The back to back debates last night left one powerful impression. There are three candidates who understand that we are entering a new era, where the old left-right labels do not make any sense. They are Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. The rest of the field are fighting the last war. The New York Times had a wonderful piece this morning by Kirk Johnson about how often the public senses a change long before the politicians. I’ve been writing about this phenomena which I call “The Interregnum” for years, most recently in an article about California’s move towards a New Federalism:
The notion of an interregnum has classically been tied to those periods when one king has died and there is no clear successor, but I have used the term to refer to a political and cultural crisis that encompasses both a loss of leadership and the possibilities of renewal and reform. Historical study of interregnums such as the 12 years of parliamentary rule in England after the beheading of King Charles I in 1649 have always noted extreme swings of political and spiritual sentiment while the battle for a new direction was being fought. For our purposes, the interregnum refers to those hinges in time when the old order is dead, but the new direction has not been determined. Quite often, the general populace and many of its leaders do not understand that the transition is taking place and so a great deal of tumult arises as the birth pangs of a new social and political order.
In his piece, Johnson makes a similar point:
POLITICS might be stuck in the slow lane, but science, capitalism and American culture and society are decidedly not, and all are making creative end runs around the gridlock. Mr. Obama’s call in his Iowa victory speech — for “a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states” — evokes an earlier time in America, but it also suggests a future that may be unfolding no matter what politicians like him say or do.
Obama, Huckabee and Paul are all drawing support across traditional party lines and have (as Paul pointed out) attracted the lion’s share of the youth vote and money. Obama and Huckabee are from a younger generation of politicians and as Andrew Sullivan so trenchantly stated, Obama is moving beyond the old fights of the 60’s that the Clinton’s are still engaged in. History has shown that Interregnums occur about once a century, and when they show up, the political ruling class (both politicians and pundits) at first ignore them and then fight like mad to resist them. Last night Obama, Huckabee and Paul talked about the power of the “bottom-up” forces that have fueled their rise. None of them were the “top-down” establishment candidate, but as the accompanying chart (click to enlarge) created a couple of years ago by GBN, the future belongs to the forces of the bottom-up, networked era, not the top-down, hierarchical world of George Bush, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. The Republican party has long been dominated by its establishment and so Huckabee and Paul have a harder road to the nomination than Obama, who now looks like a strong favorite to be the Democratic candidate. My guess is that if they fail, many of their supporters will vote for Obama next November.