By Ryan McGreal
Published March 28, 2008
Hillary Clinton, like former president Bill Clinton, is a moderate Republican: corporatist, pro-war, socially conservative, friendly to big business, and possessed of a sense of privilege that she somehow intrinsically deserves the Democratic nomination.
Partly as a result of her sense of entitlement, she has run a lazy, sloppy, uncoordinated campaign that is hemorrhaging money and inadvertently exposing its ugly and dysfunctional inner workings as advisors quit, landlords are left high and dry, and Clinton has to loan her campaign millions of dollars of her own money to stay afloat.
Her reaction to Obama's tightly focussed, well-organized, broadly supported and well funded campaign has been to go negative, and I mean GOP hit squad negative: subtly fanning rumours that Obama is a Muslim, accusing him of plagiarism, accusing him of doubletalk over NAFTA, smearing his religion, claiming relentlessly that he has no experience, dismissing Obama's electoral victories and calling the states he wins insignificant, airing the ridiculous fearmongering "3 AM phone call" attack ad, and even going so far as to claim repeatedly that McCain is more experienced and better prepared to be president than Obama (though she backpedaled later).
One of the many bitter ironies of her campaign is that she, herself, is actually the candidate guilty of the attacks she has made against him: plagiarizing other people's lines, fabricating her 'experience', changing her story about NAFTA, and so on.
The Obama campaign's measured, fact-based rebuttals against her smears demonstrate his competence and integrity, both at thinking on his feet and at surrounding himself with smart, capable, reality-based advisers.
His impressive speech on race, written by himself and delivered after the Clinton campaign tried to smear him over comments made by his former pastor, actually transformed a potential liability into an asset by elevating the discussion out of the gutter and - gasp - treating Americans like grownups for a change.
Her latest bullying tactic has been to sic a cabal of multimillionaire Clinton donors on Nancy Pelosi, implicitly threatening to boycott the party unless Pelosi reverses her position that the superdelegates ought to follow the will of the party membership.
The only way Clinton can possibly win is if Obama totally flames out over the next couple of months in some appalling scandal, if she manages to convince the Democratic National Committee to change the rules and allow the Michigan and Florida votes to be counted, or if a large majority of superdelegates overturns the popular vote and hands her the nomination.
The first is highly unlikely, since Obama already aired all the skeletons in his closet a few years ago in his autobiography; the second would be patently unfair, as Obama wasn't even on the Michigan ballot, while the third would almost certainly tear the Democratic Party asunder and hand the election to McCain.
In fact, her campaign has been so vituperative that some pundits are actually starting to wonder if handing this election to McCain is actually Clinton's fall-back plan, giving her another shot at the presidency in 2012.
Another theory is that she's angling to be McCain's running mate. Since she's a de facto pro-war Republican anyway, this actually makes political sense, but it would be "bipartisanship" in the worst possible sense - a total Democratic capitulation to the statist Republican agenda.
Obama is no political messiah. He's a middle-of-the-road moderate (albeit with liberal tendencies), and he's more interested to "move forward" than to enforce the rule of law among existing criminals in government.
At the same time: he has run an incredibly smart, efficient and effective political campaign. He demonstrates common sense and political savvy even while under attack, he has good instincts, he understands the Constitution and is committed to upholding it, he takes special pains to be honest and factual in his dealings, he is capable of writing his own speeches, and he manages to reach out to people who live in different political worlds.
Clinton's and Obama's platforms are substantially identical; the real difference will inhere in how each responds to real events and crises as they arise. Clinton's 3 AM fearmongering notwithstanding, Obama seems to have a much better track record of making good decisions on the fly - the archetypal example being their respective decisions about Bush's war in Iraq.
Since the case against war was so compelling even in 2002, we can only assume that either Clinton was incapable of making a sound political decision or she chose expediency - not wanting to appear "weak" on national security - over policy. Either way, it bodes ill for her capacity to govern well.
Perhaps most important, Obama eschews the dirty, meanspirited politics of personal attacks and smearmongering. Instead, he inspires people to believe that it really is possible to do politics differently. In a country whose government has spent most of a decade trying to prove the adage that government can't do anything right, this is a terribly important quality.
A whole generation of young Americans have come of age believing that the Bush administration represents government in general and are in real danger of abandoning politics altogether. Unlike Clinton and McCain, Obama is having great success at engaging those otherwise-disaffected young citizens.
To the extent that engaged citizens are necessary for a healthy democracy, there's no overstating the importance of this political inspiration in a country in which fewer than half of eligible voters bother to turn out on election day.
It's telling that Obama has managed to secure donations from over a million individual citizens, many of whom had never donated money to a campaign before. That's a tremendous accomplishment in a political oligarchy of top-down power brokers, and it helps to explain why Obama continues to outraise Clinton despite her tighter institutional backing.
Ultimately, a victory for Clinton would be a victory for business as usual in the dysfunctional American political system, or what Ruth Rosen calls "the politics of fear" and Frank Rich calls "the audacity of hopelessness".
Obama, by contrast, manages to turn problems into opportunities - in other words, almost precisely what the USA needs right now. He managed this deftly in his handling of the Reverend Wright affair.
Obama's disagreement with Wright is not on the underlying facts of racist oppression but rather on whether, and how, it can be overcome (naturally, he argues that it can). The fact that he managed to communicate what - in the mainstream of US political discourse, at least - is a complex idea in a way that resonated with millions of people tells us a lot about what he would be like as the president of a horribly divided, badly mismanaged country.
This is the kind of experience that matters. He's written two books - by which I mean he sat down and wrote the books, not that he let himself be interviewed by a ghostwriter - was a lecturer in constitutional law, and cut his teeth as a community organizer in Chicago, a job that entails lots and lots of meetings and is based almost entirely on building relationships, not machiavellian tactics.
Back in 1992, a young, inexperienced Democractic candidate came seemingly out of nowhere to win the nomination, win the election after a long run of Republican presidency, and reinvigorate the party. At the time, Hillary Clinton was that young, inexperienced politician's spouse and political partner.
How much times have changed; how much they have remained the same.