- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Every political season has its pleasures. With the accelerated metabolism of the frenzied fight for Super Tuesday now behind us, the two parties are settling in for the more discrete political pleasures of late winter and early spring.

Republicans are entering the teeth-gnashing stage as they come to reluctant terms with their ideologically cross-dressing ancient mariner nominee. Sen. John McCain is condemned to wander about with the albatross of his former conservative apostasy around his neck. I suppose he hopes that he will be excused just as in the poem (Rime of the Ancient Mariner). Eventually, the Mariner’s curse was lifted when he sees sea creatures swimming in the water. Although earlier in the poem he had called them “slimy things,” he eventually sees their true beauty and blesses them: “a spring of love gush’d from my heart and I bless’d them unaware.”

But for the political gourmand, it is the Democratic race that offers the more delectable morsels. Sen. Barack Obama, the young Icarus, flies gorgeously above the clouds-shining, perhaps ominously, in the blazing sun. Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Clinton, the earthling, looks over her hunched shoulder, snarling to keep her reluctant followers from raising their vision to the hopeful sky: “And, therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days. Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams.” (Richard III)

Her practical problem at the moment, as a shrewd Democratic strategist pointed out to me earlier this week, is that she runs the risk of having the Giuliani problem: going for a month without winning any primaries or caucuses. Most experts don’t expect her to win any more until the March 4 elections in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island. In a normal primary season, one would expect that Mr. Obama’s string of victories, which started last weekend, would give him the momentum to overcome, by March, his current deficits in Ohio and Texas. But so far this strange season, momentum has been the dog that didn’t bark. If that pattern continues, perhaps Mrs. Clinton can wait through the “winter of her discontent” and come back strong in March.

But the danger of momentum returning and the Giuliani effect kicking in has clearly driven the Clintons to various “plots, libels and dreams.” You may have noticed that both the Clintons and Mr. Obama are making the case for why they are more electable. That is fair enough and standard procedure (remember John Kerry’s 2004 argument in Iowa and New Hampshire that he was the more electable). But the Clintons seem to be bruiting about some rather less pleasant versions of the argument. (I don’t know it’s the Clintons in each case, but on the principle of cui bono — who benefits — it’s a reasonable assumption.)

About a week ago we started seeing references in the national media (ABC, New York Times, L.A. Times) to Mr. Obama spawning a “cult of personality” — a theme that had existed in Illinois for some time but mysteriously didn’t substantially appear in the national media until about Super Tuesday. The maxim in political strategy is always go at your opponent’s strength.

If you turn him on that, the battle is over. So, the cult of personality perfectly targets his strength: That Mr. Obama has a wonderful personality. The Clintons (presumably) are suggesting, in effect, that he may be delectable, but he’s not electable. That it is unhealthy to adore a leader — undemocratic, in fact.

But beyond that are dark hints of yet-to-be-revealed facts about Mr. Obama. I was chatting with a senior Clinton surrogate in a cable TV green room late last week — a former Clinton White House senior appointee. He mentioned to me that, while they couldn’t bring it up, Mr. Obama said (unspecified) things back when he was in the Illinois Senate that may be on news videotape, and that was way beyond what a general election electorate could swallow (implicitly — too leftish for the public). Mr. Obama is just not electable, he suggested.

Undergirding the entire “unelectable Obama” message is the perhaps racially polarized electorate. While many commentators beyond the Clintons are suggesting this, it was of course the Clinton team (starting with Bill) that actually tried to induce the condition by playing the race card.

So the quiet Clinton message for the time being is this: Mr. Obama may be winning now, but he can’t win in the fall; while Mrs. Clinton may be losing now, she is the Democratic Party’s great white moderate November hope. Don’t expect to see this, Mrs. Clinton’s version of the audacity of hope, published with her name on it. But you will be reading it in your favorite news outlet nonetheless.

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