candidates fall clearly on one or the other side of this divide.

Hillary Clinton has firmly positioned herself as a warrior. She wowed the firefighters' convention not through eloquence but passionate declarations of shared commitments. "You were there when we needed you, and I want you to know I will be there when you need me," she insisted. Her campaign already views non-college voters, especially women, as the foundation of her coalition. Her stump speech, centered on a promise to represent "invisible" Americans, targets the economic anxieties of blue-collar families.

Obama's aides resist the collar, but in the early stages, he looks more like a priest. He's written two bestselling books. Like McCarthy, Hart and Howard Dean, he's ignited a brush fire on college campuses. His initial message revolves heavily around eloquent but somewhat amorphous promises of reform and civic renewal. He laments "the smallness of our politics … where power is always trumping principle."

Intrade prediction markets as of today have Clinton at 48.5% of being the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nominee. Obama's odds took a big hit today, dropping 4.6% to 25.2%. Meanwhile, Giuliani is at 40.6% and McCain is down to 23.4%, having lost a ton of ground to Giuliani during 2007.

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