Sunday, March 9, 2008

Gasp! Where are the leaders?

My chief reaction to Hillary Clinton's stunning wins in Texas and Ohio, which have now extended her epic race with Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination for at least six more weeks (not unlike the groundhog seeing his shadow) until the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, was this: Fear.


Will so much more of this increasingly ugly campaign help Democrats ultimately defeat John McCain in November to re-take the White House? Or is this turn of events now setting up Democrats to lose all the marbles once again in what otherwise should be a sure-win year?


No, I am not suggesting that Clintin should drop out. She has won her right to compete fair and square by her clean primary wins last week. That's not the point. The issue is quality.


No, Barack Obama does not deserve a free ride to the nomination. He has a duty to answer questions about the Tony Rezko trial, his views on NAFTA and Israel, his recent staff gaffes, and all the rest -- just as Hillary Clinton has a duty to disclosure her tax returns, funding sources for the Clintin library, presidential papers, and explain the basis of her 3 am phone calls. Yes, a tough campaign can make them both tougher fighters in the end, and help clear the air on thorny issues. And yes, this ongoing contest has worked wonderfully so far to build interest, enthusiasm, and turnout.


But all these positives are fragile. And lately, the trend is ominous. We Democrats have a history of bloodying ourselves in internal battles producing weakened, losing candidates. Think Jimmy Carter 1980 or Hubert Humphrey 1968 (and for the historians in the room, Al Smith 1928, James Cox 1920, or even Stephen Douglas 1860).

What bothers me about the Hillary Clinton campaign today is that it seeems to smell blood and has chosen to base its strategy on simply tearing down its opponent. Turning loose dogs of war is always brings risks of the unknown. (See Iraq.) The more she attacks, the more Obama will need to attack back. And if she loses the contest and Obama becomes her collateral damage, losing to McCain in November, this seems to bother her circle less than losing the nomination itself.

And that galls the hell out of me. Because priority number one in 2008 is to win back the White House. Otherwise, this whole terrific primary contest has all been one big banal waste of time.

So now is the time for the Democratic leaders -- Al Gore, Nancy Polosi, Joe Biden, so on -- to act like leaders. They should step in and restore order. I'd like to see them call a big summit meeting, bring Clinton and Obama together, make them sit side by side, and read them the Riot Act. The message should be simple: Campaign your hearts out, but keep this civil. Strike a deal: Whoever has the most elected delegates once the primaries are over (with whatever special arrangement is made for Florida and Michigan) should be deemed the winner, and the loser should promise to concede then and there.

The Party should refuse to support either one of them who conducts himself or herself in a way to undermine a victory in November.

Personally, I happen to like both of our semi-finalists and think either one would make a terrific candidate. Maybe I'm just over-reacting, being in a grumpy mood from having a skin cancer removed this week. (How about that. I buried the lead. Don't worry, by the way. It went fine.)

In any event, that's my rant for this pretty Sunday morning here in Washington. Tonight I fly to Minneapolis (11 degrees and snow) to visit a very likeable client in the very likeable Midwest.

Hope things are well. I'm off for more coffee. --KenA

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