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The Long Defeat

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/opinion/25brooks.html?_r=2&ref=opinion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin The Long Defeat By DAVID BROOKS Published: March 25, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2008

      The Long Defeat

      Published: March 25, 2008

      Hillary Clinton may not realize it yet, but she’s just
      endured one of the worst weeks of her campaign.

      First, Barack Obama weathered the Rev. Jeremiah Wright
      affair without serious damage to his nomination
      prospects. Obama still holds a tiny lead among
      Democrats nationally in the Gallup tracking poll, just
      as he did before this whole affair blew up.

      Second, Obama’s lawyers successfully prevented
      re-votes in Florida and Michigan. That means it would
      be virtually impossible for Clinton to take a lead in
      either elected delegates or total primary votes.

      Third, as Noam Scheiber of The New Republic has
      reported, most superdelegates have accepted Nancy
      Pelosi’s judgment that the winner of the elected
      delegates should get the nomination. Instead of lining
      up behind Clinton, they’re drifting away. Her lead
      among them has shrunk by about 60 in the past month,
      according to Avi Zenilman of Politico.com.

      In short, Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects
      continue to dim. The door is closing. Night is coming.
      The end, however, is not near.

      Last week, an important Clinton adviser told Jim
      VandeHei and Mike Allen (also of Politico) that
      Clinton had no more than a 10 percent chance of
      getting the nomination. Now, she’s probably down to a
      5 percent chance.

      Five percent.

      Let’s take a look at what she’s going to put her party
      through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The
      Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure
      another three months of daily sniping. For another
      three months, we’ll have the Carvilles likening the
      Obamaites to Judas and former generals accusing
      Clintonites of McCarthyism. For three months, we’ll
      have the daily round of résumé padding and sulfurous
      conference calls. We’ll have campaign aides blurting
      “blue dress” and only-because-he’s-black references as
      they let slip their private contempt.

      For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will
      proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will
      be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from
      the underlings, interrupted by the occasional
      firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon
      race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between
      the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to
      get the public really engaged is by poking some raw
      national wound.

      For the sake of that 5 percent, this will be the
      sourest spring. About a fifth of Clinton and Obama
      supporters now say they wouldn’t vote for the other
      candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, on the
      other side, voters get an unobstructed view of the
      Republican nominee. John McCain’s approval ratings
      have soared 11 points. He is now viewed positively by
      67 percent of Americans. A month ago, McCain was
      losing to Obama among independents by double digits in
      a general election matchup. Now McCain has a lead
      among this group.

      For three more months, Clinton is likely to hurt Obama
      even more against McCain, without hurting him against
      herself. And all this is happening so she can preserve
      that 5 percent chance.

      When you step back and think about it, she is amazing.
      She possesses the audacity of hopelessness.

      Why does she go on like this? Does Clinton privately
      believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can
      deliver the policies they both support? Is she simply
      selfish, and willing to put her party through agony
      for the sake of her slender chance? Are leading
      Democrats so narcissistic that they would create
      bitter stagnation even if they were granted one-party

      The better answer is that Clinton’s long rear-guard
      action is the logical extension of her relentlessly
      political life.

      For nearly 20 years, she has been encased in the
      apparatus of political celebrity. Look at her schedule
      as first lady and ever since. Think of the thousands
      of staged events, the tens of thousands of times she
      has pretended to be delighted to see someone she
      doesn’t know, the hundreds of thousands times she has
      recited empty clichés and exhortatory banalities, the
      millions of photos she has posed for in which she is
      supposed to appear empathetic or tough, the billions
      of politically opportune half-truths that have bounced
      around her head.

      No wonder the Clinton campaign feels impersonal. It’s
      like a machine for the production of politics. It
      plows ahead from event to event following its own iron
      logic. The only question is whether Clinton herself
      can step outside the apparatus long enough to turn it
      off and withdraw voluntarily or whether she will force
      the rest of her party to intervene and jam the gears.

      If she does the former, she would surprise everybody
      with a display of self-sacrifice. Her campaign would
      cruise along at a lower register until North Carolina,
      then use that as an occasion to withdraw. If she does
      not, she would soldier on doggedly, taking down as
      many allies as necessary.
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