In defense of New Hampshire voters

Sure some of them have moved since Obama’s victory in Iowa. But didn’t that victory, and the speech that followed, contain important information about choosing a nominee?

Kevin Drum:

In related news, apparently the flinty-eyed independents of New Hampshire aren’t quite as flinty-eyed as they’d like you to believe. After a solid year of town halls, coffee klatsches, and early morning doorbell ringing &#8212 because, you know, New Hampshirites take their electoral responsibilities so much more seriously than the rest of us &#8212 all it took was a few thousand Iowans to flip them from one side to the other in less than 24 hours. Feh.

Well, yes … and no. As a long-time resident of Massachusetts, I’m always happy to join in on bashing the moochers and free-loaders of Cow Hampshire, who ought to get honest and change the state’s motto to “Live Free At Someone Else’s Expense.” And of course the notion that Iowa and New Hampshire are virtuous because they are mostly rural and Northern European is pretty damned offensive.

But … is it so unreasonable for a voter to have changed his or her mind after Iowa? The critique of Obama is that he doesn’t know how to get things done, and that he makes promises based on hope that he can’t deliver. He’s been claiming that he can get Republicans in Washington to work with him to pass progressive legislation, which seems pretty implausible given the last fifteen years. It’s hard to figure out whether he can pull it off without actually electing him.

On the other hand, he’s been pushing some equally silly-sounding ideas: that he can attract hordes of independent and Republican voters, that he can mobilize young voters, that he could win Iowa against the Clinton machine and Edwards’s union backing.

And guess what? Those silly-sounding ideas turned out to be correct, in the one trial so far. Why shouldn’t a dispassionate observer weigh that fact pretty heavily in judging whether Obama’s “theory of change” ought to be believed?

On top of that was The Speech. Why should we expect New Hampshire voters to be any more flinty-eyed than, let’s say, Ezra Klein? Moreover, in politics words are weapons, and it’s not unreasonable to want to nominate a well-armed candidate.

Footnote Ezra is taking some ribbing for his enthusiastic words, but that just reflects the basic Kool Kidz rule of never appearing to be impressed by anything. I, for one, don’t count being moved by oratory as a sign of mental deficiency. It’s not the tone-deafness of people like Mickey Kaus that’s so infuriating; it’s the pride they take in their tone-deafness.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: