The larger significance of the Obama campaign may be the replacement of the old ways both of fundraising and of field organizing with a largely web-based, open-textured, viral campaign structure.
Time has an account of the two competing “ground games” in Ohio which illustrates the difference. Instead of relying on the local political machines — our own version of the village elders — Obama has built his own machine from the ground up: or, rather, has allowed a machine to build itself up on his behalf.
In this context, reading of the disarray in the Clinton camp — the sheer bewilderment about how this could have happened to the inevitable candidacy — makes me think of A.J. Liebling’s The Earl of Louisiana (a nonfiction account of Earl Long’s last campaign for Governor of Louisiana) or Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah (a fictionalized account of James Michael Curley’s clast campaign for Mayor of Boston). It’s the pathos of a tired campaign relying on a tired way of campaigning as the world changes around it.
He will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful… But a man is not often found sufficiently circumspect to know how to accommodate himself to the change, both because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to, and also because, having always prospered by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that it is well to leave it; … hence he is ruined; but had he changed his conduct with the times fortune would not have changed.
Update Matt Yglesias points out something I was too slow to notice: Obama’s style of campaigning has implications for governing. A President with his own local machinery has the capacity to apply pressure to Members of Congress that a President who has to borrow her local organization from the local party machinery lacks. It’s Machiavelli again: your power is more secure if it relies on your own forces and your own skill, rather than on luck and the forces of others.