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Clinton, Obama: A Modest Proposal in Lieu of a Badly Wrecked Train

03/05/2008 09:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Our plesance heir is all vane glory,
This fals warld is bot transitory,
The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

It so happened that when I awoke this morning from uneasy dreams these words from a poem written by William Dunbar around the turn of the 16th century popped into my head, where they have persisted through a busy day. A modern rendering would be something like, "Our pleasures here are all vain./ This false world is transitory./ The flesh is weak, the fiend is sly./ Fear of death distresses me." The Latin refrain line dates back to the seventh- or eighth-liturgy of the Office for the Dead. The lines, in the memento mori tradition, instruct us to respice finem: look to the end. Put the day-by-day in the long perspective of eternity. In a word, focus.

The old theme is good advice for a day, when the Democrats prepare yet once more to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We need to focus.

Hillary, Barack: think! Think on what a McCain presidency will mean to the rule of law, already teetering on the brink of oblivion, while the economy falters, a war is waged without end or articulated objective, and the judiciary is packed with the ideologues of the unitary executive.

May I suggest two steps in the spirit of the old tradition? 1. Put up Mr. McCain's picture in every room. Paste it to the backside of your reading glasses, and 2. Cover every damn mirror in your house. Hillary, Barack: THIS CANNOT CONTINUE TO BE ABOUT YOU. One of you is going to have to take one for the team, and it has to be soon.

I'm not talking metaphors: literal lives are at stake. Here are some spiritual exercises for you: ask yourself each morning: how many people are now dead -- I mean real people who are really dead -- because we allowed a politicized Supreme Court to install the man with fewer votes? Visualize the corpses. Then look at the pitiful specter Ralph Nader has become and think of Lady Macbeth's repetition compulsion. Blood is sticky stuff. You need to focus.

How do we get out of this bad place? We have two perfectly viable candidates. My preference between them happens to be Obama -- and I have reasons for that preference -- but, hell, I'd vote Mrs. Clinton in a heartbeat and with a smile on my face, if the two of you would settle this thing tonight with a coin toss.

But I understand: "The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle," I suppose too much has been spent, said and done, and too many hirelings have too much invested, for such a sublimely aleatic solution to occur. But here's another possibility. Much has been said about the relative value of words and deeds. With the candidates as close as they are on most policy issues, the deleterious ad hominem attacks have seemed inevitable. But if the contest truly is about who will deliver, who will best achieve a progressive turn in American government and politics, I propose a different kind of campaign. I call it the here is Rhodes campaign (Aesop "The Boastful Athlete").

All three prospective presidents happen to be United States Senators. Let's judge them on what they do, on what they can deliver, between now and the election. Let Clinton and Obama vow not to leave Washington, DC between now and the nominating convention. Don't tell me who will deliver a progressive America. Take your campaign to the floor of the Senate and start delivering. Get in there and make it happen, stop the FISA act, assert congressional oversight of war funding. Stand in the well of the Senate and demand that the legislative branch check and balance the run away executive. Tell Nancy Pelosi to enforce the contempt citations against Meirs and Bolton. Haul Mukasey before the Senate and read him the riot act on ignoring congressional subpoenas. Tie up the DOJ's funding until you get some respect. There is enough work to be done here in Washington for you to make a real record of achievement -- and instead of destroying each other you'll put McCain under enormous pressure to come back and meet you in the Senate, where saying, at least potentially is doing. And the TV coverage will be free too. How's that for campaign finance reform?

This is my modest proposal. We're headed for the worst train wreck since 1968. I know it must be hard to give up one's chance at a prize like the presidency, but maybe, just maybe, covering the mirrors and concentrating on your jobs will get you what want anyway. It's a bold move. Even letting the other Democrat win, if that's what it takes, is better than losing anyway if it means spending eternity unsuccessfully trying to wash the blood off your hands, again and again and again...."Hic Rhodus, hic saltus." Leap Here.