Hillary Clinton has every right to pursue her presidential candidacy, and score meaningless touchdowns in West Virginia and Kentucky even though she's losing by 40 points with 30 seconds left on the game clock (and today, she has lost four more superdelegates to Barack Obama, which means that since Feb. 5 she has picked up 14 super endorsements - and lost 109). No, the real question is whether she plays out the string with dignity, or decides to yank the opponent's face mask on her way to defeat.
It looks like the latter. Last Thursday, she brought up the racial factor again (the Clintons can't help themselves), declaring that Barack Obama is weak among "hard-working Americans, white Americans" - a multiple insult/deception, because (a) it implies that whites are racists who are congenitally unable to support an African-American, (b) it implies that African-Americans are not hard-working.
She almost seemed to be insulting herself, as well; surely she didn't mean to imply that she's the candidate for white racist Democrats who are looking for a place to land. But that's how it came off, and it's tragic. The Clintons, not that long ago, were lionized figures in the black community; but if Hillary somehow did wrest the nomination away from November, I suspect that she would be imperiled in some of the swing states precisely because a lot of hardworking black Americans, who are crucial voters in the Democratic base, would opt to stay home.
(Moreover, she was savaged for these remarks on Saturday Night Live. Amy Poehler, posing as the candidate, intoned: "My supporters are racist...and would never vote for any African-American candidate. I'm not bragging. That's just the way it is." Losing SNL might not be as consequential as Lyndon Johnson losing Walter Cronkite, when the anchor tilted against the Vietnam war, but still...)
Anyway, with the Sunday shows on tap, I was curious to see how her surrogates would spin that race remark. Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign, it chose to put Terry McAuliffe on Meet the Press. McAuliffe, a Clinton intimate and former national Democratic chairman, is an energetic guy who once (literally, yes) wrestled an alligator in Florida in exchange for a campaign donation. The problem with McAuliffe, though, is that he is a fact-challenged bloviator well practiced in the art of denial; on election night in 2002, while his party was in the process of losing the U.S. Senate and worsening its minority status in the House, chairman McAuliffe declared publicly that it was "a great night for the Democrats."
In that spirit, McAuliffe tried yesterday to explain away Hillary's last-ditch dealing of the race card. At first he said, "she was quoting an AP (Associated Press) story. In fairness, she was quoting what had been written in the AP."
When Tim Russert informed him that, the AP story "did not say that white Americans were hardworking Americans," and that, in fact, "those were her words," McAuliffe moved the goalposts and said, "Well, she was, she was paraphrasing the AP story." (my emphasis)
Two problems already: Clinton, if she was truly interested in finishing out the primary season by keeping the dialogue on an elevated plane, would not have singled out the AP story in the first place, nor tried to tweak its content by giving it a stronger racial element. And McAuliffe blundered his mission yesterday by saying that this campaign should be fought out on the high road: "I hate that race is even in the - we should not have it. We shouldn't have race, we shouldn't have gender...(L)et's make sure we stay back focused on the issues."
We shouldn't have gender...Oh really? Well, apparently, the spinner and the candidate are not in sync. There was McAuliffe, on national TV yesterday morning, saying that nobody should play the gender card - yet here was his candidate, in the afternoon, genderizing in West Virginia: "Women have been standing up for what we believe in, defying convention and going forward for a long time...Women face a lot of barriers, some visible, some invisible. And in 2008, it's really important we recommit ourselves to making sure that our daughters and our sons have an equal chance to lead and serve in the future...It would be exciting to have the first mother in the White House." (Yeah, I know, it was Mother's Day. But Clinton has been playing the gender card all year, which can't possibly be news to McAuliffe, who chairs her campaign.)
But I digress; we're not quite finished with the race card. When Russert posted several comments from angry unpledged superdelegates - both of whom condemned Clinton for utilizing a racial wedge at a time when the party should be coming together - McAuliffe tried to shrug that off by contending, "I can put up 30, 40 more superdelegates who will say, you know, talk about what the Clintons have done on the race issue." But that's not the right comparison. Can McAuliffe cite a single unpledged superdelegate in the past four days who has praised or defended Hillary for casting herself as the champion of "hardworking Americans, white Americans"?
I have yet to hear any. In fact, I suspect that if she keeps fighting in this fashion, she will only increase the steady trickle of superdelegates to Obama - all of them anxious to end this race before she does any more damage, not only to the party and to Obama, but to herself. There is a great desire to have Clinton out there championing Obama to hardworking white Americans, but the more she denigrates him, the less credibility she would have later on while trying to boost him.
Despite all this bad blood, I suggested in a print column yesterday that it would not be a shock if Obama ultimately picked Clinton as a running mate, calculating simply that it would be the best way to repair the tattered Democratic fabric. I don't necessarily believe it would be an ideal pairing, but I detailed several recent examples (1960 and 1980) where shotgun marriages occurred despite conventional wisdom to the contrary.
1. "Clinton and Obama are light in administrative experience and neither has run either a state or a major federal agency. My favorite candidate would be General (Anthony) Zinni (former chief of U.S. Central Command) - he has better military experience than John McCain, knows how to run large operations, and was a valued and widely expected mediator in the Middle East."
2. The ticket of a black man and white woman might be too much for a lot of swing-voting guys: "John McCain presents the alternative of a white male to blue-collar white males who were not already voting as Democrats. Obama would be foolish to choose Hillary as a running mate - not to mention the guaranteed headaches she would create by her demonstrated inability to subsume her lust for power to more noble virtues."
3. "The amount of antipathy in the Obama camp is not to be underestimated...Look for John Edwards or Lee Hamilton."
Feel free to post your own speculations today.