And after months where people said that Clinton's negative campaigning would backfire on it, it's now clear that her furious shaking of the apple tree has finally forced some fruit to fall.
Candidates have three major commodities to offer to the electorate - personality; their record; and their potential. Obama's record (three years as a Senator)isn't exactly replete.
So he has traded on his charisma and his potential, encapsulated in his message for change. The problem is that a lot of this is aspirational and non-tangible - the 'vision thing'.
Tony Blair did a lot of it. So did Clinton. It was never Bertie's strongest suit (Once nested into government during a boom, FF could easily sit on its record - it won't be so easy next time out as economic fortunes go south). But if you parse any of the Ard Fheis/National Conference speeches from any parties here in the South, you still get oodles of this prose.
An example thrown out from the top of my head:
"I believe in an Ireland of equality, an Ireland of prosperity, and Ireland where people can walk safely on the streets without worrying about being mugged or stabbed. I believe in a strong economy, where there is respect for the individual while we still cater for the needs of society as a while."
It's rhetoric. Pretty vacant and empty. And to a certain extent Obama has been getting away with spewing out this stuff - that sounds incredibly impressive but contains precious little. It's like candy floss - it looks substantial and enticing but turns out to be the next thing to having nothing at all.
Dan Sullivan, in his comment on the last post, was talking about Sinn Fein's constant references to 'equality', one of those catch-all words that sound great but ultimately mean little, unless you are prepared to do the slog-work and define exactly what you mean.
I think if you compare US politics with that of Britain and Ireland, the Americans tend to value the aspirational higher than we do, which is why Obama's rhetoric may eventually outflank Clinton's experience.
Here, experience and record have been the driving factors behind Fianna Fail's facile victories in 2002 and (in the circumstances) facile victory in 2007. Of course, it was easier, as times were good. The 'experience' over the next five years will be undoubtedly rockier. Which will mean that the alternatives will have a real shot at it, irrespective of who the new FF leader will be. But FG and Labour will not get away with vague rhetoric and half-promises - besides showing that they have the 'grist' for the challenge, they will have to spell out all their policies, to almost wonkish detail. And that kind of rigour can only be good. S