As recently as this past Saturday, while working the Obama visibility event in Union Square, I said to several people that I thought one of the best things about this election is that we have three viable Democratic candidates who have a legitimate shot at winning the Presidency in November. Barack Obama, obviously, is my first choice, with John Edwards a close second and Hillary Clinton a distant, but not totally unpalatable third. Not even 48 hours later, I see two viable candidates and one who is quickly becoming so toxic that not only can I see myself not voting for her in November, but dedicating my time and energy to working for the opposition, ideally Mayor Bloomberg’s inevitable campaign.
There was a brief moment early last week where I believed the combination of the historical import of a Clinton vs. Obama primary and the slam dunk seemingly awaiting the Democrats in November would override the petty politics-as-usual campaign tactics; that they would be able to engage on the issues and focus on their very different approaches to achieving their goals. I hoped there would be a very conscious decision by all three candidates to fight fair so as to ensure a healthy nominee we could all get behind in November.
Instead, I’m watching Hillary, Bill and company piss all over the process and claim that it’s just raining.
The Clintons and their surrogates have made it clear over the past week that she’s not going down without a fight; an ugly, mudslinging, malicious fight that virtually guarantees her first step, if she wins the nomination, will have to be repairing the damage to the Democratic Party, something she’ll be doing while coming under heavy fire from the Republicans. She spent an hour on Meet the Press yesterday bashing Obama instead of talking about her own vision for America, and playing the victim any time Tim Russert hit her with a tough question. Later in the day, she stayed silent when BET founder Bob Johnson introduced her at an event in South Carolina with an out-of-left-field slam on Obama that would have made Karl Rove proud:
“And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood – and I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in the book – when they have been involved. That kind of campaign behavior does not resonate with me, for a guy who says, ‘I want to be a reasonable, likable, Sidney Poitier ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ And I’m thinking, I’m thinking to myself, this ain’t a movie, Sidney. This is real life.”[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgQ5V1cL7iw]
Their strategy the past week — presumably representing Hillary’s new-found voice — has been to put Obama in the precarious position of either sticking to his positive message of hope and counting on voters see through the bullshit (something the cynical Clintons clearly don’t believe will happen and history is admittedly on their side there), or fighting fire with fire, letting himself be dragged down to their level where anything goes and they most likely win as the last thing America wants to see is a black man mistreating a white woman.
Yeah, I said it.
[ETA: Jack and Jill Politics breaks down the Clinton strategy in a harsh-but-true post entitled Oreos And House Negroes: The Clinton Strategy Explained.]
It’s getting very close to a point-of-no-return situation, where this thing gets so ugly that neither candidate will be able to vigorously support the other once the nomination is settled, not without looking like a major hypocrite. And that is a recipe for disaster come November, especially if John McCain is the Republican candidate and/or Mayor Bloomberg jumps into the mix.
PS: I think John Edwards nailed the underlying problem with Hillary’s MLK/LBJ flub:
“I must say I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Reverend Martin Luther King, but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that. Those who believe that real change starts with Washington politicians have been in Washington too long — and are living in a fairy tale.”
Anyone counting Edwards out already is both underestimating his commitment to his cause, something much deeper than just becoming President, and the resonance of his message, the meat of which almost every other candidate, Democrat and Republican, has picked up bits and pieces of. If Hillary falters again, coming in third in NV or SC, he’s right back in the mix.