Courtesy New America Media, Commentary, Donal Brown
Editorâ€™s Note: Hillary Clintonâ€™s negative campaign is robbing the Democratic Party of its energy and could very well usher in another Republican president. NAM contributing editor Donal Brown is a long time Democrat and a retired teacher who, fresh from the Peace Corps in 1968, donned a suit and tie and worked a precinct for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy.
SAN FRANCISCO â€“ The Democratic presidential primary race brings to mind the 1968 campaign. Frustrated with Lyndon Johnsonâ€™s conduct of the Vietnam War, young people, in particular, embraced Senator Eugene McCarthyâ€™s motto, â€œClean for Gene.â€ They shaved their beards, got haircuts, put their education on hold and walked the precincts.
After McCarthy almost upset Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, rather than suffer a humiliating loss to McCarthy in Wisconsin, Johnson dropped out of the race. McCarthy ultimately lost the nomination to Vice President Hubert Humphrey who had successfully rounded up the votes controlled by party bosses in non-primary states. With the Democratic Party divided and many of the young people disillusioned by the triumph of the old guard, Humphrey lost the presidency to Richard Nixon by a thin margin.
The recent Pennsylvania campaign showed that New York Senator Hillary Clinton can run a dirt-laden campaign and have some success, but at what ultimate cost? Her negative campaigning could deprive the Democratic Party of youthful energy and turn it into a loser in the general election.
As a suburban, college-educated voter, one of the core groups in the party, I am increasingly dismayed and disgusted with how she is conducting the campaign. Red flags went up after Hillary absorbed a shellacking in South Carolina in January, and Bill Clinton tried to brand Senator Barack Obama as a â€œblack candidateâ€ of the stripe of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, rather than a national candidate who could win the nomination and unite the Democrats.
Then Hillary made her infamous remark about Obamaâ€™s heritage on â€œ60 Minutes,â€ that he was not a Muslim, â€œas far as I know.â€ That is creepy slime unworthy for someone who wants to lead the Democrats.
And when Obama made his gaffe in a private fundraising meeting in San Francisco where he said that ordinary people stressed in difficult economic times turn to their religion and guns, Hillary could not keep herself from playing the nativist card by characterizing Obamaâ€™s remarks as â€œnot American.â€
She is guilty of sins of omission as well. Karen Kaufmann, a political scientist from the University of Maryland, notes that while Obama is quick to say some scurrilous statements about Clinton are not true, Clinton does not condemn lies, even ones by her supporters: for instance, that he attended a â€œsecular madrassaâ€ â€“ the inference of it being an Islamic school — as a child in Indonesia.
Kaufmann says that were Clinton to twist the arms of super delegates to win the nomination, it would be a great blow to the African-American voters who support Obama in overwhelming numbers. â€œIt would reinforce the notion that they (the African Americans) canâ€™t get a fair shake in the political establishment,â€ says Kaufmann. To take these voters for granted would be a mistake in that they would feel they were giving away the farm with nothing in return, she says.
On April 23, Hillaryâ€™s tactics earned a sharp censure in her â€œhometownâ€ newspaper, the New York Times, who had endorsed her candidacy in January. The Times reminded her that she is not only alienating voters with the negative campaigning but also undercutting her contention that she is the most qualified candidate. The Times urged her to â€œcall off the dogsâ€ to resurrect her campaign.
It may already be too late. Dislike for Hillary is deepening in the suburbs. Were Hillary to bring off the improbable and win the nomination, I would not want to contribute a dime to her campaign, display a Clinton for president banner or in any way give time or effort. I would suck it up and vote for her only because McCain is copying Bushâ€™s horrendous economic plan and has amply demonstrated that he has no real understanding of the Iraq quagmire or the limits of American military power in the world. Her victory would also send the young people home, cynical and disillusioned to sit out yet another election.
At this point in the campaign, the only way for Hillary Clinton to come out on top would be for her to say she didnâ€™t like to disappoint her loyal supporters, but she just had to do the best thing for the Democratic Party and nation and bow out of the race. Her stature with the Democratic faithful would skyrocket and remain in the stratosphere for years to come.
But I know that is not going to happen. She is fated to grind on, damaging herself or Obama for the general election and sacrificing the party on the altar of personal ambition.
It is a shame because the gift of Barack Obama is that he makes all of us feel young and hopeful. He knows how to listen. He is more likely to forego politics as usual to build the coalitions needed to clean up the train wreck of eight years of George W. Bushâ€™s policies. But Hillary could drag him down one way or another and in the process drag us all down.