04/16/2008 11:51 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lies and Consequences

Memo to: PA democrats From: a NY democrat

Re: lies and consequences

There is a well-known judicial principle called "standing," by which anyone seeking to pursue a legal action must demonstrate his or her right -- or standing -- to do so. First things first, then -- let me demonstrate my standing to say what I have to say to you: I voted twice for Senator Clinton and twice for President Clinton.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also say that I fall into that category of American which the Clinton campaign refers to as elitist. Presumably, that makes me condescending as well. So with my bona fides and my shortcomings now established, I can proceed.

My comments are directed particularly to those Democrats who do not reside in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or any of the other areas where Senator Obama is presumed to have great strength. It's all you other democrats I'm speaking to -- the ones, as Senator Clinton has educated us, who naturally would be suspicious of a condescending creep like me.

Is it hopelessly naive of me to say that the phrase "bum rap" comes to mind, and is now deeply entrenched there? Not merely that I have been bum-rapped, but -- much more important -- you have too. I'm not sure whether I write more in sadness or anger; either way my conviction is the same: you Pennsylvanians are now being showered with the coins of the Clinton campaign that have been raining down on all of us for more than a year. They are: hypocrisy, cynicism, deceit, a willingness -- in fact, a passion - to sow division and mistrust between fellow democrats, and an implacable, unquenchable appetite to win at any cost, with a disregard -- a casual disregard! -- for truthfulness and common decency.

I suppose that jeremiad does betray anger. Yes, I'm angry. I'm furious. Rage -- not blind rage, but rage of the clear-eyed and unblinking variety -- is not too strong a description of what I'm feeling. But sadness is part of the emotional calculus too -- a profound sadness that such things must be said. You might ask why you should take notice of what I have to say. It's a fair question.

My response is not to offer you one more analysis of the "bitterness, guns, and religion" fandango. Even though I'm a condescending elitist from New York, my guess is that you may feel as I do: one more mention of it and you'll scream. Instead, I'd like to point out some things that Pennsylvanians -- whose primary comes late in the process, and whose inclination, like most other Americans, is to live their own lives without obsessing about politics -- might not have considered when the action was in Iowa and New Hampshire, a century or two ago.

I'm referring to a phrase that is much in political vogue these days: the narrative, or meta-narrative, of a candidate and campaign. In the case of Senator Clinton, there have been multiple narratives, each of which she offered until circumstances deemed it no longer operative. Each defunct narrative was replaced by another, until circumstances changed yet again, and so on until the present moment.

Unlike most of you, I apparently have not succeeded in getting a life, and so I have followed these mutations with something resembling... well... obsession. That's my problem, not yours, but I want to share what little fruit the exercise has produced. And so:

Narrative Number One, in which the operative word was "inevitability." The strategy, openly conceded by the Clinton campaign, was to present the senator's candidacy as a foregone conclusion, a fait accompli. After all, who else was there with the capabilities and intellectual rigor so evident in Mrs. Clinton? Biden? Dodd? Edwards? Richardson? Someone named Obama? "Please folks," the message went, " let's get real. There's nothing to discuss."

The Clinton team had every right to pursue this strategy, but it seemed like we were being offered a coronation, rather than a campaign. And it felt a little bit -- what's the word I'm searching for here? -- condescending. I sensed a touch of noblesse oblige: "I'm certainly not suggesting we forego the selection process, people, but it's merely a formality." A mere formality, that is, until the shock of the Iowa caucuses. And so:

Narrative Number Two, in which the operative word was "experience." Immediately, the scope of the experience was quantified: Senator Clinton had fully thirty-five years of experience! This meant her experience commenced on the day she left law school. For reasons I'll never understand, this was seldom commented upon, nor was it clear why the other candidates could not date their respective experiences from the day they left academia. Actually, they could have, but it never occurred to one of them to do so. And so it went for a while, until Senator Obama began piling up one victory after another, which gave us:

Narrative Number Three, in which "experience" remained the operative word, but which was now invested with subtexts we had not heard before. The message went like this: "Barack Obama is a gifted politician, a brilliant orator, a man steeped in skills and attributes that will -- one day -- make him a great president." One day, but not this day. Why? "Because we face perils of such magnitude, and enemies of such cunning, that we cannot afford to risk putting the reins of government in such inexperienced hands. It is a luxury, fellow democrats, we cannot afford."

This approach, fellow democrats, triggered in me a shock of recognition that never fades. Though the subject matter was far different, the technique being employed was identical to what we have all lived through for seven years. That message was -- is -- : "Civil liberties and the rule of law are the shining jewels of American life. But because we face perils of such magnitude, and enemies of such cunning, we cannot afford the luxury of civil liberties and the rule of law. Someday, perhaps, but not this day."

Not for a moment am I drawing a direct comparison between the Clinton campaign and the Bush administration. Rather, I am suggesting that they both employed the same dreadful technique: they both played the fear card. What had been, until then, a campaign of condescension and artfully-phrased half-truths -- misdemeanors in today's political climate -- became a cascade of political felonies: outright deceit, hypocrisy, and cynicism. All of which brought us to the condition we are in now:

Narrative Number Four, in which operative words have been replaced entirely by innuendo, unencumbered by any sense of truth or falsehood, right or wrong. Do you, Senator Clinton, think Barack Obama is a Muslim? Well, Mrs. Clinton replies, I have no reason to think he is, and I take him at his word. Did you, Senator Clinton, really duck sniper fire in Bosnia? Well, Mrs. Clinton replies, I "mis-spoke." (No mention that she mis-spoke at least three times.) Do you, Senator Clinton, really think that Senator Obama is an elitist? Well, Mrs. Clinton replies, it's really all about perceptions -- Al Gore and John Kerry were both good men, but they were perceived as elitists. And on it goes, invoking the spirit of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater.

The Pennsylvania primary is a week away. As the old cliché goes, that's a lifetime in politics. Lifetime or not, it's plenty of time to take a breath and examine what has really been happening all along. And while you Pennsylvanians do that, I'd like to ask Senator Clinton a question posed many years ago to another U.S. senator: Finally, madam, have you no sense of decency?