It's a seismic shift.
But perhaps it also reflects, to some extent, what's happened with, and then for, Hillary Clinton. Maybe the voters (at least in New Hampshire) have a stronger sense of fair play than they're given credit for. Perhaps they think Clinton ought to be cut a little slack. Anyone on any side would have to concede that no one has been kicked around more.
Going into the New Hampshire primary, she'd been placed on the critical list - where John McCain already was on the GOP side. He was expected to recover. Not her. And she'd had a pretty lousy week. The Iowa caucuses gave her a third-place finish. The news cycles were all about certainty for Obama and crisis for her. The weekend debate saw a pile-on from her Democratic opponents, and an actual comment voiced to her face that people didn't like her. She admitted that it hurt her feelings. The headlines in some of the biggest newspapers in the country in the last hours were downright vicious, describing her in a state of panic, and "so yesterday."
The day before the primary, her voice cracked and dropped down uncharacteristically to the level of a near caress. The coverage of that emotional hiccup incident was virtually nonstop. As a radio veteran, I was surprised to hear a different voice coming from the strong, forceful female politician denounced for so long by so much of the conventional wisdom - as harsh, even cold. We knew she was smart, but was she real? She didn't cry in that case, but did get choked up. The voice cracked and lowered in volume. It was gentle, soft, human, vulnerable. It was a side we'd not seen before, and she'd had plenty of opportunities over many years to let her hair down and punch a wall or two - or two hundred thousand. Maybe it took watching the way she took a punch or two - or two hundred thousand and showed, finally, that she wasn't an emotionless machine. Women, according to exit polls, responded decisively. Perhaps the sisterhood was activated.
That planetary cataclysm depicted on TV could be symbolic of something else in our society. To watch the most recent debates was to be struck by the face each party showed. On the Republican side, it was six middle-aged to elderly white men. The Democrats, on the other hand, presented a woman, an African-American, a Hispanic-American, and a middle-aged white man. That assemblage could be taken as code, telegraphed by each party, of how they're most accustomed to seeing the country and how they see themselves. It's as if to say "This is what we're serving. These are your choices. We think they reflect us pretty accurately. We think they look like you, too." It's a lot easier this election season to see the differences between the two parties as far as who is regarded as the strongest message and emblem carriers. One party, whose leading figures tend to look the same from year to year, shows us yet again, the face of one segment of America. The other party shows a kaleidoscope of a broad spectrum of America. One party now mouths the word "Change," since it became hip last week in Iowa. The other party embodies it.
That's a seismic shift, alright.