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...
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."