Hillary Clinton has shed the most famous tears since Alexander the Great wept that there were no more worlds to conquer. Observers have since noted that she was exhausted; that she was down in the polls; that she may have been on the prowl for an opportunity to soften her image; and/or that she may have been revealing a bit of her true self. I'm less interested in whether the tears were genuine (actually there was no visible moisture, just a catch in the voice that is easier to fake) than in the proximate cause of that tender moment. Sen. Clinton said, "I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards."
That was a pretty patriotic note coming from a Democrat. There was gratitude and determination to give something back. From the party that is so often focused on America's racism, inequality and international lawlessness, it was downright jingoistic. Perhaps it was that professed love of country, as much as the image-shifting effect of the delivery, that made such an impression on New Hampshire voters?
Clinton cannot lay claim to the leftmost edge of the Democratic Party's base on foreign policy. Her vote to approve the Iraq War settled that. Many of the liberal foreign policy gurus of the Democratic Party (Anthony Lake, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ted Sorensen) have signed on with Barack Obama, and as I write, Sen. John Kerry has endorsed him as well. But if Clinton extends that extemporaneous patriotic burble into a theme of her campaign, she might find a way to checkmate her rival.
When Obama campaigns, he often sounds as if he's running for president of the world. He has offered that, "The security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people." He's a great fan of international agreements, international institutions and "dialogue." He has said that if he wins the presidency, he looks forward to "going to the United Nations and saying 'America's back!'"
As a domestic matter, he treads very lightly on the whole "first African-American president" line because he doesn't need to mention it. It's an aura around his head. But in international relations, he does play the identity politics card.
"I think," he mused to New York Times reporter James Traub, "that if I am the face of American foreign policy and American power . . . if you can tell people 'We have a president in the White House who still has a grandmother living in a hut on the shores of Lake Victoria and has a sister who's half-Indonesian, married to a Chinese-Canadian,' then they're going to think that he may have a better sense of what's going on in our lives and in our country. And they'd be right."