I’m a Democrat. I give money. I’ve work campaigns, both as a volunteer and as paid staff. I’m realistic and critical of my party (and open to criticism in return) but when it comes to fellow Democrats, candidates and activists, loyalty still matters a great deal to me. The party doesn’t reflect everything I believe in the way I believe, but it is the direction I want the country to head, and that’s what it comes down to. I have no apologies.
No matter what, I will vote for a Democrat this November: Clinton, Obama, whatever. I began this political season almost irritated that I had to make a choice between two candidates that rated about even in my book in nearly every way. Both have unique strengths and correspondingly worrisome weaknesses. I could have staked a claim on either one of them.
But at this point, I’m simply done with the Clintons. Not just for this race, but period. No matter what happens from here on forward, I’ve just had enough. I have friends who are dedicated to her, and whose political careers are linked to her fate. And it’s been truly difficult to get to this point.
But the second she opened her mouth to weigh in on the issue of seating Michigan and Florida delegates, I began to have my doubts. And with her declared intention to fight on until convention in August there’s just no avoiding it anymore. I can no longer pretend that she puts the party above even the slimmest chance of furthering her own ambitions.
She’s in a terrible situation, I know. I truly believe that Obama’s lead is as much luck as anything else. Swap the order of state primaries, juggle a little media coverage this way or that, and things could well have ended up the reverse (and if so, I think it almost certain that Obama would indeed have, in her place, dropped out to take the vice-president slot by now). That’s got to be excruciating. It’s got to feel pretty darn unfair.
But it’s still just no excuse for the damage she appears fully willing, even eager, to do to the party. Obama is in the lead without much question, and there simply aren’t any plausible ways she could win without doing serious damage to the party. Those are the facts. So from people who run around calling people “Judas,” where is the party loyalty?
Now, admittedly, there are all sorts of reasons to poo-poo the usual worries about primaries hurting party candidates. The reality really is that primaries often help, not hurt, the eventually nominee, and certainly the process helps us vet and weed out those that just aren’t up to the task. But all these good reasons increasingly cease to apply the longer a sustained neck and neck situation like this continues for months.
And then there are the two critical issues that, more than anything else, make Clinton’s continued efforts an outright threat to the party, rather than a sign of healthy competition.
The first is the harm she’s doing to any hope of mounting a top-class coordinated field campaign worthy to face off the one that John McCain is already putting together. Good field campaigns (the gumshoe ground forces that knock doors, ID voters, and prepare carefully targeted Get-Out-the-Vote efforts) are critical parts of modern elections, but they take an incredible amount of time to plan, prepare, and execute properly.
We’re talking months here. We’re talking John Kerry’s 2004 effort being late to the game by only really ramping up in June. And here is Clinton basically promising that there will be no true coordinated campaign, working under the auspices of a specific candidate, until September. That leaves only two months to build a huge volunteer organization and make millions of personal voter IDs and on-message contacts. There’s simply no way to build a credible field campaign in such a short time. Period.
What she is proposing is nothing short of crippling one of the few things that could give Democrats the edge they desperately need in must-win swing states like Michigan and Florida. There’s no way around this. As long as she’s still in the race, the party can only work with both hands tied behind its back.
The second issue is the lasting damage she’s caused by continually twisting the already painful blade of the Florida/Michigan delegate disqualification issue. Make no mistake: the bitterness over the DNC’s stance, right or wrong, on Florida and Michigan’s illegitimate primaries has already cost the party, in states where it couldn’t really afford anything going wrong in the first place. It’s dented the enthusiasm of critical activists. It’s burned bridges, and gotten people in the party to take sides in a very serious and even nasty way. We’ve gotten to the point where, no matter how it’s all resolved, if it either affects the outcome of the primary, or involves those delegates remaining unseated, some faction or another of the party will remember it and rue it for decades hence.
And yet, here is Clinton, desperate to hold onto anything that could possibly allow her to seize a long-odds victory, egging the bitterness on.
The only proper thing for the two candidates to do would to simply stay out of it. To allow the problem to be first ignored, and then made moot as the delegates are seated at the convention, the outcome unaffected by the DNC’s caving to ceremony.
Clinton could have done that. But she didn’t. And she isn’t. If anything, she’s spun the issue into exactly the sort of moralizing controversy it has no business being. I’m largely indifferent to the DNC’s stance myself: the current system is a mess, in many ways. But it is the set of rules that was laid down, and questioning it mid-stream, especially when Clinton herself once declared that the races wouldn’t matter, rubs me oh so the wrong way.
Again, I’m not talking here about losing my vote. I’m talking about losing my trust.
And perhaps more as well. As only a second term Senator, Hillary was well on her way towards becoming one of the most powerful and influential Democratic leaders in Congress. But if she succeeds in visibly crippling Obama (and her endorsement of McCain’s attacks, as well as the Wright mess coming when the party is still too divided to push back properly, have both already hurt) and John McCain wins in November, then the Clinton legacy will be in serious trouble. Even moreso if her support of Obama’s near inevitable candidacy is conveniently half-hearted and ineffectual, confirming the already bitter suspicion that the Clintons and their allies were less than seriously behind John Kerry in 2004.
People like myself can forget and forgive, but only with the sort of apologies I find it very, very hard to imagine being forthcoming. And we have long, long memories.
Addendum: Also…. what the hell??? It’s one thing to bravely walk into the lions den with your head held high. But Clinton should, if anyone is, be above hobnobbing with Richard Mellon Scaife, right wing crackpot extraordinaire. The whole thing smells far too much of Rush Limbaugh’s conniving call for Republicans to vote Hillary purely to cause Democratic disarray. That Scaife’s bizarre turn-around on the Clintons seems to have something to do with simply getting back at his ex-wife (an Obama supporter) makes it all the more unseemly even without playing right into his hands.