Friday, May 23, 2008

Obama-Clinton 2008: A snowball in hell

At a meeting of the editorial board of the South Dakota's Sioux Falls Argus-Leader on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said the following as a rationale for remaining in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination against Barack Obama, a race she cannot legitimately win:

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. ... I don't understand it.”

The generally indefensible inference — dog-whistle connecting one assassination with the possibility of another — was of course denied by her campaign. Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson defended the comments to The Washington Post, “She was talking about the length of the race and using the '68 election as an example of how long the races in the past have gone — she used her husband's race in the same vein.”

Clinton herself offered a weak defense: “I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.”

But the veiled reference was painfully clear: Anything can happen, you know. Obama, on the verge of being the Democratic nominee, could be assassinated while campaigning, as Robert F. Kennedy was in June 1968, moments after winning the California primary. Why should I quit now?

It was another less-than-subliminal Clinton appeal to the worst aspects of American political history.

It was, as Bob Cesca in The Huffington Post called it, “a new and ghoulish low for [an] already bottom-feeding campaign.”

It was yet another reason why Hillary Clinton must not be Barack Obama’s running mate for the American presidency in 2008.

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Culchavox bought into the dream big time back in February — light-years ago in political terms. “A Clinton-Obama/Obama-Clinton ticket permanently cements the historic aspects of their mutual candidacies into a single, compelling force of profound historical significance. Intangible? So much the better. People like playing a role in making history. They’ll turn out for that.

“ … in one lightning stroke, the American people, up to now faced with the choice of either Experience or Change, can have both — the two best attributes of contemporary Democratic leadership assembled in a formidable package that would give the Republicans all they can handle in the fall.”

Sadly (for Team Clinton), too much has transpired since then to make that politically practical, or even politically plausible. In the four months since then, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly missed or ignored opportunities to make the conciliatory pivot she needs to make to keep herself a viable option for the vice-presidential slot, or to build her bona fides as either an elder stateswoman of the Senate, and/or the legitimately presumptive nominee in 2012.

The incompatibilities we could navigate or ignore outright in February are just about insurmountable today. Clinton has so toxified the waters as to make an Obama-Clinton ticket unworkable, as much a divisive prospect for the Democratic electorate as a unifying one.

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Consider the conditions of their respective campaigns: Obama has repeatedly demonstrated his abilities as a financial manager. From the start his campaign has revolutionized the Internet as a fundraising tool; Team Obama has consistently outpointed Clinton on campaign donations. Obama raised more than $30 million in the month of April; Clinton is facing a shortfall of about $20 million. MSNBC’s “Hardball” reported Thursday that the Clinton campaign paid former adviser Mark Penn $2.96 million in April — about $1 for every $6 donated online. Fifteen percent of her donations went straight to debt service, paying someone who isn’t even an active campaign staffer.

It’s been said that if you want an idea of how a candidate will run the national economy, look at how that candidate runs their campaign. By that perfectly reasonable yardstick, then, the Clinton campaign has more to prove in terms of electability than Obama does. Saddling his campaign with her own does little to reinforce either the perception of financial responsibility voters will look for in November, or the narrative of independence that's been basic to his campaign.

Consider Clinton’s tacks to the right at Obama’s expense. “I have a lifetime of experience I will bring to the White House,” Clinton said in March. “I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he made in 2002.”

Speaking in similarly disloyal fashion about what she called passing the “commander-in-chief threshold,” Clinton added, “I believe that I’ve done that. Certainly, Sen. McCain has done that and you’ll have to ask Sen. Obama with respect to his candidacy.”

And this week, Clinton brandished an endorsement from Karl Rove, former Bush administration senior adviser and Prince of Darkness, as a reason for her staying in the race. The very idea of invoking Rove, who had a hand in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, as a justification for staying in the race should immediately invalidate Clinton as VP material on the grounds of political treason. You don’t make your case as a Democrat by trumpeting the support of a Republican (and especially that Republican).

A comment by Kevin, posting on the Wall Street Journal Web site, makes it just as clear: “When you’re reduced to using Karl Rove as a character witness, it’s time to fold up the tent.”

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Consider black voters and what Obama-Clinton would tell them. After having vacated the Clinton campaign, African American voters would hardly be receptive to the idea of Obama tying up with the candidate they'd rejected. It would suggest that Obama was insincere. And also, if Clinton were to be a running mate for the purpose of wooing mature white voters, it would send the signal that black voters are more disposable — less valuable — than white voters. That fact alone would almost certainly scuttle any chance of black voters turning out for Obama. African American voters already recognize the impossibility of that: The enemy of my friend can't be on the ticket with my friend.

And consider the matter of political sincerity: A recent development has to call into question how serious she is about either the presidency or the vice presidency. Time magazine’s Karen Tumulty reported Wednesday on the Time Web site that former president Bill Clinton, speculating on a role for Hillary after her doomed campaign is formally done, "seems to have a pretty clear idea what he thinks she should get as a consolation prize. In Bill Clinton's view, she has earned nothing short of an offer to be Obama's running mate, according to some who are close to the former President. Bill 'is pushing real hard for this to happen,' says a friend."

Some in the blogosphere are already asking the obvious question: If there’s back-channel talk underway to secure Hillary a spot on the Obama ticket, what’s the point of Hillary continuing to Fight Valiantly for her own presidential bid? Actions like that suggest that she’s playing both ends against the middle — just another way of saying “triangulation.”

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Many of her actions in recent months have reinforced the growing sense that, at the end of the day, Hillary Clinton is a dizzyingly conventional politician, and precisely the kind of pol that Obama has constructed a coalition of voters to oppose in November.

And that’s the bedrock issue: Barack Obama cannot embrace Hillary Clinton on his presidential ticket without embracing the style of politics she represents — a style of scorched-earth, passive-aggressive, identity-driven politics that Obama has challenged effectively from the beginning. An Obama-Clinton ticket runs counter to the meme of Change that Obama has cemented in the American psyche. He can’t pick her for a running mate without undoing everything he’s done so far. Without contradicting everything he's told us he is.

“The fact that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have each campaigned behind the idea of building a national coalition presents a compelling (if not unavoidable) opportunity: recognizing the need to first build a coalition of their own,” the ‘Vox wrote in February.

What a difference four months make. Since then Clinton has done great damage to that prospective coalition of her supporters and Obama’s, taking her talent for polarization to new heights (or is it depths?), frustrating attempts to close the breaches between the two campaigns for the sake of party unity.

That she should now seek to pursue a variation on her old inevitability argument — one that would bestow on her a vice-presidential nod she hasn’t earned any more than a presidential consideration — is the height of political hubris, and nothing Obama is obligated to validate in the least.

By constantly disrespecting millions of black voters, younger voters and party-loyal activists, Hillary Clinton made the serious error of not dancing with the one that brought her to the party. Here’s hoping — here’s a straight-up bet — that Barack Obama won’t make the same mistake.

1 comment:

  1. Oooooooh Michael! Love the biting, sharp tongued aspects of this piece. You summed it up pretty well and also showed the Obana-Clinton trajectory going from a Golden Possibility ("Change and Experience!) to a political impoosibility.

    Another tour de force!



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