Edinburgh, Indiana -- Barack Obama delivers his soaring speech on "change" and "hope" to a humongous crowd of rabid students. And the University of Indiana at Bloomington explodes, like did the University of Pennsylvania ... the University of Mississippi ... the University of New Hampshire ... the University of Iowa. Bill Clinton gives a down-home speech to a small group of mostly seniors in yet another small town, this one called Whitney. Hillary bounces into big-time Indianapolis and like in Philadelphia ... Los Angeles ... Baltimore she is pumped heavy: "I am prepared! ... I am a fighter! ... I am tough! I will win! I ... I ... I ...." And with each "I" the Hillary Girls roared out of their seats waving their signs and wiggling their fannies.
Yet for the traveling journalists everything remains unchanged, only this is Indiana. The endless campaign trail is everyday Groundhog Day. After six grueling months the speeches, the venues, and the audiences have mingled and merged and meshed into one vicious vision of something barely short of Dante's vision.
For the people of Indiana, however, the circus is in town! Political animals are everywhere, standing on street corners screaming and shaking signs, at front doors shoving with brochures, on television pleading and attacking. There are bumper stickers and yard signs, the phone rings several times every evening. Forget the 13-mile Mini-Marathon and forget in only 30 days the Indianapolis 500 because the political circus is in Indiana. "Electricity is in the air," a woman tells me in an Indianapolis coffee shop. "We have lots of big problems," a middle-age man butts in. "The economy! The war in Iraq! Health care! The environment! We're headed the wrong way in this country."
So the candidates blanket Indiana relentlessly pushing themselves into every crook and cranny in the urbanized north, in the Appalachian south, in metropolitan Indianapolis, in small towns and rural areas and the suburbs.
Obama talks about "us" and Hoosier youth discover idealism. "We're not like Generation X," a college student tells me on the Notre Dame campus. "We care about our country!" Bill Clinton talks about "Hillary" and seniors feel vibrations in their clogged veins. "I like Hillary because she has experience," a man in a wheelchair explains in a sensor citizen home. "And I remember when Bill Clinton was president...." Hillary talks about, well, "Hillary," and Boomer women rediscover the orgasm, this time without sex. "That 'a gal!" screams a mother with two grown boys, one at the state university in Bloomington. "Hillary speaks for me," she says. "She understands what we have to do."
This disparity between the numbed and struggling media and the ecstatic electorate has grown wider with each election, exhaustion has grown with each new state for the scribblers and "shooters" on this endless campaign trail. Yet, numbed or not, since the very beginning we have excelled in delivering the sharpest insights to the public. A quick review of our greatest highlights:
In the summer the media predicted John McCain was finished. Out of the race! Rudy Giuliani was the frontrunner and the Republican nomination was his for the taking. Then Rudy fell. Hillary Clinton had the Democratic nomination all locked up, the media sang. The primary was her coronation. Then Hillary lost Iowa and the media sang she was finished. Super Tuesday on February 5th would determine the candidates of both parties. Super Tuesday II on March 3rd would determine the candidate for the Democratic Party. Pennsylvania on April 22nd would determine the candidate for the Democratic Party.
If the U.S. Constitution did not have protections for the press, every political journalist would be dragged out of his or her office and stood up against a wall for target practice.
Still, the know-it-all mentality runs strong in America. Superpower confidence charges through the veins of journalists. Action is our addiction. The endless trail can't keep us anesthetized, for long.
On CNN, Joe Kline of Time magazine says: "We're moving into the most crucial time of the campaign. She has to win North Carolina and Indiana to stay alive."
"And the polls are tightening in Indiana and North Carolina," the CNN host replies. This is followed by a short clip of Hillary screaming, "Indiana is a game changer!"
I glance down at my computer screen, a headline screams back: "Clinton Sheds Tough Image." A Washington Times article says: "Gone is the tough and all-business presidential candidate who regularly blared at rival Sen. Barack Obama ... in her place is what most people who know her well say was there all along -- a warm and engaging woman willing to laugh at herself."
Can this be true? Is Indiana crucial? Are the polls tightening? This is a game changer? Has Hillary changed?
Well, five months ago, the Iowa Caucus was also called crucial. Then the New Hampshire primary was crucial. Then Super Tuesday was crucial! Then Super Tuesday II! Then Pennsylvania! Now Indiana is crucial? How many crucial elections can there be in one campaign?
The polls are tightening? When heading down the homestretch of every primary, at least every one that I can remember, the mainstream media insisted the polls were tightening. How much tightening can one campaign handle?
"Crucial" and "tight" are of course great for jacking up TV ratings and selling newspapers, and "game changer" is probably even better. So the game changer appears in nearly every state, and of course nothing changes.