Monday, February 25, 2008

The eventual post-mortem on the Clinton campaign

That damned New York Times, having "destroyed" one Maverick, turns its vulturous eyes toward the only other inevitable loser still standing:

There is a widespread feeling among donors and some advisers, though, that a comeback this time may be improbable. Her advisers said internal polls showed a very tough race to win the Texas primary — a contest that no less than Mr. Clinton has said is a “must win.” And while advisers are drawing some hope from Mrs. Clinton’s indefatigable nature, some are burning out.

Morale is low. After 13 months of dawn-to-dark seven-day weeks, the staff is exhausted. Some have taken to going home early — 9 p.m. — turning off their BlackBerrys, and polishing off bottles of wine, several senior staff members said.

Some advisers have been heard yelling at close friends and colleagues. In a much-reported incident, Mr. Penn and the campaign advertising chief, Mandy Grunwald, had a screaming match over strategy recently that prompted another senior aide, Guy Cecil, to leave the room. “I have work to do — you’re acting like kids,” Mr. Cecil said, according to three people in the room.

Others have taken several days off, despite it being crunch time. Some have grown depressed, be it over Mr. Obama’s momentum, the attacks on the campaign’s management from outside critics or their view that the news media has been much rougher on Mrs. Clinton than on Mr. Obama.

And some of her major fund-raisers have begun playing down their roles, asking reporters to refer to them simply as “donors,” to try to rein in their image as unfailingly loyal to the Clintons.

I know the feeling. I went through it with John Edwards, from the morning after the Iowa caucuses to the day in New Orleans when he finally pulled the plug. In between I donated hundreds as part of a fundraiser the campaign itself never acknowledged, blogged like hell, and kept attending meetings and making phone calls though it was painfully obvious that the miracle was not going to materialize.

I did all that mostly because I thought Edwards was the best progressive, populist and electable candidate running, but I also did it because the thought of a Clinton nomination weighed so heavily on my mind and heart for at least a year that it felt like a case of influenza. The sense of imminent relief I feel just knowing that a concession speech is coming some time soon must be matched by a similar feeling of dread and disillusionment in those that have supported and believed in the Clintons.

The article goes on ...

Engaging in hindsight, several advisers have now concluded that they were not smart to use former President Bill Clinton as much as they did, that “his presence, aura and legacy caused national fatigue with the Clintons,” in the words of one senior adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to assess the campaign candidly.

Yet even today -- well, yesterday and tomorrow -- he's out here stumping away. For her part, Hillary's tried nice, she's tried nasty, now she's trying shame and sarcasm as her flailing, thrashing presidential aspirations swirl the drain, soon to vanish out of sight.

I think the interesting part is that the Clintons looked at some polling and came to the conclusion that they were overwhelmingly popular with Democrats. They weren't. The primary reason for that is because the core of the party between presidential elections -- call them the "grassroots", or "liberal activists" or whatever you wish -- had no connection to the conservative, corporate Clintons that fleshed themselves out from the DLC model in the wake of their departure from the White House in January 2001. These progressives resented the inevitability meme that accessorized Hillary's run for the Senate and subsequent preparations for 2008. Secondly, while many of these loyal Democrats were incensed by Kenneth Starr and the impeachment proceedings (count me as one), they were even more exhausted by it. Third, hindsight doesn't make the Clintons look better, but worse; the Clintons gave us NAFTA. It was Bill Clinton that said the war in Iraq was a good idea and it was Hillary Clinton that voted for it. It was Bill who spent the Dubya years globetrotting with Poppy instead of standing up for the Constitution, the rule of law, and global peacemaking rather than war-mongering.

The Clintons should have taken it as a sign when Connecticut Democrats kicked the 2000 vice-presidential nominee clean out of the party in 2006. The forthcoming progressive years aren't going to have much nostalgia for the leaders of yesterday. (This same thing happened, of course, to Edward Kennedy in the Seventies and Eighties, and the Clintons were -- eventually, in the Nineties -- the beneficiaries.)

Hillary Clinton ran a very good campaign in many respects. She was excellent in all but one of nineteen debates. She was solid, if lacking some of her opponent's evangelical zeal, in town hall meetings. She was well-versed on the facts and detailed in the policy. The Austin debate last week was her best moment. She mixed attack dog -- that cringe-worthy "Xerox" throw-away line -- with den mother, closing on a standing-ovation-worthy emotional appeal that proved effective for her in New Hampshire. But there just isn't another electoral rabbit left to pull out of the top hat.

Hillary Clinton isn't losing because she isn't a good politician. She is losing because the party wants something else ... the country wants something else. She is also losing, as suggested by those unnamed senior advisers above, because Bill Clinton simply isn't very popular any more when it comes right down to it. Every time he showed up in this campaign Hillary took a little bit of a hit. The nostalgia for Bill has been mostly relegated to white women young and middling reliving the mid-Nineties -- or maybe the Eighties, depending on the generation -- when rock stars got undergarments thrown at them onstage. The sad truth is that very few people were comforted by the prospect of the Big Dog, as Mitt Romney put it, "running around the West Wing with nothing to do."

Yes, she also lost because Obama's campaign outsmarted and outworked hers by running a 50-state ground strategy. He was like Muhammed Ali rope-a-doping Clinton's George Foreman.

And where did all the Clintons' money go?

Regardless, I can't wait for it to be over. I'm anxious to begin a totally new and fresh era, a new age of progressivism, accompanied by a super-majority -- somewhere from thirty to sixty new Democrats in the House of Representatives -- and even perhaps, dare we dream, a Senate that will no longer capitulate to fear of conservative boogeymen.

Well, maybe that last is a stretch ...

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