WASHINGTON -- Nevada's caucuses turned a simmering subtext of the Democratic presidential nomination contest into a dominant narrative. South Carolina winnowed out a Republican candidate, whether Mike Huckabee knows it or not, and the candidate who counted on being winnowed in there, Fred Thompson, wasn't.
Speaking in the sunshine after her Nevada victory, Hillary Clinton said there were many people to thank but mentioned only one: Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles' Hispanic mayor. Her 64 percent of Nevada's Hispanic vote produced her victory. Although the culinary workers union had endorsed Barack Obama, many of its workers are Hispanic and went their own way.
The 22 Democratic primaries and caucuses of Feb. 5 occur in many states with huge Hispanic populations (e.g., California, New York, New Jersey, Obama's Illinois), so for Obama's campaign, the suddenly pressing question is: Will America's largest minority, Hispanics, support a candidate from the second-largest minority, African-Americans?
Also, Obama seems flummoxed by the Clintons' Clintonness. When he committed the gaffe (defined as the utterance of a truth in conditions inhospitable to that fugitive virtue) of saying that for many years the Republicans were "the party of ideas," he was merely repeating something said decades ago by an exemplary Democrat, the senator whose seat Clinton fills -- well, occupies: Pat Moynihan.
Clinton promptly resorted to the sort of bilge that the adjective "Clintonian" was created to denote. She said she did not think privatizing Social Security was "a better idea." As a fellow so usefully said in Charles Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers," "That 'ere song's political; and, wot's much the same, that it ain't true." Obama had of course said nothing about conservative ideas being "better."
One of the Obama campaign's senior leaders, who must have dozed through the 1990s, has expressed astonishment at the Clintons' intellectual sociopathy, as when they audaciously charge that Obama is a tepid defender of abortion rights. Their evidence is that on an abortion-related vote in the Illinois Legislature, he voted "present." The Clintons certainly know, and just as certainly do not care, that Obama's vote was tactical, cast for procedural reasons at the behest of abortion-rights leaders in Illinois.