THE BLOG
05/22/2008 04:51 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary's Hostage Crisis

Hillary's rhetoric of the past 24 hours has gone from conciliatory to cataclysmic, turning on a high-speed dime like some UFO over the Florida swamps. An awful lot of Democrats are shocked and outraged at her use of civil rights rhetoric over the primary dispute, especially after winning two primaries with the help of some white voters who admitted their choice was influenced by race.1

Some are suggesting a personality shift explains the change of tone, but she's cooler and smarter than that. It's more likely that this sudden transformation is premeditated, brought on by a simpler and more ruthless motive: She's demonstrating to Obama and the superdelegates what she's capable of doing if she's crossed.

Think about it: She's showing that she is willing to ignite a firestorm, amplify the misguided rage of her supporters, and split the party in two if her demands are not met. She no longer expects to get the nomination. She has another list of demands, which might include the vice presidency but definitely involve high-level appointments for herself and/or her supporters. She spent a couple of days showing how good she can be for the party. Now, the purpose of her recent comments has been to show how much damage she can do.

And she can do a lot. Many of her supporters remain convinced that not counting the Florida and Michigan votes (that is, honoring the pledge she and others signed) is some sort of disenfranchisement. She's made it clear she will push that argument until she has what she wants.

She's also making it clear she can keep the racial issue on the front-burner. What was most outrageous about her now-infamous WaPo interview wasn't her claim of media sexism, which undoubtedly exists. It wasn't even her claim that she's losing because of bias -- despite the fact that she was once the odds-on favorite and was a woman then, too. More outrageous was her claim that there has been no racism in this campaign -- this from a candidate whose last two victories came from white voters who, by 20% and 25% respectively, acknowledged that race played an important role in their choice.

What does that kind of talk accomplish? It inflames her supporters' mistaken belief that she's been unjustly robbed, while at the same time dismissing the idea that both nominees had hurdles to overcome. The ongoing rage of Hillary supporters is her best bargaining chip. It's the dynamite she can use to blow up the party.

And speaking of racial: Was it just coincidental that she invoked Zimbabwe, of all places, in describing the Florida election? And not just Zimbabwe, but the President of Zimbabwe: "the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people." Nice. The President of Zimbabwe is, of course, a scary and possibly corrupt black man. (No subliminal racial message there, of course; it's just one of the ongoing series of "accidental" inferences the Clintons keep innocently making.)

She knows these arguments won't sway the superdelegates to give her the nomination. What she's doing now is showing the Obama team and the Party's leaders that she has it in her power to cost them the election in November. Her surrogates are busy doing the same thing: "undermining the legitimacy of the Democratic nominee," as Scott Lemieux puts it.

It's a hostage crisis. She's showing that she'll destroy the party if necessary, even if it means destroying her own political future. She wasn't having a personality crisis when she switched from nice to mean yesterday: She was showing everybody the detonator in her hand. It was a Dog Day Afternoon moment, with Hillary as Al Pacino -- walking back and forth, smiling and nodding her head and saying "See what I can do? Still want to write me off?"

She didn't think Florida and Michigan were "rights" issues when she signed that pledge -- not until it was in her self-interest to do so. But a lot of her supporters either don't know that or don't care, and she knows it. She knows that a certain percentage of Democrats will chant along with her when she and her supporters start saying "Count the votes! Count the votes!"

What a moment that will be. Like "Attica State! Attica State!" but with a less sympathetic character leading the charge.
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1Don't believe race is a factor in this campaign? Watch this video about Kentucky - then ponder why no American news outlet bothered to interview these voters.

RJ Eskow blogs:

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