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What this U.S. election reveals

Hillary Clinton won big in the West Virginia primary on Tuesday, while Barack Obama scored an equally impressive victory in North Carolina last week.

If winning big is a victory margin of 15 percent or more of the primary vote, then Clinton won big in five other states, while Obama racked up convincing wins in 23 states, usually where most voters never even heard of him until last year.

The problem is that all of Obama's big wins except North Carolina were the election equivalent of eons ago in this presidential campaign, back when he capitalized on a wave of hope and change propelled mostly by the young and the educated. In recent primaries, Hillary has shown that she is formidable in rust belt America, where huge numbers of manufacturing jobs have been lost and workers who once were middle class have fallen on hard times. In essence, she has peeled off lower-income and less educated voters from a Democratic party that appeared ready to unify behind Obama only ten weeks ago.

The divisions this extraordinary political actress has created appear to be so bitter that no less a Democratic Party heavyweight than John Edwards, Vice Presidential candidate in 2004, reversed his position only two days after declaring neutrality and came out in support of Obama, in an attempt to stop the Clintons from bleeding the Democrats to death. Ironically, the Clintons had succeeded in painting Obama as an out of touch black elitist, although it was he who needed government food stamps as a child.

One thing that we can conclude from the wildly disparate election results in the various states is that the U.S. is an extraordinarily diverse country of multiple opinions and prejudices. It goes without saying that Republicans and Democrats have major philosophical differences, and many partisans can boast that their families have been faithful to their party for generations. These people vote their ideal vision of their party regardless of its record in office or the reputation of the candidate, but their numbers are dwindling as more voters declare themselves to be independents. More revealing of American character and diversity are the divisions within the parties.

In Republican politics, Senator McCain was truly fortunate that their state contests for delegates were winner-take-all. Had the Republicans adopted the same rules as the Democrats, he probably would still be slugging it out for the nomination with rivals who dropped out of the race. The Republicans designed their rules to produce an early winner and got one, but they are not particularly pleased with the result, as nearly a fourth of their voters have been voting for Huckabee, Romney or Ron Paul since McCain became the presumed nominee. We don't hear a great deal about the rich-poor divide among Republicans, but it is clear that the hard core conservative base is withholding support until McCain proves himself loyal on their core issues; anti-abortion, right-wing judges, low taxes, small government, and no road to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

It is the Democratic contest that highlights the deepest social divisions in the United States, at least for now. The fault lines of class and prejudice are like tectonic plates threatening earthquake. There is the divide between the young, the educated and blacks who hope to restore the American dream, and those who have seen it slip away with a vengeance in this new century. A second major fault line is between those who harbor the prejudices they grew up with and a new generation which does not see it as a crime or a sin to marry outside of their religion or their race. In many ways this culture clash — and we certainly will see it play out in the general election — is between open minds and closed minds.

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