Each week the blogs, cable-fests and Sunday shows overanalyze a new mime... and post-Pennsylvania, it's the angst that Democrats will splinter and hand the election to McCain. Among other topics, this one came up on this week's 7 Days in America, with Headliner (and Clinton surrogate) Bob Kerrey arguing that his favorite was not being unusually negative for a trailing candidate and Arianna Huffington contending that she was a divisive fearmonger.
My view: worry of a self-immolating schism is apt if the general election were to be held May 4, not November 4. Let's stop exaggerating differences and universalizing this moment since it's nearly inevitable that the two Democratic contenders and their supporters will eventually unite given the stakes of a Bush III.
True, there's never been a contest quite this close and contested -- and fraught with issues of race and gender. But it's instructive to remember how two other camps reconciled in 1960 and 1984.
Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller represented two different wings of that Republican Party. With Rockefeller itching to run, he and Nixon met at 810 Fifth Avenue to iron out differences -- the result being "the Compact of Fifth Ave" with Nixon putting some civil rights planks in the party's platform and Rocky stepping aside.
Twenty-four years later and three blocks away, at Arthur and Mathilde's four story townhouse in the East 60s, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart met in June after Mondale had pulled away to a prohibitive lead (because of superdelegates!). As a Hart aide, I was downstairs with other staff while the two contenders met alone in an upstairs study. Here was the report by William Doerner from Time magazine that week:
Once the two adversaries had sequestered themselves in the study, shirtsleeves rolled up and notes at their sides, the mutual accusations began, each man coldly recalling stinging statements made by the other during the campaign. But after two touchy minutes, the ice was broken: both admitted that much of the rhetoric had been ill advised and, while offering no direct apologies, agreed that they were sorry that things had got out of hand. They then put the final touches on an accord that removed the threat of a Hart challenge to the credentials of Mondale delegates...
A couple of hours and many coffees later, the two emerged and spoke to a press throng that had spilled out into the street. "Fritz knows throughout this contest that he and I have been friends, are friends and will continue to be friends," said Gary, in language echoed almost to the word by Obama today. Replied Mondale, "I think we respect each other. I said during the campaign if we could just get two good nights sleep, that would be obvious. I've had my two nights' sleep."
When the press began quoting back the negative comments each had made, Hart, referring to George H.W. Bush's criticism of Reagan's "voodoo economics," replied with a smile, "well, we never accused each other of witchcraft." With that, the contest effectively ended.
That's essentially how the great 2008 Democratic presidential primary contest will also end, perhaps even including a NYC East Side venue (I hereby offer my loft.)
Right now there are ardent acolytes of each who threaten ruin if the other wins. Obama supporters assert that Clinton wants Obama to lose so she can run in 2012, as many journalists perform as mere conveyor belts carrying that message along. Some more enthusiastic Obamaites take a our-way-or-the-highway tone by implying that if Clinton somehow "stole" the nomination (as if independent superdelegates are not allowed to vote for who they choose) that their black and young supporters would either sit home or vote for McCain.
But motive is different than basis. LBJ benefited from JFK's death but only nuts would therefore conclude causation. Frankly, given their similarity of positions and their adult personalities, there's no way that Hillary Clinton and her husband wouldn't, after a proper sit-down with Obama, campaign all out for the fair-and-square winner.
And those Clintonites who assert that Obama is an inevitable loser should relook at the country's 82% wrong-track number and hard public attitudes about the war, the economic crisis, health care for kids, social security, global warming -- all issues where McCain will sink once an albatross named Bush is rightly hung around his neck
Obama and Clinton know all this. Said the Illinois senator, "Come August, there will be a whole lot of people standing on a stage with a lot of balloons and confetti raining down on the Democratic nominee and people are going to be excited about taking on John McCain in November."
For example, although some 25% of each Democrat's voters now say they'll defect to McCain this Fall, recall that while 30% of McCain voters in the 2000 primaries said they'd abandon Bush in the general election, only 8% ultimately did.
As both sides now fight a 51-49 race to the end in (ideally) June, Democrats have to stay disciplined about the end game - the prize being the White House after eight years of war, foreclosures and lawlessness. What it'll take is a gracious and smart winner -- and a gracious and smart loser -- and the two contenders are both gracious and smart.
So speechwriters should start getting their jokes ready when the two sit down and come up with an agreement to win back America from the far fright. How about HRC saying, "Once the sniper fire subsided, Barack and I could sit down and see how much we agreed"? Or Obama could note, "I'm not bitter but better, a better candidate because of Hill, since we have been friends, are friends and..."
strong>EXCERPTS FROM 7 DAYS, APRIL26, w/ BOB KERREY, ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, MARK GREEN & JOAN WALSH
KERREY: Q: Is Hillary right that "the tide turning" in her favor after her Pennsylvania win? "I'd say yes. Whether it turns fast enough is the question. It's a very big win. She lost Philadelphia by 150,000 votes and won the state by 200,000 votes. That's a huge win for her. In two weeks, the question is can she win Indiana?"
KERREY: Q: Is Clinton going too negative in her attacks on Barack Obama and is that hurting the party? "I worry a little. It's a concern, but I do want a nominee who can not only take a punch but deliver a punch. Whatever's been said in her advertisements about Senator Obama will pale in comparison to what he'll see in the general election. I don't think there has been anything she's said or done that has been outside of the range of what I consider to be reasonable in a campaign."
KERREY: Q: Is John McCain as hot-tempered as the press is telling us? "If you start off by saying that 'John McCain can get angry,' that's undeniably true. But, there's no instability there. It's not that he gets road rage or anything like that. It's connected to something he is trying to get done. But it is real anger. When you see it it can take your breathe away. I don't think it comes anywhere close to making him unqualified to be the President of the United States. If we are going to win in November, we have to find something more than John McCain's temper."
KERREY: Q: Are you worried that McCain will succeed in seeing the entire election through the lens of Islamo-terrorism? "I think that's the big question of this campaign. The Democrats have to come and respectfully say, 'We don't regard terrorism as something that's small. It is an existential strategy. We regard it seriously and we will use lethal force if necessary to protect the people of the United States. We are not gonna blame society for these problems.' I think there is also an opportunity for us to say to the nation the great challenge is trying to figure out how to make globalization work. Terrorism is a piece of that problem. What the Republicans have done is they have magnified it beyond reality and as a consequence distorted both our foreign policy and our domestic policy."
WALSH: Q: How can Clinton persuade 200 of 300 remaining superdelegates to support her, since that's what she needs to be the nominee? "I think that it's pretty implausible. I think that it would be a revolutionary and possibly damaging thing for the party if it was the superdelegates who gave her the nomination. It just looks so anti-democratic and Obama has been an amazing phenomenon. If there was a terrible Obama stumble, then the superdelegates would have to ask themselves why."
HUFFINGTON: Q: Is it more democratic to include or exclude the millions of Democrats who voted in Florida -- not seat delegates because of the vote but at least count in reports of the popular vote those who did vote between the two? " HUFFINGTON: "This is an amazing question. They all agreed, the candidates included not just the DNC, that Florida and Michigan would not count. They did not say they would count in votes, but not in delegates."
HUFFINGTON: Q: Why is Clinton beating Obama with crucial swing blue collar white voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania while Obama is significantly out-spending her? "In the end, fear trumps everything. She is appealing to the voters lizard brain. People are not rational. She has convinced them that she is the one that will keep them safe. If you close your eyes and pretend that what she is saying is being said by John McCain then you will have the general campaign againt Obama." WALSH: "I think that gives Clinton more credit than she deserves for dominating the debate and dominating the race. It's true that a lot of her voters are people who are fearful. They're fearful for a good reason. I don't think they are fearful of Osama Bin Laden under the bed, but rather they're fearful of losing their jobs, their homes, their healthcare. Those are genuine things to be concerned about in this Bush economy and it seems that it is Hillary who is proactively reassuring people about valid rational fears. For whatever reason, Obama is having a hard time breaking through and reassuring them that he has solutions for them."