- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

A vow of poverty never accompanies the oath of office, as any politician could tell you, and we only occasionally elect deadbeats. So you can spare Hillary Clinton your sympathy and pity. She won’t miss this month’s mortgage payment.

The lady’s loaded, with a personal net worth in excess of $40 million, according to published accounts. She’s obviously playing the cattle futures market again. Nevertheless, borrowing $5 million and missing a payroll to keep your campaign going is not a confidence-builder just when the going gets tougher. Barack Obama’s money men are on a roll, having collected more than $3 million in the wake of Super Tuesday, three times what the Clintons have raised since the primary results were posted late Tuesday night.

This could quickly descend into a “Democrats in disarray” story, with the coverage the work of the usual lemmings, with correspondents and pundits jostling each other out of the way in pursuit of the story line. If money is the mother’s milk of politics, it’s also a convenient way to keep score between primaries.

Nobody has heard much from ol’ Bill since Hillary told him to put a cork in it just before Super Tuesday, but in December, campaigning in Iowa, he offered a typically Clintonesque straddle about the proprieties of where to find campaign money in a pinch. “They say you couldn’t stop me from spending all the money I’ve saved over the last five years if I wanted to, even though it would clearly violate the spirit of campaign-finance reform.”

Democratic chiefs understand this, and are eager to squelch talk of a brokered convention where the wise men repair to smoky hotel rooms to reach compromises leading to selection of candidates. This is how we got the likes of Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry S. Truman and a few other good ones. Not necessarily a bad system, but it might not be possible today because the nannies would call the cops to arrest everyone for smoking. You can’t have the proper smoky room without cigars.

“The idea that we can afford to have a big fight at the convention and then win the race in the [following] eight weeks is not a good scenario,” Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told an interviewer. “I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April. But if we don’t then we’re going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of arrangement.” Just so it’s not in a smoky room (or “smoke-filled room,” as the cliche goes).

Once upon a time Democrats didn’t worry about what the neighbors think, and everyone took brass knuckles and a length of lead pipe to Democratic unity meetings. There was nothing like a bracing street fight, with thumbs in the eye and sharp elbows in the ribs, to “bring everyone together.” It was the way to get “change,” as in, “You change to my candidate or you’ll be sorry.” Such fighting, like nocturnal cat fights and business meetings at the Baptist church, only leads to more cats, more Baptists and more Democrats. You could look it up.

But we don’t do it that way anymore. Such disarray among the Democrats is playing against a Republican narrative of reluctant consensus, if not necessarily unity. John McCain can already see the nomination in a neat package. The man who was road kill before Thanksgiving can start thinking about a suitable running mate. He went out of his way in his Tuesday night victory remarks to praise Mike Huckabee — even before he got around to saying nice things about Mitt Romney, the night’s runner-up. Perhaps it was coincidence, but in Washington such coincidences are carefully calibrated.

The gunfight at the OK Corral shifts now to Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which could redeem Howard Dean’s prediction that the Democrats will have a nominee by the middle of March. Or not. He didn’t sound overly confident (and didn’t even raise his voice) with his prediction of a nominee in March or April. But the Republicans, who are in a bit of disarray themselves, can’t feel confident, either. They have to remember where cats and Democrats come from.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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