Voters think the country is in bad shape. Only 21% of the voters in the newest CBS News/ New York Times poll approve of the Democratic-led Congress. Only 28% approve of President Bush - one point above his all time low. Other polls show voters gloomy over the economy, over the future in general. The question is, how angry are they about all this?
In 1968, when Robert Kennedy ran, politics was passionate. He campaigned in open cars even though his brother had been killed in one. It took three men, one of them an NFL lineman, to hold him in the car as crowds surged against it to touch him. He lost cufflinks often. His hands sometimes bled by the end of the day. Rock star stuff.
Kennedy was murdered, of course, just as he won the California primary. The conventional wisdom back then was that Hubert Humphrey had the votes to win anyway. But I've always believed that Kennedy's California victory would have started a surge - delegates switching sides, Kennedy nominated, and Richard Nixon, panicked at the thought of losing to another Kennedy, doing just that. We'll never know, of course. But this time?
The candidates all talk about being for change, but it seems a calmer change, change we're used to. Hillary Clinton, after all, has been a major national figure for sixteen years as First Lady, senator and now White House hopeful. New? Not exactly. Her husband talks often about the challenges and successes of his presidency in the 1990s, and voters like that. About as many of Mrs. Clinton's backers told that CBS News/ New York Times poll that they back her because of her husband's experience as because of her own.
Barack Obama promises real change. He's younger, hasn't been around the track so much. Just the notion of a black man leading America would change perceptions of this country all over the world. But the passion that surrounded Kennedy forty years ago doesn't seem quite there this time. Maybe I'm wrong.
The Republicans? Well, Arkansan Mike Huckabee stirs passion among evangelicals. But he really ought to run for the School Board in Kansas. They voted against teaching evolution in the public school a few years ago, though radical liberals took control in the next election and put Darwin back in the curriculum.
Maybe it's that a lot of Americans think they're doing okay; they're just depressed about their country. That suggests a vote for "change we're comfortable with," which would be good news for Senator Clinton.