Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The last dog dies

Back in the 1992 presidential campaign, a young brash Arkansas upstart candidate named Bill Clinton was waging an uphill battle for the minds, hearts and delegates of New Hampshire. Dealing with the cold February weather and fielding never-ending questions about a possibly illicit someone named Gennifer Flowers, he promised a crowd at a Dover, N.H., shopping mall that he’d see it through, he’d tough it out, he’d stand by them "until the last dog dies."

Sixteen years and four months later, his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is on the verge of the end of her own presidential campaign, this one unsuccessful. A canine obituary is in order.

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“We pledged to support her to the end,” veteran New York Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel, told The New York Times. “Our problem is not being able to determine when the hell the end is.”

For Rangel and 21 other high-powered Democratic members of Congress, the end of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was — is — here. The Times and The Associated Press reportedly on Wednesday, almost simultaneously, that Clinton would officially suspend her campaign in a two-part valedictory over the weekend: On Friday, at a private gathering for her staff, and on Saturday, at a public event that Obama may well attend.

The end of the Clinton campaign was apparently hastened by those 22 lawmakers, who put pressure on Clinton in a conference call to end her campaign for the sake of party unity, and to make the conciliatory gesture of concession toward Barack Obama — a concession absent on Tuesday, the day Obama made American history as the first black presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

There’s already been wild speculation — the pundits all but salivating — at the prospect of a Democratic “dream team” arrayed to challenge Sen. John McCain for the presidency. Some have openly speculated on whether Obama has the mettle to resist the pressures from the Clintons and their proxies to put her on the ticket.

“If he can't stand up to Hillary and Bill Clinton, forget about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” The Wall Street Journal said Thursday on its op-ed page.

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Message received. The Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday that Obama campaign advisers had signaled an Obama-Clinton ticket was unlikely. The Journal reported that people in both the Obama and Clinton organizations said that a stumbling block characterized as “a deal-breaker” was that former president Bill Clinton might resist the release of records of his business dealings and the names of the 38,000 donors to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library — all part of the standard process of vetting vice presidential hopefuls.

But with all the endless attention that's now being given to Obama’s possible vice presidential running mate, and with Team Obama’s statement from Wednesday saying that an Obama-Clinton ticket was probably not in the cards — it’s been forgotten that, almost a month ago, such a political tandem was called unfeasible by someone who deeply matters, to Obama in particular and the nation in general.

On May 9, Bloomberg.com’s Kristin Jensen reported that Sen. Edward Kennedy, referencing an Obama-Clinton union, said “I don’t think it’s possible” in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

On Bloomberg TV’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” Kennedy said Obama should pick someone who "is in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people.''

“If we had real leadership — as we do with Barack Obama — in the No. 2 spot as well, it'd be enormously helpful,” Kennedy said.

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What’s been overlooked in the three-odd weeks since then is the impact of the opinion of Ted Kennedy, an icon of the Senate and an early and enthusiastic endorser of the Obama campaign. He and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy and still an inspirational figure in her own right, campaigned for Obama early this year.

And Caroline Kennedy is one of the three-person team who’ll be vetting vice-presidential prospects for the Obama campaign.

Given the symbolic importance of the Kennedy family in American politics, the political value of Kennedy's contribution to the Obama campaign, and considering Ted Kennedy’s recent and heartbreaking diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor, it’s difficult to imagine that Obama would disregard the counsel of a man considered one of the most revered senators in the nation’s history. Not this time. Not now. Already holding the advice of Kennedy in high regard, Obama is even more unlikely today, in the wake of the Massachusetts senator’s prognosis, to dismiss it.

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Hillary Clinton will finish the long goodbye of her campaign over the weekend, and no conditional language, no hedging of statements will change the outcome of this contest and her place in it. Clinton can be expected to watch the next months of the 2008 presidential race from a box seat on the relative sidelines.

She’ll make the occasional necessarily mandarin statements from time to time, and she’ll certainly be acknowledged in thunderous fashion at the convention in Denver, given the high honor of making a keynote address — probably not unlike the stirring, electric speech Obama made himself at the convention in 2004. And Clinton will rise to that challenge, no doubt turning in a work of oratory for the ages.

But when the time comes for Barack Obama to stand side by side with his vice-presidential running mate in August, Hillary Clinton will be an observer caught up in her own vortex of bittersweet emotions, left to realize that the last dog will have died for her 2008 bid for the presidency, left to ponder four words that will, at least briefly, haunt her and her memories: What might have been …
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Image credits: Bill and Hillary Clinton: Associated Press. Obama and Kennedy: ragesoss, republished under GNU Free Documentation License.

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