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Hillary Clinton, Fratricidal Maniac

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/03/07/opinion/main3916817.shtml?source=mostpop_story Hillary Clinton, Fratricidal Maniac The New Republic: Hillary
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2008
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      http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/03/07/opinion/main3916817.shtml?source=mostpop_story

      Hillary Clinton, Fratricidal Maniac
      The New Republic: Hillary Clinton's Continued Run Is
      Damaging The Democrats' Chances

      Comments Comments792

      March 7, 2008

      (The New Republic) This column was written by Jonathan
      Chait.
      The morning after Tuesday's primaries, Hillary
      Clinton's campaign released a memo titled "The Path to
      the Presidency." I eagerly dug into the paper,
      figuring it would explain how Clinton would obtain the
      Democratic nomination despite an enormous deficit in
      delegates. Instead, the memo offered a series of
      arguments as to why Clinton should run against John
      McCain - i.e., "Hillary is seen as the one who can get
      the job done" - but nothing about how she actually
      could. Is she planning a third-party run? Does she
      think Obama is going to die? The memo does not say.

      The reason it doesn't say is that Clinton's path to
      the nomination is pretty repulsive. She isn't going to
      win at the polls. Barack Obama has a lead of 144
      pledged delegates. That may not sound like a lot in a
      4,000-delegate race, but it is. Clinton's Ohio win
      reduced that total by only nine. She would need 15
      more Ohios to pull even with Obama. She isn't going to
      do much to dent, let alone eliminate, his lead.

      That means, as we all have grown tired of hearing,
      that she would need to win with superdelegates. But,
      with most superdelegates already committed, Clinton
      would need to capture the remaining ones by a margin
      of better than two to one. And superdelegates are
      going to be extremely reluctant to overturn an elected
      delegate lead the size of Obama's. The only way to
      lessen that reluctance would be to destroy Obama's
      general election viability, so that superdelegates had
      no choice but to hand the nomination to her. Hence her
      flurry of attacks, her oddly qualified response as to
      whether Obama is a Muslim ("not as far as I know"),
      her repeated suggestions that John McCain is more
      qualified.

      Clinton's justification for this strategy is that she
      needs to toughen up Obama for the general election-if
      he can't handle her attacks, he'll never stand up to
      the vast right-wing conspiracy. Without her hazing,
      warns the Clinton memo, "Democrats may have a nominee
      who will be a lightening rod of controversy." So
      Clinton's offensive against the likely nominee is
      really an act of selflessness. And here I was thinking
      she was maniacally pursuing her slim thread of a
      chance, not caring - or possibly even hoping, with an
      eye toward 2012 - that she would destroy Obama's
      chances of defeating McCain in the process. I feel
      ashamed for having suspected her motives.

      Still, there are a few flaws in Clinton's
      trial-by-smear method. The first is that her attacks
      on Obama are not a fair proxy for what he'd endure in
      the general election, because attacks are harder to
      refute when they come from within one's own party.
      Indeed, Clinton is saying almost exactly the same
      things about Obama that McCain is: He's inexperienced,
      lacking in substance, unequipped to handle foreign
      policy. As The Washington Monthly's Christina Larson
      has pointed out, in recent weeks the nightly newscasts
      have consisted of Clinton attacking Obama, McCain
      attacking Obama, and then Obama trying to defend
      himself and still get out his own message. If Obama's
      the nominee, he won't have a high-profile Democrat
      validating McCain's message every day.

      Second, Obama can't "test" Clinton the way she can
      test him. While she likes to claim that she beat the
      Republican attack machine, it's more accurate to say
      that she survived with heavy damage. Clinton is a
      wildly polarizing figure, with disapproval ratings at
      or near 50 percent. But, because she earned the
      intense loyalty of core Democratic partisans, Obama
      has to tread gingerly around her vulnerabilities.
      There is a big bundle of ethical issues from the 1990s
      that Obama has not raised because he can't associate
      himself with what partisan Democrats (but not
      Republicans or swing voters) regard as a pure GOP
      witch hunt.

      What's more, Clinton has benefited from a favorable
      gender dynamic that won't exist in the fall. (In the
      Democratic primary, female voters have outnumbered
      males by nearly three to two.) Clinton's claim to
      being a tough, tested potential commander-in-chief has
      gone almost unchallenged. Obama could reply that being
      First Lady doesn't qualify you to serve as
      commander-in-chief, but he won't quite say that,
      because feminists are an important chunk of the
      Democratic electorate. John McCain wouldn't be so
      reluctant.

      Third, negative campaigning is a negative-sum
      activity. Both the attacker and the attackee tend to
      see their popularity drop. Usually, the victim's
      popularity drops farther than the perpetrator's, which
      is why negative campaigning works. But it doesn't work
      so well in primaries, where the winner has to go on to
      another election.

      Clinton's path to the nomination, then, involves the
      following steps: kneecap an eloquent, inspiring,
      reform-minded young leader who happens to be the first
      serious African American presidential candidate
      (meanwhile cementing her own reputation for Nixonian
      ruthlessness) and then win a contested convention by
      persuading party elites to override the results at the
      polls. The plan may also involve trying to seat the
      Michigan and Florida delegations, after having
      explicitly agreed that the results would not count
      toward delegate totals. Oh, and her campaign has
      periodically hinted that some of Obama's elected
      delegates might break off and support her. I don't
      think she'd be in a position to defeat Hitler's dog in
      November, let alone a popular war hero.

      Some Clinton supporters, like my friend (and
      historian) David Greenberg, have been assuring us that
      lengthy primary fights go on all the time and that the
      winner doesn't necessarily suffer a mortal wound in
      the process. But Clinton's kamikaze mission is likely
      to be unusually damaging. Not only is the opportunity
      cost - to wrap up the nomination, and spend John
      McCain into the ground for four months - uniquely
      high, but the venue could not be less convenient.
      Pennsylvania is a swing state that Democrats will
      almost certainly need to win in November, and Clinton
      will spend seven weeks and millions of dollars there
      making the case that Obama is unfit to set foot in the
      White House. You couldn't create a more damaging
      scenario if you tried.

      Imagine in 2000, or 2004, that George W. Bush faced a
      primary fight that came down to Florida (his November
      must-win state). Imagine his opponent decided to spend
      seven weeks pounding home the theme that Bush had a
      dangerous plan to privatize Social Security. Would
      this have improved Bush's chances of defeating the
      Democrats? Would his party have stood for it?

      By Jonathan Chait
      If you like this article, go to www.tnr.com, which
      breaks down today's top stories and offers nearly 100
      years of news, opinion and analysis.
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