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Inevitability Defeats Itself

Obama’s Iowa victory speech was beautiful. He emulated JFK's stature and MLK's powerful parallel constructions. But perhaps it was too presumptive. Unlike Hillary or Edwards, Obama didn’t acknowledge his competitors. He didn’t seem particularly excited. He didn't seem thrilled. Instead he seemed rather justified. (Someone might more uncharitably say vindicated, but I think that sounds too bitter.) Although Obama sheathed his most presumptive comments in the first person plural rather than the first person singular--using a diffusing “we” rather than a purely proprietary "I"--he still claimed presidential authority a tad too soon:

That’s how we’ll win in November, and that’s how we’ll fight the challenges we face as a nation. We’re sending a powerful message that change is coming to America... [proclaimed with quivering voice]

[Y]ears from now, when we've made the changes we believe in ... when the world sees America differently, and America sees itself as a nation less divided and more united, you'll be able to look back with pride and say that this was the moment when it all began. This was the moment when the improbable beat what Washington always said was inevitable.This was the moment when we tore down barriers that have divided us for too long; when we rallied people of all parties and ages to a common cause; when we finally gave Americans who have never participated in politics a reason to stand up and to do so.

These lines are moving, but maybe they hit the wrong note. With them, Obama posited himself as the unshakeable frontrunner the same way Hillary had posited herself before Iowa. Maybe New Hampshire tells us that voters don’t want to feel that their votes don’t count. More than they care about the actual candidates, they care that they have say in their selection.

 Update: I originally said third person when I should have said first person plural.

--Francesca Mari