Thursday, March 06, 2008

For the Benefit of Mr. McCain

Highlighting the recent tactics of the Clinton campaign, James Fallows points to their apparent willingness to do whatever it takes to regain personal glory, even if that means tearing down Barack Obama as much as possible. In the end, these tactics make it more and more likely that John McCain will be the only one benefiting from Hillary's prolonged candidacy.

In laying out his case, Fallows first looks to a column by Chuck Spinney in which he quotes Michael Gerson among others: "Though it is increasingly unlikely, Clinton may still have a path to the nomination -- and what a path it is. She merely has to puncture the balloon of Democratic idealism; sully the character of a good man; feed racial tensions within her party; then eke out a win with the support of unelected superdelegates and appeals, thwarting the hopes of millions of new voters who would see an inspiring young man defeated by backroom arm-twisting and arcane party rules."

Puncturing the idealism? "The skies will open up, the light will come down.." Sullying the character? Not a Muslim -- "as far as I know." (Yes, yes: saying that someone is a Muslim is no slur. In the circumstances..) Appeals? The Michigan and Florida delegations. Racial tensions? Passim. Plus, infamously two days before the Ohio-Texas voting: "I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002."

(Update: In a live CNN interview, Sen. Clinton repeated, twice, the "Sen. McCain has a lifetime of experience, I have a lifetime of experience, Sen. Obama has one speech in 2002" line. By what logic, exactly, does a member of the Democratic party include the "Sen. McCain has a lifetime of experience" part of that sentence? And I guess with her nonstop references to 2002 she must be talking about Obama's anti-Iraq war speech, not the 2004 convention speech that actually put him on the map.)

I have reached the point of wanting to scream every time I hear about the primacy of "experience," knowing how skillfully the 46-year old Bill Clinton waved that argument away when it was used against him 16 years ago by a sitting President who simply dwarfed him in high-level experience. But to pose it in a form that is poison for the party should Obama be the nominee??? To produce a clip that the McCain campaign could run unedited every single day of a campaign against Obama? That is something special. (Also, I think she means 2004 for the speech.) If Bill Clinton poisoned the well for other possible Democratic nominees in quite the same way back in 1992, I can't think of it now.

The conclusion of Spinney's (and Gerson's) analysis was that Obama had put Hillary Clinton into a position where in order to win, she had to damage not just him but the party. That is why, as everyone is saying, the big victor today is John McCain, and not just in the obvious way.
In a side note, he adds some more thoughts on the “experience” question:

I mean, it's almost incredible to think about, when you consider what constitutes an "experience" edge in this election. The elder George Bush, by the time he ran for re-election, had been president for four years; vice president for eight; ambassador to the UN for two years; de facto ambassador to China for two; Congressman for four; director of the CIA for one year; plus former head of the Republican National Committee, decorated combat pilot, and commander in chief during one brief hot war and the end of the prolonged Cold War.

Moreover, in his "3 a.m." moments of real crisis, he had used his experience to make sane decisions: handling the collapse of the Soviet empire, standing up against Saddam Hussein, putting together a wartime coalition so broad and supportive that the United States may have actually made money on the Gulf War, then having the sense not to occupy Iraq. Not bad!

Nonetheless, the young, vigorous, though vastly less experienced governor of Arkansas was a better match for America's needs in 1992 -- or so Bill Clinton argued, and I believed. To hear, 16 years later, the Clinton team stress the transcendent importance of a "lifetime of experience" must drive the elder George Bush mad.

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