Wednesday, the prevailing mood in Bloomington was one of sour defeat. While the rest of the state congratulates itself on the renewed relevance of its votes, Monroe County wanted vastly different for itself. Obama won handily around the Bloomington area, no doubt thanks to the youth movement at the core of his support.
But in the end it wasnt enough.
The Editorial Board endorsed Obama as the Democratic nominee weeks ago, and may still get its wish when all is said and done. But Clintons win speaks volumes about Indianas condition, and what it feels it needs for the future.
With one big exception, the differences between Clinton and Obama dont focus on issues that Hoosiers seem to care about more than other states. College students have even less criteria with which to make meaningful distinctions, since issues purportedly important to our demographic (education, the environment, the war) are where Obama and Clinton seem to converge the most. Their education policy differs by what amounts to $500 and some community service; the environment, a requirement for cars with a 40 m.p.g rating; and the war, a 60-day difference on the beginning date of a massive troop withdrawl. Pundits will magnify these discrepancies, but for all the mud slung between camps, few Democrats will feel marginalized (at least due to policy) when either candidate secures the nomination.
So what was the difference? In Hillarys case, it was job security. College graduates may look out on futures full of possibility, but for blue-collar workers on the verge of retirement, China and India are very real threats. And while protectionism is unequivocably harmful to society as a whole, the few who clamor for it are far louder than the multitudes who warn against it. It is unions and those in Americas increasingly uncompetitive industries that form Hillarys base. She is willing to tell them what they want to hear, having carved a niche as the friend of the working classes. Obama is more hesitant to reject trade deals, and McCain has been famously blunt about the future of many of our industries. And while Obama may have won in our county, it was closer than one would think. What students value is markedly different from the rest of Indiana.
Even in our back yard, a GE plant will close in 2009 and some 900 jobs will disappear. This story isnt specific to our neck of the woods; its the cautionary tale of the heartland, and even if it isnt economically optimal, protectionism is a comforting refuge. But Hoosiers will eventually have to face the facts. No matter what Clinton promises, she cant make our failing industries more competitive. When she takes office, she will have to make the consolation that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that inefficient jobs cant be protected forever. Bad news sounds sweeter, though, when delivered from the Oval Office. For now, Hillary rides an upswing, and the real show is about to begin.