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McCain in 2008 = Clinton in 2012

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Allow me to do a little downbeat and wet-blanket prognosticating here, a bit of bad-boy forecasting in the "worst-case" rather than the "blue-sky" register. So get out your tea leaves and/or chicken entrails and read along with me. Please, I beg you, tell me why the following scenario won't in fact obtain--I'd love to be wrong about this. But my nagging gut, unfortunately, tells me otherwise, rebutting what my heart fancies.

Here goes: Incredibly, John McCain will win in November--despite a tanking economy, a spiraling national deficit, $4.50 summer gas prices, an ongoing "debacle" in Iraq, rampant Republican corruption, eroded civil liberties, and a campaign that promises to extend many of his predecessor's wildly unpopular policies. No matter. The Democrats will blow it. On paper, you would think that they would sail into the executive office. But the old-shoe white guy tortured war hero will defeat the upstart visionary-albeit-angry black man. Don't bet the ranch on the black guy, hoping against hope.

Plain and simple, Barack Obama won't win enough swing states. MoveOn.org can't deliver them to him. Nor can Oprah. The Clinton camp isn't going to oblige him with a sudden surge of gushing enthusiasm. For that matter, a grand post-convention rapprochement and de-embittering reconciliation between the Obama and the Clinton camps won't be happening anytime soon, even though Hillary and Bill will go through the motions, making nice for public purview, paying lip service to wishing Obama well and all that. But significant numbers--just enough where it matters--of Clintonistas, centrist Democrats, moderate Republicans, and fence-sitting Independents will peel away from risky Obama as November nears.

Obama's negatives are already rising. The McCain people and their shady surrogates will certainly compound matters by deploying every form of character assassination imaginable. Much mud will be slung, and some will stick--that's the whole point of mud slinging (memo to the above-board Obama: the technique works, don't be naive). The McCain people will surely be playing the guns, God, and gay cards--and they will be claiming that Obama has some pinko, effete, elitist, defeatist, terrorist-loving, tax-loving, ultra-liberal, anti-Pledge of Allegiance, anti-Flag-lapel-pin cards up his sleeve. Oh yes, then there's the abortion trump card, too.

Whispered insinuations will be quite enough to tip the balance. The McCain strategists will provide plenty of distractions and abundant rationalizations to convince enough white folks not to vote for a black man. Period. End of story. Alas.

Hillary knows the above. She sees the primary handwriting on the wall. She's nobody's fool. She's already looking to 2012. Thus she's now pursuing a scorched earth policy for the Democratic Party. She's denouncing the activists while belittling Obama and reserving her praise for McCain. Her current strategy betrays her clear intentions: She wants McCain to win in November (though she could never admit that publicly). She's looked at the chess board and has repositioned her pieces, plotting two or three moves ahead of the current match: McCain's winning the presidency in 2008 will virtually guarantee Clinton's winning the presidency in 2012--and then again in 2016.

McCain, she reasons, won't be a two-term president. He'll do nothing about Iraq and Afghanistan, except perhaps to dig us in deeper. He might bomb Iran's nuclear facility, or at least look the other way while Israel beats us to the punch. He will continue to support tax breaks for the rich, while doing nothing to rebuild the infrastructure of the U.S. economy. He won't be leading the way into a green future. He won't be spending his limited political capital on fixing our national health policy, our national educational policy, our national retirement policy, or even our national campaign finance policy. He'll likely need to work with a Democratic Congress--but he's not amicably collaborative by nature, and he'll blow up behind the scenes the first time he doesn't get his way.

Besides, McCain just wants to be president once. That's enough to satisfy his ego. He'll be too old and too tired for a second term (one need not be ageist against all older persons in order to conclude that McCain in particular, after a tough first term, will be too decrepit to vie for a second).

Hillary has thought this through. After becoming the Big Loser Who Couldn't Reverse Bush-ism in 2008, Barack Obama will not be the party's nominee in 2012. By then, Hillary will seem as if she deserves vindication and a second chance, and her off-putting airs of entitlement and superiority will have dissipated. For 2012, however, she won't pull an Al Gore and defer graciously to other candidates. Mark my words: She'll be running. We haven't seen the last of her presidential aspirations.

I don't know exactly what my bottom line here should be. By attending ruthlessly to Obama's obvious weaknesses against McCain in the general election, I'm not suggesting that Democrats should now drop him in favor of Clinton. Nor am I pushing the idea that the specter of a Clinton resurgence in 2012 after a McCain win in 2008 will somehow scare a good number of McCain-leaning Clinton-haters back into Obama's camp for now. I suppose the lesson is simply that the Democrats shouldn't let their wistful idealism overwhelm their savvy intelligence. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. And if you find yourself forced to choose between cynicism and stupidity, don't be stupid.