The Democratic campaign grinds on, and it's wearing us all down. Two months ago, there was a rather good-natured rivalry between the Clinton and Obama folks. Many of us in the Obama camp respected Hillary Clinton's policy substance and agreed with most of her policy positions. Many us were sad for her, feeling that she is a worthy candidate who was simply weighed down by too much baggage piled on by her husband and by her political enemies, and who was outrun by an fresher opponent with superior political skills, Our counterparts in the Clinton campaign shared some of the excitement of what Barack Obama is trying to do.
After a few months of sharp elbows, missteps, disappointments, and exhaustion, the rivalry isn't so good-natured. From our side, every day that Hillary Clinton hammers away at Barack Obama is a good day for John McCain. We've got a long and growing list of grievances: Various Clinton surrogates' efforts to racialize the campaign, her dissembling about the Social Security earnings cap, her 11th hour pandering faux populist bogus gas tax thing, the negative overall tenor of her campaign since Super Tuesday, her morally and diplomatically awful comments about our ability to "totally obliterate" Iran, some rather sleazy emails sent by various Clinton operatives.
The list grows. Just the other day, President Clinton had this to say about the Obama campaign:
The great divide in this country is not by race or even income. It's by those who think they are better than everybody else and think they should play by a different set of rules.
Let's all take a moment to savor the stratospheric chutzpah of him delivering these words.
I know the Clinton people have their own tally of grievances. It includes the words "likeable enough," various sexist insults Senator Clinton has endured (usually from Republicans), Obama backers' criticizing the Clinton presidency, some tough mailings hammering health insurance mandates. It includes countless slights one receives playing catch-up for months against (from their perspective) a media-favored front-runner. The basic point is clear: Both sides have reasons to feel angry and to feel some wounds rubbed raw.
With all this water under the bridge, can we Democrats resolve our differences to close ranks against the Republicans? Visiting an Indiana garage sale reminded me of why we will. I've told this story to Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic. here
Here is my version.
My 11-year-old daughter and I spent last Saturday canvassing door-to-door for the Obama campaign in northwest Indiana. We also trolled neighborhood garage sales talking with people and buying tchochkies. In Indiana, people sell hot dogs, coffee, and pop at neighborhood sales, which piqued my daughter's interests more than the Norman Rockwell prints.
A small house in the neighborhood was having a garage sale. Out front was a sign: "All proceeds go to liver transplant patient." A relative with cirrhosis is on the liver transplant waiting list.
A gracious older lady brewed me a coffee and told me her story. She was a little fuzzy about the arcane bureaucratic details. Yet the contours are clear enough. He's getting excellent care, but he's getting hammered by medical bills. He had a good manufacturing job, but it went away. He had been making hefty COBRA payments of nearly $1000 per month, and lost that as well. They've tried with limited success to penetrate a bewildering, at times callous Medicaid bureaucracy. He is now in the waiting period for a federal disability program and getting those bills.
I gave the lady some numbers, left $20 for my coffee, and moved on. I've contacted some transplant social workers to see if this family can get some help. As it happens, this family are Obama supporters, but that's beside the point. Even after everything that's happened, I'd vote for Hillary Clinton in a heartbeat if that meant I didn't have to attend such garage sales and hear these stories any more.
As Senator Obama said, it's not about him. It's not about Hillary and Bill Clinton, either. It's not about some email Sydney Blumenthal sent to undermine our guy. It's not about people screaming at each other on the blogosphere or cable television. It's about sick people who need health care and help with the bills. It's about protecting the environment, enacting progressive taxes, refueling activist government to hold wealthy interest groups accountable. It's about putting a new face on America in the world.
We've been through a painful family feud. After last night's Obama victory in North Carolina and whisker-thin Indiana loss, the political fight is effectively resolved. I hope the feud will end, too. When we've had a little time to look past the hard feelings, we'll all realize that we need each other.
Let's not kid ourselves. This will be a tough election fight. Clinton supporters need Senator Obama's fresh charisma to advance their valuable policy agenda. Ironically, both Clintons need Barack Obama to solidify their own legacy. They must show that they can fight for something larger than their individual political fortunes. It's not all one-way, either. Senator Obama must harness the Clintons' doggedness, their new-found economic populist message, and their stomach for a tough fight. He'll need her in the Senate fighting for health reform.
It's easier for him to be magnanimous in victory. I hope Senator Clinton goes out on a high note with her head held high. Despite everything, many of us would have seen much to admire in a Hillary Clinton presidency. She practices a different kind of politics from Barack Obama's. I prefer the Obama way, but they are both trying to improve our country. We saw much to admire in the Clinton years. Senator Obama can help to retire her large campaign debt. I can't imagine that he would appoint her vice president, but there are other ways to give her an honored seat at the table.
We'll come together. Too much is at stake for us not to.
Postscript: Apologies to readers for my poor copy editing.