The morning after

By EDITORIAL  |  March 5, 2008

There will be time in the weeks to come to consider the awkward and ill-conceived role of the so-called superdelegates. If existing voting trends continue — and there is no reason to expect that they will not — the superdelegates will break any deadlock at the August convention in Denver. Harder to resolve will be what to do about Florida and Michigan, states whose results all Democratic candidates once agreed would not be counted because they scheduled primaries that violated the Party’s guidelines. It is impossible to escape the reality that a longer and more divisive campaign is — at a minimum — a short-term boon to McCain and Republicans at large. It looks as if the Democrats’ long-term prospects are being tempered by their near-term structural problems.

In the recent round of electioneering, there is little doubt that Obama got away with more than Clinton when it came to dissembling about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) so loathed by unions and blue-collar workers. But for all Obama’s trimming and double dealing on the issue, or because of it, Ohio voters overwhelmingly went for Clinton. Even more troubling than Obama’s NAFTA sharp practice is the seeming lack of vigor he employed when denouncing Nation of Islam icon Louis Farrakhan, an anti-Semite who inexplicably enjoys support in Obama’s home church.

Unsatisfying and unfair though it may be, Obama — and McCain — enjoys a better relationship with the national press than does Clinton. That, in a large part, is because Clinton, back in the days when her candidacy seemed unstoppable, treated the press as if journalists were, well, jerks. That was all of a piece with her strong-armed style aimed at commandeering the party’s insiders and convincing voters that she was inevitable.

Clinton’s impressive comeback has many of her supporters touting her experience and toughness as her bedrock virtues. Both are considerable. But voters in the upcoming primaries would do well to remember that Clinton’s style of hardball spawned Travelgate, which wounded her husband’s presidency before it could take flight. Her tough stance on Whitewater allowed the national press to develop an issue that could have been contained before it morphed into the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Her ham-fisted management of the Clinton health-care initiative lead to this important issue being sidelined for almost 10 years. And her vote for Bush’s Iraq War gave that adventure a patina of bipartisan respectability. There is no doubt that Clinton is tough. But to what end?

Her grit has been displayed on the primary battlefields, with husband Bill playing the race card in South Carolina, her campaign disseminating a picture of Obama in African tribal dress, and her own Nixonesque answer to a 60 Minutes question about Obama’s religion in which she toyed with the idea that Obama might be a Muslim before she conceded what she very well knew: that Obama is a practicing, churchgoing Christian. America has enjoyed enough of this style of tough. Clinton should cease and desist.

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