Posted by: mutantpoodle | April 2, 2008

The Clinton Brand

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

Several bloggy colleagues (blogleagues?) have officially demurred from comment on the Democratic primary back-and-forth (which, depending on their orientation, some describe with more breathless adjectives), but I have not taken that pledge, although my highly irregular blogging schedule might mislead someone on that score.

There has been much pearl clutching (with apologies to Digby) about how this horribly contentious primary will hurt Democrats come autumn. I am less concerned about that – come autumn, John McCain will still be over 70 (72 on August 29, in fact), he will still be cheerleading a war in which the identities of the major players and their supporters regularly elude him, he will still be clueless about the economy and he will have changed positions on may salient issues – usually heading away from his allegedly mavericky independence and closer to the crumbling orthodoxy of George W. Bush. And either Hillary Clinton or, far more likely, Barack Obama, will be the physical embodiment – in several ways – of a new course for America.

Were I the Clintons, however, I would be concerned about how this prolonged fight affects their status among Democrats. Because it is extremely likely that Hillary Clinton will not be the nominee of her party, and in her desperate attempt to alter that likelihood, she and her husband have managed to alienate a large number of people who used to be fans.

There are people in this country who are approaching 30 whose only experience with a Democratic President was Bill Clinton, and whatever they thought of him when he left office, he certainly shined bright compared to the low wattage of George Bush, and the realization that blowjobs don’t cause 4,000 American (and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi) deaths and siphon hundreds of billions of dollars away from domestic needs. Among young Democrats, the ’90’s, for good or ill, are the only good ol’ days they’ve got.

And now the standard bearers for that era, the ones we defended against cheap, underhanded, and usually fictitious attacks from the Republican right, are plying their brand of politics within the Democratic party. And it doesn’t look so good.

Back in 1992, it was great having a candidate who fought back, who rejected GOP narratives, and who would do whatever it took to win. (Although, as I recall, whatever it took was an aggressive campaign, aided in part by Ross Perot’s hard work in undermining Bush 41.) And for all the Clinton disappointments, imagine the Supreme Court if we’d had a Republican president instead of Bill.

But now…

Look, Hillary can run as long as she wants. I think Gravel is still running, after all, although becoming a Libertarian might cause him a few problems down the line with the party faithful. But the malodorousness of her campaign is making people who used to like the Clintons, well, stop:

  • Florida and Michigan. If ever there was a more transparent case of someone (outside of the Bush administration) conveniently forgetting what they said six months earlier, I can’t find it. There’s even the lovely kabuki of Harold Ickes voting to strip the two states of their convention delegates, and then arguing, as a Clinton surrogate, that they should count – even though Hillary was alone on the Michigan ballot and no one campaigned in Florida.
  • 3AM: That moronic commercial, which, coupled with the argument that Hillary and McCain have a “lifetime of experience” (while Obama does not?) merely led to polls showing that most people wanted McCain to answer the phone at 3AM (because, as Bill Maher pointed out, he’d be up anyway peeing). It’s a dumb argument, as I have noted already, because experience without learning is wasted, and it is clear that John McCain’s experience, as long and at times horrific as it has been, has not taught him much of anything about the projection of American power in the 21st Century. And Hillary’s experience has taught her to take political cover, at least on matters of national security, rather than make arguments about why the GOP national security “strategy” is fundamentally flawed.
  • Reverend Wright: You’d think the Clinton campaign would keep a long distance from this one, but apparently, Obama’s speech was too good and the issue was going away, so Hillary had to chime in with this little gem. “He would not have been my pastor,” she said. “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.” Oh really? First, let’s remember that the incendiary clips are all taken way out of context. Second, what the fuck does she know about Jeremiah Wright, other than that he seems to be a nice club to use on her primary opponent? Just as I think it is deeply inappropriate for people to judge Hillary Clinton for staying with Bill after multiple, er, indiscretions, it is wildly inappropriate for someone to judge someone’s 20-year association with a pastor or church based on 2 minutes of YouTube clips.
  • The dumb conference calls (this means you, Mark Penn): If your message is that states that voted for your opponent are unimportant whereas states that voted for you are critical, then you’re in trouble.
  • The DCCC Extortion: We’re going to take our ball and go home? Jeez. Did anyone notice that Obama is breaking fund raising records $100 at a time?

In 1992, the Clintons were, perhaps, sons of bitches (although I don’t remember anything this hideous, either from the primary or general election), but they were OUR sons-of-bitches. Now, they seem transparently self-interested, which is OK, but there’s a fine line between building yourself up and tearing someone else down, and the Clinton campaign seems to have jumped over it.

Sister Susan pointed me to this piece which talks about the often misogynistic tone that anti-Hillary folks take when discussing her. And that is, no doubt, an issue – but it’s not this issue.

Yesterday, listening to an extended clip of Hillary Clinton discussing the economy, I was reminded of why I liked her in the first place, and why my initial allegiance was to her, as a more substantive candidate for the nomination.

But the crap her campaign is pulling is just that – crap – and it’s crap whether you’re a man or a woman.

Interestingly, something has led to a large polling swing toward Obama in the past week – which is less important than individual state matchups, like Pennsylvania & West Virgina (nearly certain Hillary victories) and North Carolina (almost equally certain Obama victory), but it may indicate that the Clinton act is getting stale.

I am not unsympathetic to Hillary: This was her time; she paid her Senate dues, burnished her national security credentials on the Armed Services Committee, had an election window where her party’s advantage was as good as it might ever get…and runs into one of the most gifted politicians in a generation.

And that’s too bad for her.

Barring a spectacular collapse by Obama, this will not be Hillary’s year, and if history is any guide, there will be no other. In the time between now and then, she and her husband get to decide whether they will have a welcome home in their party, or if they will single-handedly do more damage to their own brand than nearly two decades of fevered wingnut frothing could have ever hoped to accomplish.

The clock is ticking.

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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