Lyndon Baines Johnson saw the handwriting on the wall after the New Hampshire primary in 1968 when a relatively obscure, anti-Vietnam War Democratic Senator, Eugene McCarthy, stunned Johnson and the country by coming within six points of defeating the President in the first-in-the-nation primary. Johnson's near-loss was a devastating blow and, less than a month later, he announced that he was dropping out and would not seek re-election.
What is the handwriting on the wall for Hillary Rodham Clinton after her devastating 22-point landslide loss to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire? Are voters telling her that she is the wrong person for our times?
The results in New Hampshire, and in the dead-heat Iowa caucuses where Sanders far exceeded expectations, show there is a palpable hunger among Democrats and many independents for fundamental liberal reforms. Bernie Sanders, in persona, program and track record, epitomizes liberal reform. Hillary Clinton does not.
The deep, powerful yearning for economic and political reform among Democrats and others should not come as a surprise. It was present in the early days of candidate Barack Obama's rise from political obscurity when he challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. His opposition to the Iraq War, which Hillary Clinton supported, was a door-opener for Obama, but more important was that he promised, or at least insinuated, he was going to bring fundamental change to the country. That's why he was elected.
Partly but not entirely because of lockstep Republican opposition, Obama has not delivered a reform agenda. So there is pent up demand, one might say, as the rich get richer and our politics seem increasingly corrupted by big money. The keen student of American democracy, Tocqueville, said that "the great privilege of the Americans is not that they are more enlightened than other people but that they have the capacity to correct mistakes they may commit from time to time." The reform impulse is embedded in our country's DNA. It is as American as cherry pie and, at the moment, no candidate seems to have such a visceral appreciation for it than Bernie Sanders.
The big issues such as income inequality and a compromised political system should favor the Democrats in the November election. With a political wave to ride, I know that many of my reform-minded Democratic friends would like to have seen an Elizabeth Warren or a Russ Feingold as the party's standard bearer. Can Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old democratic socialist, win his party's nomination and the White House? Is he a longer shot at becoming our next president than was the African American guy with an odd-sounding name some eight years ago? Maybe not. As young Hillary Rodham's hero, Saul Alinsky, once said, "We'll see it when we believe it."