Thursday, March 13, 2008

Endgame (?)

Once upon a time (five weeks ago), in a land far, far, away (California), a prince and a princess met with their subjects and shared with them their optimistic (and slightly differing) vision for the future. It was a hopeful vision for a land that had, for the last 8 years, been withering in “The Darkside”. It was a wonderfully civil discussion. The mood was cordial, and the prince and princess left the Great Hall of the far away land (Hollywood) holding hands and embracing the notion of a new tomorrow that seemed as inevitable as the sunrise. What followed this historic gathering were 14 (I think) primary victories for the prince. And the princess, slowly realizing that in order to bring about her better tomorrow she would need more than an elegant pantsuit and pumpkin carriage, bought herself a pair of Everlast gloves. And when the princess finally launched her first haymaker, accusing the prince of plagiarizing and casting doubts about his religious faith (“as far as she knew”), the subjects breathed a disappointed sigh of relief: It was politics season in Washington and what was old was suddenly made new.

What became clear after California, and Barrack Obama’s impressive string of primary victories, was that Senator Hillary Clinton was perfectly willing to entertain the notion of a better tomorrow, as long as it was her tomorrow. Barring that, if the America people, by way of their voting behaviour, were not going to grant her the image she held for herself—that of the put upon and worthy Cinderella who, for years, scrubbed her wicked step-sisters floorboards so that she could eventually be rewarded her “happily ever after”—then she would be just as happy and willing to play any one of the three wicked step-sisters—sometimes all three at once.

I have long been fascinated with the scheming nature of politics. But the events of recent weeks have caused me to pause; and, in addition to being angry beyond ability to sleep comfortably, I find myself truly puzzled as to what, exactly, the endgame is in the Clinton Campaign. First, the facts as I understand them: In order to secure the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton will have to win every single remaining primary by at least 64%. That’s right, every single one. That means North Carolina and Oregon (two states many “experts” feel will go to Obama decisively). This would include the Michigan and Florida Primaries she is so desperately trying to resuscitate (but not really it seems, as she would rather take the current results rather than have to campaign again). 64%. A percentage she hasn’t managed all election. To make this even clearer: should Hilary lose any of the subsequent primaries, or win them by less than 64%, that percentage will only go up. As for the Obama camp, if he didn’t win another primary (not likely), he could squeak by if he only pulled in (roughly) at least 46% of the remaining states and still be able to secure the nomination (a number he has easily obtained if not exceeded in his few loses), and these percentages also translate to the uncommitted superdelegates. Should Obama win a state or lose by closer to 50 than 40 percent of the votes, that number will only decrease.

What does all this mean? It means that there is no way that Hilary Clinton can secure the nomination through any method that most democrats—for that matter, believers in democratic theory—find acceptable. Does this mean she is preparing for a coup at the convention, and is prepared to gut the democratic party and its base months before what (largely due to her tactics) is suddenly becoming a race that, once upon a time (five weeks ago), was looking like a slam dunk? Maybe. Perhaps her desire to be president is so strong, her ego so inflated, as to believe that, after Denver, people may feel burned—the echoes of Bush’s stealing of Florida still prevalent on their democratic tongues—but that, miraculously, they will, in the three short months until November, bury the hatchet when the smoke settles and join the caravan, even if they don’t like it. Of course, this is assuming that, after having the nomination stolen from him at the convention, Obama would, somehow, become a good “House Negro” and get on board for the “sake of the party”—you know, the one that just stabbed him in the back. There are too many factors, some of which strain credibility too far, that I can’t help but think that even this is an improbability, surely the democratic party could, for once in its life, stand up for itself. Cross your fingers!

So the question arises again: What then is the endgame? After many sleepless nights pondering this question, I have been able to come up with two potential answers, the second answer being absolutely dreadful:

1.) Hilary wants to be Vice-President. This answer presented itself to me after she floated the audacious offer to the media that her and Obama would make a great joint ticket, with her (the current loser), obviously, at the top of it. This originated from either incredible arrogance (something Clintonian’s have been known for), or was brilliantly shrewd. Float the question out there to the press so that the media would then approach Obama with the same question in the hopes that it would pin Obama into a corner and force him to place her gingerly on his coattails. If he declined, she could play the wounded bird and declare umbrage at the notion that Obama doesn’t care about “winning” (with her/Bill’s perceived “dream ticket”) and only cares about himself. If they could get him to declare his willingness to entertain the notion, then she could play nice and not “quit”, per se, but instead “fold” her campaign into his and save face. Vice-president wouldn’t be so bad. Especially since we live in a country in which prominent and inspirational black leaders often find themselves at the business end of a sniper round. If history were any indication, she would be in the office faster as a VP and on the ticket than as an outsider looking in. Brilliant. But, amazingly, this blew up in her face (give the media credit for once!). Rather than turning the question back to Obama, the media (like most Americans) did a double-take and instead asked, “But wait—aren’t you losing? Why would the guy winning agree to be your vice-president? Wait, we’re sorry, but haven’t you been saying he’s not ready to be president, how can he be a good candidate for VP?” This mushroom clouded in her campaign’s face and they are still reeling from this. And, to my knowledge, no one has seriously approached Obama with this suggestion—especially after the Ohio primary and her Red Phone ad. This notion was staked in the heart by Nancy Pelosi who recently stated that, given the flavor of the current debate between the candidates, that this notion of a joint ticket was an “impossibility”. That Clinton doesn’t still hold out for this and hope that her nail-dragging campaign wears down Obama to the point that he offers her a slot on the ticket can’t be completely ruled out, but it is highly improbable. So, then I ask again: What is the endgame?

2.) I’m not happy about the suggestion that follows. I find it repugnant and morally reprehensible, but I can’t deny its Machiavellian brilliance—especially if the endgame is to become president at any cost (and, given the many ethical issues the Clinton campaign has raised by its “kitchen sink” strategy, we can not ignore it). Quite simply: they want Obama to lose. Obama’s lead over John McCain has dwindled significantly in the last month, and I don’t think there is a sensible person out there who could point to anything McCain has done to affect this change. Most would say that this change in national attitudes is a result of the Clinton campaign tactics. The fact that the Clinton campaign has, in effect, seceded “national security” to John McCain and his “experience” is the first sign that they are doing the Republicans dirty work for them; months before the RNC has to, and without republicans even having to spend a dime. This tactic has taken the form of Mark Penn flat-out saying that Obama will lose, which has the vague connotation of a threat. Wasn't the assertion (by Clinton) at that wonderful Californian summit that (undeniably) one of the candidates on the stage would be the next president? Now not so much? One has to wonder how many of her supporters thought at the time that their Hollywood dollars would be going towards Clinton's message out and not those of the competing candidate. The recent race-baiting of Geraldine Ferraro—who has now taken to playing the “reverse discrimination” card—is straight out of the Republican anti-affirmative-action playbook. And the Clinton’s leaking of Obama in ceremonial Somali garb to The Drudge Report is exactly the type of thing Karl Rove made popular in D.C the last 15 years, a tactic proved very effective during the “vast right-wing conspiracy” of the 90's. But, still, why? The answer can only be, given the numbers at this point, that the Clinton Campaign isn’t running for election in 2008, but in 2012. If McCain beats Obama in a year when the democrats, by all hopes and dreams, should win the presidency, he will effectively be neutered as a future candidate and be forced to slink back to the Senate to wither away with John Kerry and Joseph Biden, because he would be proved to not be, as the Clinton campaign has been arguing, “tough enough”(as if they are somehow doing Obama a favor). If they don't do it now, neither her, or Bill for that matter, who has always, somewhat deludedly, coveted the notion of being the (Regan-like) face of the Democratic party. If they don't take out Obama now they will never get out from beneath his shadow. This will effectively deal with the “Obama problem” the Clinton’s have been struggling with since the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The cold reality of the politics of the situation dictates that if Hillary is “barely” denied the nomination and Obama loses, given the fact that many wonder if McCain is a viable 2-term candidate, she can spend the next four years campaigning against McCain (differentiating herself from him in a way she has been unable to do until now) and emerge as the savior of 2012. Four years later? Better late than never, right! I am completely aware that such a plan exists within the highest realms of cynicism. But we can’t ignore the numbers. She is losing, and by all accounts will lose. So then what is the point of all the misinformation, the fear, the race-baiting if it is not to sink Obama before he has a chance to sail? At this point, I can’t think of any other explanation. And I can say the answer hasn’t helped me sleep any better.

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