Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Long Defeat

An interesting take on the Presidential primary from David Brooks:

Hillary Clinton may not realize it yet, but she’s just endured one of the worst weeks of her campaign.

First, Barack Obama weathered the Rev. Jeremiah Wright affair without serious damage to his nomination prospects. Obama still holds a tiny lead among Democrats nationally in the Gallup tracking poll, just as he did before this whole affair blew up.

Second, Obama’s lawyers successfully prevented re-votes in Florida and Michigan. That means it would be virtually impossible for Clinton to take a lead in either elected delegates or total primary votes.

Third, as Noam Scheiber of The New Republic has reported, most superdelegates have accepted Nancy Pelosi’s judgment that the winner of the elected delegates should get the nomination. Instead of lining up behind Clinton, they’re drifting away. Her lead among them has shrunk by about 60 in the past month, according to Avi Zenilman of

In short, Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects continue to dim. The door is closing. Night is coming. The end, however, is not near. Last week, an important Clinton adviser told Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen (also of Politico) that Clinton had no more than a 10 percent chance of getting the nomination. Now, she’s probably down to a 5 percent chance.

Five percent. Let’s take a look at what she’s going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure another three months of daily sniping. For another three months, we’ll have the Carvilles likening the Obamaites to Judas and former generals accusing Clintonites of McCarthyism. For three months, we’ll have the daily round of résumé padding and sulfurous conference calls. We’ll have campaign aides blurting “blue dress” and only-because-he’s-black references as they let slip their private contempt.

For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to get the public really engaged is by poking some raw national wound.

For the sake of that 5 percent, this will be the sourest spring. About a fifth of Clinton and Obama supporters now say they wouldn’t vote for the other candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, on the other side, voters get an unobstructed view of the Republican nominee. John McCain’s approval ratings have soared 11 points. He is now viewed positively by 67 percent of Americans. A month ago, McCain was losing to Obama among independents by double digits in a general election matchup. Now McCain has a lead among this group.

For three more months, Clinton is likely to hurt Obama even more against McCain, without hurting him against herself. And all this is happening so she can preserve that 5 percent chance. When you step back and think about it, she is amazing. She possesses the audacity of hopelessness. Why does she go on like this? Does Clinton privately believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can deliver the policies they both support? Is she simply selfish, and willing to put her party through agony for the sake of her slender chance? Are leading Democrats so narcissistic that they would create bitter stagnation even if they were granted one-party rule?

The better answer is that Clinton’s long rear-guard action is the logical extension of her relentlessly political life. For nearly 20 years, she has been encased in the apparatus of political celebrity. Look at her schedule as first lady and ever since. Think of the thousands of staged events, the tens of thousands of times she has pretended to be delighted to see someone she doesn’t know, the hundreds of thousands times she has recited empty clichés and exhortatory banalities, the millions of photos she has posed for in which she is supposed to appear empathetic or tough, the billions of politically opportune half-truths that have bounced around her head.

No wonder the Clinton campaign feels impersonal. It’s like a machine for the production of politics. It plows ahead from event to event following its own iron logic. The only question is whether Clinton herself can step outside the apparatus long enough to turn it off and withdraw voluntarily or whether she will force the rest of her party to intervene and jam the gears.

If she does the former, she would surprise everybody with a display of self-sacrifice. Her campaign would cruise along at a lower register until North Carolina, then use that as an occasion to withdraw. If she does not, she would soldier on doggedly, taking down as many allies as necessary.


Phil Cardarella said...

Interesting article, if for no other reason than to observe how deeply in the tank for Obama the media will go.

Let's see: It is an unreasonable thing for the best qualified candidate to exhaust her chances to be the Party's candidate, because that is devisive.

But, it is OK for Obama's "lawyers -- never the Sentor himself, since he is above such crass political activities -- to prevent the enfranchisement of two major swing states at the Convention, because that might cut into both his lead and his inevitability factor. Forget all that talk about every vote counting and the impact this snubbing has on our chances in Nov.

And, of course, it is HRC who is responsible for the campaign that is exposing Obama's weaknesses as a candidate. Because if HRC had just rolled over, surely no Republican would have pointed such things out prior to the Nov election.

Blame HRC for that? DUH!

Like the mean, evil way HRC linked Obama to his pastor and spiritual mentor of 25 years. Oh, wait, that was everybody from Fox News to Jon Stewart, showing sermons Wright's church was selling to the public. Bad week for HRC? It may have damaged Obama fatally among swing voters -- and did make McCain look good to them. Think Obama would have carried Mo.'s primary if those sermons had hit earlier?

This is going to be a tough election. I don't happen to think Obama is the best nominee. But if he is our nominee, I want him to win -- and that means he needs to be tough enough to take the tough punches to come. If he can't take these open hand taps, he's gonna be in real trouble against the McCain-Swiftboat tag team.

Whining at Hillary doesn't help. To Obama's credit, he's not the one whining. But his supporters and his media worshippers need to chill out. Hillary Clinton is not running for president just to annoy them.

Anonymous said...

Cardarella's supporting Hillary! Not sure if that's a good thing for Clinton.

But let's look at his claim -- that Obama's somehow responsible for the failures of the Florida and Michigan Democratic party officials to abide by the national party nominating rules.

Florida floated the idea of a revote, and it was dismissed by numerous folks in Florida Democratic circles (though oddly enough, supported by Republican Governor Crist, who would love to have McCain run against Hillary).

Michigan is still discussing ways to have a revote of sorts, but there's a legitimate concern that people who chose not to vote in the (at-the-time) meaningless Democratic primary and who instead chose to vote in the Republican primary to determine the outcome of that race, will be disinfranchised now that the Michigan Democratic party (and Clinton, of course) want a do-over. Of course Clinton will stand to benefit, since she was the only candidate with her name on the ballot there.

The polls show that Obama's weathering the Wright comments, and that Hillary's own ridiculous puffing up of her resume last week will likely cause her credibility lasting damage.

It's unconscionable for Hillary's campaign to be kneecapping Obama, the likely nominee. I don't hope for class from the likes of Cardarella, but it's not too late to hope that Hillary will bow out with grace, sooner rather than later.

Phil Cardarella said...

At least I am not hiding such class as I have behind "anonymous".

I don't blame Obama for wanting to keep out the Fla & Mich. votes (even though he WAS on the Fla ballot & was the only one to campaign there by way of ads.) I just think it is hypocritical for folks to sanctify Obama as if he were not the practical Chicago politician that he is. For example, the kind of politician who would let his folks "encourage" superdelegate John Lewis to switch to Obama by threatening to run a popular Obama supporter against him in the Democratic primary. But I am sure St. Barack had nothing to do with that.

Or the kind of guy who would stand beside a speaker accusing Bill Clinton of being a McCarthyist because of a statement hoping that the Nov election would be run on issues not attacks on patriotism.(It was the same condemnation of personal attacks that he he made regarding the 2004 election, almost word for word, so trying to twist it into a personal attack on Obama is positively anachronistic.)

Perhaps we can win the Nov election without a pissed-off Florida or even Michagan. But my point is that Obama's placing of geting the nomination above winning the election is at least equal to HRC's -- and every bit as damaging if not more so.

By the way, you owe me an apology. By Obama Campaign logic, your use of the term "kneecapping" was an ugly, direct attack on my Italian American heritage. At the very least, Obama should have to denounce all you anonymouses Or is it anonymice?)and kick you off his campaign!

Anonymous said...

I find it telling that Hillary supporters always need multiple paragraphs to explain why Hillary should be the nominee. I can explain why Obama should be the nominee in a few words:

Obama has received the most votes.

Anonymous said...

"By Obama Campaign logic, your use of the term "kneecapping" was an ugly, direct attack on my Italian American heritage."

I was thinking more of Tonya Harding, but I understand that you have always had an exaggerated sense of your own importance.

Anonymous said...

Strange bedfellows, indeed, Clinton and Scaife:

Phil Cardarella said...

I plead guilty to making complex, reasoned arguements that cannot be reproduced on a fortune cookie insert.

By the way, any thoughts on how many fewer votes he would have gotten if Rev Wright had decided to sell videos in Dec.?

Anonymous said...

Phil -

You misspelled "arguments."

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Anonymous said...

Another 100 years of American Blood in Iraq. Yay!

Thank you Democratic National Party!

Another white male keeping the whitehouse's name in tact. Yay!

Hooray for the American Media for building a future where the corporate mongrels and special interest groups remain firmly in charge.

Yes we can!.... take a powerful movement of hope and turn it into a battle of race, sex and scandal. The ratings rule and moma media knows what her baby likes.

Phil Cardarella said...

I said reasoned arguments, not good spelling.

It is not the fact of a contested nomination that endangers our Nov chances. Both Gore & Kerry clinched the nomination early -- and then ran poor campaigns against a GOP willing to smear and steal as required.

Who will be the nominee & how he/she will run a campaign is far more important. And how adult the loser is. And the economy -- assuming anyone still has a home from which to be registered to vote.

Besides, "organized Democrats" is an historic oxymoron. We have always lacked the discipline of the GOP -- thank goodness!