Monday, May 26, 2008

The Parallel Universes of George and Hillary

As I've watched Hillary Clinton's ill-fought campaign, particularly over the past six months, I've been struck at how she seems to have learned and adopted so many of the political tactics of the outgoing hooligan, George w. Bush. The Guardian's Gary Younge lays it out beautifully:

"As the primary season draws to a close it has become increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton has run her campaign with the same contempt for intelligence, decency and democracy that Bush has run the country. Like the Bush administration, her campaign has been sustained by cynicism, divisiveness and fear-mongering, leaving a toxic and rancorous rift in its wake. Like the White House, her aim has been to win at all costs. And like the White House, it has produced the same result. Failure.

It is a continuum not of policies - on that front she is closer to Barack Obama than either of them would concede - but a mindset that has served America ill these past seven years. Creating a bespoke reality out of whole cloth and then hoping people will not just buy it, but wear it.

In a last, desperate bid to resuscitate her campaign, Clinton will put her case for the ratification of the results of the Michigan and Florida primaries to the Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee later this week.

Both states held their primaries in January, in defiance of Democratic party rules. The party warned them beforehand that their delegates would be disqualified if they went ahead, and asked the candidates not to campaign there. The candidates obliged. The states went ahead anyway. Clinton won both. Her senior adviser, Harold Ickes, was on the committee that voted not to recognise them. Obama's name was not even on the ballot in Michigan.

Back in October last year Clinton said uncomplainingly of Michigan: "It's clear, this election they're having is not going to count for anything."

But then she won both. Now everything is different. Speaking before a crowd of senior citizens in Boca Raton, Florida, last week she went into metaphorical hyperbole, comparing the battle to seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan to the suffragettes, the civil rights movement and Zimbabwe - where more than 40 people have been killed in election-related violence. "We're seeing that right now in Zimbabwe," she explained to a crowd of senior citizens. "Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people. So we can never take for granted our precious right to vote."

Clinton insists she is winning the popular vote. She's right. But only if you tally votes with the same degree of selectivity as Robert Mugabe. For her claim to make sense, you would have to count the discounted Florida and Michigan primaries and discount the legitimate caucuses in Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington state, three of which Obama won. These four states do not reveal popular vote totals. It's like saying if you include your goals that were ruled offside and don't recognise your opponents' headers (it is football after all) then you really won the game.

The reason Clinton has had to resort to this sophistry reveals another trait she shares with Bush - hubris. She believed she would have the nomination sewn up by Super Tuesday. She woke up on the following Wednesday out of money, ideas and volunteers. It was a month and nine contests before she won again. By then the momentum was Obama's and, though he has stumbled, he has been running with it since. By most reckonings he leads by about 190 delegates and 400,000 votes. Even if Michigan and Florida were counted, she would still trail in delegates.

And, like Bush, she has appealed to the basest instincts of the electorate to dig herself out of a hole. First came fear. "It's 3am in the morning and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the telephone [in the White House]," went her ad.

Then there is racism. The most recent example of which was her claiming that Obama's "support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again", as evidence of her own viability. Later she would concede that equating "white" and "hard- working" was a "dumb comment".

On Friday she was lambasted for intimating that she was staying in the race because, like Bobby Kennedy, Obama may yet be assassinated. It was clumsy. But a reasonable reading of the context shows she neither said nor meant anything of the kind. Her problem is that by now the general impression is that there is almost nothing she wouldn't do or say. It would indeed take something that dramatic and tragic for her to win.

Like the Bush administration, the issue is no longer whether she leaves the stage with her reputation irreparably tarnished, but what state she leaves it in and how many people she is prepared to take with her."

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