Trying to do my small part to help begin to unify the Democratic Party, I had promised myself that I would halt criticism of Clinton in print and on the Web. There is, after all, so much to be said about McCain and Co. But this evening I find myself unable to carry through on this pledge. There are two significant reasons.
First, I have grown increasingly concerned that Senator Clinton’s continual references to the so-called popular vote may end up damaging Senator Obama’s candidacy. It has the potential to do so by delegitimizing his victory, that is, by making it appear that he didn’t win the nomination cleanly because more people voted for Hillary. Certainly Clinton is entitled to remain in the race through all of the caucuses and primaries, and if she must, until the convention. However, even though it is clear that Obama’s (increasing) delegate lead will give him the nomination, the Clintons have continued to appeal to the notion that she is entitled to it because she has won more votes. It’s of course not evident that she has won more votes, except according to the most contrived mathematical formulas (e.g., leaving Obama without any votes in Michigan). But on a more basic level, the national popular vote is a myth, or I should say, a mythical beast. It is a chimera. You cannot generate a national popular vote from contests that have included caucuses (which cannot produce nearly as many votes as primaries), contests that have permitted independents to vote, as well as states that have permitted Republican crossovers, etc. It isn’t necessary for the Clintons to make the popular vote argument to see the election through to the end, which is one of Hillary’s proclaimed reasons for staying in the race. The argument is shortsighted if you care about a Democratic victory in November. One can only speculate as to why the Clintons have chosen this course, but it isn’t for the good of the Party.
The second reason can be called the anti-mensch factor. Instead of stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for her comments regarding RFK’s assassination, Hillary has come up with two lame strategies and one despicable one for explaining them away. The lame strategies involve trying to justify her comments by saying that 1) Teddy Kennedy had been on her mind, and 2) all she had meant to do was suggest a time line for long campaigns. I won’t comment on the first, except to say that her comments were a strange way to reveal caring and concern. Regarding the second, the time line argument simply doesn’t hold up. There is absolutely no reason why Bobby Kennedy’s assassination needed to be invoked as a marker. There are many other ways to talk about extended nominating contests. And if for some reason she had wanted to mention Bobby, all she had to do was say that he won the California primary in June. (This is not to say that she wasn’t thinking about a time line. The issue is about the role of the marker, RFK’s assassination, that she chose to use.)
But now I come to the despicable reason. Zachary A. Goldfarb reported on May 25th, in The Washington Post, the following. “Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign accused Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign of fanning a controversy over her describing the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy late in the 1968 Democratic primary as one reason she is continuing to run for the presidency. ‘The Obama campaign … tried to take these words out of context,’ Clinton campaign chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said on ‘Fox News Sunday.’ ‘She was making a point merely about the time line.’” [emphasis added] http://blog.washingtonpost.com/the-talk/2008/05/clinton_camp_stokes_rfk_flap_b.html?nav=rss_email/components
As noted, the time line argument doesn’t work. And it is virtually inconceivable that some very bright Clinton people do not understand the flaw in their own argument. It’s just too obvious. So it is disingenuous for Clinton to claim that Obama took her words out of context if her own claim about ‘the context’ is justifiably suspect. Further, the reaction to Hillary’s words were viral. They were all over the web within hours if not minutes. In addition, you had papers like The Daily News and The New York Post running banner headlines about Hillary’s “killer gaffe.” McAuliffe’s words were meant to suggest that the Obama people were somehow responsible for the “attacks” on Hillary. It is inconceivable that the Obama organization, even if it had wanted to fan the flames, could have been so successful. There was genuine outrage. I can tell you as someone who lived through the assassinations of the sixties, the outrage was totally comprehensible. It didn’t need any “fanning” from the Obama organization.
But there is more.
According to Goldfarb, “Asked if Clinton has personally called Obama to apologize for the reference, McAuliffe said she has not, ‘nor should she.’ He added, ‘Let’s be clear. This had nothing to with Senator Obama or his campaign.’”
Obama, the first African-American candidate with a real chance of winning the White House, has had to receive secret service protection since last May, long before the other candidates (excepting Hillary as the spouse of a former President). This protection is necessary due to a very real concern, namely, that someone might try to shoot and kill him. As a black American he is uniquely vulnerable. And the Clinton campaign can’t see a reason for a phone call. Why? Because of how they read the politics: if we apologize, then we admit that she may have done or said something wrong. Political calculation trumps basic decency. (The irony, of course, is that they have the politics wrong. How they are handling this will cost them support, especially among Boomers who lived through the sixties.)
As a final note, I watched HBO’s new movie, “Recount,” this evening. I have heard that Hillary has already noted that the movie supports her claims about Florida and Michigan. Nonsense on stilts. The situations are totally different, and a slogan such as, “count all the votes,” had a totally different meaning in Florida in 2000 than it does in Michigan and Florida in 2008. But right now I am just hoping that I don’t feel compelled to write something more about Hillary Clinton.