The Democrats may have a nominee, but unlike General Douglas MacArthur one senses that Hillary Clinton is not going to entirely “fade away.” And there is good reason for her to wait in the wings for a little longer. Just in case.
STUMBLING TO THE FINISH
Barack Obama’s problems started, or rather re-started on Saturday. (He had been on quite a downward slide – losing Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky in the last three months.) In the wake of the latest hate-monger eruption at Trinity United, this time from Father Michael Pfleger (who, by the way, pulled in a cool $225,000 in earmarks from his Illinois Senator) Obama suddenly realized, after twenty years in the pews, that Trinity United Church might not be the place for him.
That sent tongues wagging: Why now? What other rhetorical bombs are yet to explode?
Saturday was also the scene of the DNC meeting in which the Democrats tried but failed to reach an arrangement which would satisfy both candidates. Although Florida did almost as well as the 3/5th compromise in the 1787 Constitutional Convention (they got ½ votes), Clinton took exception to the Michigan apportionment, claiming through her minions that four delegates had been “hijacked” by the “egregious” actions of the DNC.
The New York Post described the scene:
As voting was taking place, a woman wearing a "Team Hillary" shirt shoved a man wearing a small Obama button on his lapel, The New York Times reported. Another woman yelled, "McCain in ’08! McCain in ’08! No-bama! No-bama!"
The proceedings were often interrupted by boos and hisses when support for anything less than full seating was expressed. At one point, a childish exchange in the audience – "Shut up!" answered by "You shut up!" – brought things to a stop.
It was not a kumbaya moment. Nevertheless, Clinton picked up 24 delegates.
Sunday the bad news for Obama continued. Puerto Rico was the scene of another demolition derby. Clinton bested Obama by thirty six points. She netted another 21 delegates. Ah, but they don’t vote in November, his supporters claim. (And if you think it odd that two states get ½ votes and a non-state gets a whole bunch, you are not alone.)
Moreover, her big win gave Clinton a chance to make her pitch, declaring:
We are winning the popular vote. Now, there can be no doubt, the people have spoken and you have chosen your candidate. And it’s important where we have won. We are winning these votes in swing states and among the very swing voters that Democrats must win to take back the White House and put this country back on the path to prosperity. Together, we’ve won the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas, West Virginia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, and, yes, Michigan and Florida. And I hope by my second term, regardless of what the people of Puerto Rico decide about the status option you prefer, you too will be able to vote for the next president of the United States.
Was she throwing in the towel? Sunday it didn’t sound that way as she announced:
So, when the voting concludes on Tuesday, neither Senator Obama nor I will have the number of delegates to be the nominee. I will lead the popular vote. He will maintain a slight lead in the delegate count. The decision will fall on the shoulders of those leaders in our party empowered by the rules to vote at the Democratic Convention.
Terry McAuliffe, other staffers and Clinton herself hinted in several interviews that she would still soldier on. After all, those superdelegates could still change their minds. And with George Stephanopoulos repeating rumors that Democrats feared more YouTube from Trinity was on the way, why should she turn it in so soon?
On Tuesday conflicting reports surfaced. The AP said she would drop out. The campaign said no. The fine distinction between “conceding Obama had the majority of delegates” and “conceding the nomination” was pondered. But by Tuesday night Obama was over the threshold of 2118 delegates, provided of course they and more to follow will all hold firm through the convention.
The results from primaries in South Dakota and Montana were almost an afterthought. Once again Obama did not exactly wow the voters. He lost South Dakota by double digits, this long after he was crowned the winner by the liberal punditocracy. He did manage to win Montana, once again on the strength of liberal, young and wealthy voters.
MCCAIN STARTS THE ATTACK
McCain got the ball rolling with a barb-filled address from New Orleans. He played some defense, separating himself as he must from George W. Bush:
You will hear from my opponent’s campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release that I’m running for President Bush’s third term. You will hear every policy of the President described as the Bush-McCain policy. Why does Senator Obama believe it’s so important to repeat that idea over and over again? Because he knows it’s very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false. So he tries to drum it into your minds by constantly repeating it rather than debate honestly the very different directions he and I would take the country. But the American people didn’t get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Senator Obama. They know I have a long record of bipartisan problem solving. They’ve seen me put our country before any President — before any party — before any special interest — before my own interest. They might think me an imperfect servant of our country, which I surely am. But I am her servant first, last and always.
And he tried to transform his support for the surge in Iraq, which he reminds us was the subject of criticism from both sides of the aisle, as a test of his superior judgment and national security expertise:
Senator Obama opposed the new strategy, and, after promising not to, voted to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job of carrying it out. Yet in the last year we have seen the success of that plan as violence has fallen to a four year low; Sunni insurgents have joined us in the fight against al Qaeda; the Iraqi Army has taken the lead in places once lost to Sunni and Shia extremists; and the Iraqi Government has begun to make progress toward political reconciliation. . . .
And all of this progress would be lost if Senator Obama had his way and began to withdraw our forces from Iraq without concern for conditions on the ground and the advice of commanders in the field. Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who says he’s ready to talk, in person and without conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang, but hasn’t traveled to Iraq to meet with General Petraeus, and see for himself the progress he threatens to reverse.
But the main purpose was to try to reframe the election as one concerned with the type of change the two parties offered: “This is, indeed, a change election. No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically. But, the choice is between the right change and the wrong change; between going forward and going backward.”
Again and again, on Obama’s record, his liberalism and his lack of achievements McCain intoned, “That’s not change we can believe in.”
However, McCain’s forte is not whipping up a crowd and the setting and delivery left even sympathetic observers a bit flat.
Next up was Clinton. If you didn’t know you would not have guessed that she had lost. She congratulated Obama, without saying what it was for. She reiterated her argument that she was the best candidate to take on McCain. And she paid homage to her list of working class occupations (fireman, teacher, nurse — the list is familiar).
She pumped up her supporters, expressing pride that she and her fans had “stayed the course” and that 35 million voters had turned out in the Democratic primary. But she did vaguely promise to unite the Democratic party.
On the Planet Clinton tomorrow is always another day and perhaps in the days to follow she will finally leave the race. But not yet. Because hope springs eternal that something, something will jolt the Democratic primary voters into choosing her.
“What does Hillary want?” she finally asked. But no real answer followed, at least not one anyone cared about. She answered that she wants to end the war, enactment of HillaryCare, and respect for her millions of voters.
For now she is making no decisions and wants to hear from all 18 million supporters. And that VP slot? Obama will never shake the “appeaser” label if he gives into her self-indulgent, attention-hogging antics.
If you were expecting something new, you would be disappointed. Yes, he made nice with Hillary, but it was paragraph after paragraph of “McCain is just like Bush” and taunts that he should have gone to a half dozen mentioned cities rather than Iraq. Nor did he seem to back down from his signature positions: evacuating Iraq (“It’s time to refocus our efforts on al Qaeda’s leadership and Afghanistan, and rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century – terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. That’s what change is.”). He seemed unaware or unconcerned with the progress in Iraq and the damage inflicted on Al Qaeda, yes, right there in Iraq. Nor did he abandon his itinerary to hobnob with dictators:
Change is realizing that meeting today’s threats requires not just our firepower, but the power of our diplomacy — tough, direct diplomacy where the President of the United States isn’t afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for. We must once again have the courage and conviction to lead the free world. That is the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy. That’s what the American people want. That’s what change is.
Perhaps someone should mention that Roosevelt and Truman never met with Hitler or Tojo and Kennedy never met with Castro (nor has any American president).
But his crowd was roaring and the media swooned.
And so we have it, the end of the primary race and the beginning of the general election. It can’t possibly be as strange as the last year. Or can it?