January 23, 2008
The primary season is nearing a climax and, for once, the vote from Massachusetts is likely to mean something this time. The year long pre-primary campaigns have been a seemingly endless round of photo ops, partisan debates and campaign stops in little known places. Hamlets in Iowa, New Hampshire, even Nevada have vied for their Warholian moments of fame, and the daily sound bites from the hinterlands continue to dominate the national news reports.
In recent days, a new dynamic has surfaced: Taking a lesson from Karl Rove and his swift boat partisans, the Hillary Clinton campaign has gone increasingly negative. In particular, our former president Bill Clinton has jumped headfirst into the political fray, and is the leading surrogate for his wife in attacking her rivals, especially Barack Obama.
That Clinton is a powerhouse speaker and a legitimate political weapon has never been in question. Still, there is something disquieting about seeing Bill Clinton - a former president of the United States - taking such an aggressive and hostile attack role against a young leader like Obama in the Democratic primary.
Candidate Obama referenced that dynamic that has exploded on the primary scene of late when he lamented during Monday night's debate that, "I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."
Despite polls which show a high popularity rating among party loyalists, William Jefferson Clinton seldom has been identified with truth-telling when it comes to key questions. His extraordinary statement, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" still rankles even the most devoted Dems, not to mention those from the other side of the aisle.
Hillary herself is a divisive political figure and will be an easy target for the Republican attacks that are sure to come. The senator from New York assures us that she can "take the heat" of such an onslaught of negativity, as if that's the sort of confrontation that we as a nation should hope for and embrace as our only course.
The Clinton family have had their opportunity to make their collective mark on the nation and, as senator from New York, Clinton will likely continue to be an important voice on the national stage. Her husband, though philanthropy and his celebrity, has played an appropriate role as well.
But the recent shift in tone by the Clintons have party loyalists asking the question: Is this what the White House will be like with two presidents living under the same roof? Is this the kind of partisan climate that we want to encourage and continue in the nation's Capitol?
Obama, for his part, offers a different vision of the campaign to come. He speaks of courting independent voters and, gasp, even Republicans in his effort to build a new "majority."
With the Clintons, we are getting a preview of the personality driven, divide-and-conquer strategy that has become a hallmark of this husband-and-wife duo.
In a contest that increasingly seems likely to feature proven cross-over candidate John McCain on the Republican ticket, team Clinton seems likely to be a losing proposition for those of us focused on the ultimate goal of reclaiming Pennsylvania Avenue.