Friday, February 29, 2008

Desperation, Thy Name Is Hillary ... It's Time for Her to Step Aside

I wrote in November that Democrats needed an intervention to break their addiction to Hillary Clinton, since she wasn't electable. I am happy to say that in the last 11 contests, America has listened, handing victories to Barack Obama.

The time has come to hold a second intervention, this time for Clinton herself. She has become so obsessed with winning the Democratic presidential nomination, despite a string of losses that would make even the hapless New York Knicks depressed (more depressed?), that she seems to have lost touch with the bigger picture.

Clinton has been a hard-working senator, attentive to the needs of New Yorkers. While her many detractors (part of the problem, but I digress ...) paint her as a flip-flopping opportunist desperate for power, I would reject that characterization out of hand. Rather, I think she is a well-meaning, truly engaged public servant who, unfortunately, too often behaves cautiously for political purposes (something, incidentally, nearly every politician could be accused of, even if Clinton may suffer from a more serious case of this malady). And because I hold the opinion that she truly is disgusted by the ruinous policies of the George W. Bush administration and genuinely wants to right the ship of the country, I believe that somewhere, deep down, she knows that she is treading on dangerous ground now. Maybe she has convinced herself that she is the only person that can save the country. Whatever the situation, she needs an intervention, where people tell her, "We like you, but you are hurting your party and, as a result, the country, and it's time to exit the race."

Don't get me wrong, as recently as two weeks ago, I begrudgingly acknowledged that she had every right to stay in the race to see if she is the choice of the party. But that right does not include running a cut-throat campaign that will harm the Democratic nominee in November.

I have come to the conclusion that it's time for Clinton to go as I've sat and watched in horror as she plunges the Democratic race further and further into the gutter, all while John McCain sits back, unchallenged, allowing Clinton to do his dirty work for him. It's like there is new story every day about some way in which Clinton has decided that she wants to win, no matter the condition of the party when it's all said and done. Today, there is word that she may legally challenge the caucus element of Texas's labyrinthine, seemingly illogical, hybrid primary/caucus contest. Why? Because she's looking out for the good voters of Texas? Hardly. It's because throughout the nominating process, Obama has consistently trounced her in caucus states, due to his better ground operations.

Let's think about that last point for a second. Clinton is the establishment candidate with most of the establishment endorsements. Early on, she was the dominant financial candidate. For a long time, she was the presumptive nominee. And yet Obama is the one who built a better field operation to get out the vote. Rather than resorting to legal machinations to avoid the prospect of another caucus loss, maybe she should look at the fact that she was outworked, outplanned and outmaneuvered and consider what that would mean for her prospects in November if she somehow managed to win the nomination.

And, not incidentally, the nominating process, from Iowa on, has been littered with quirks and silliness that call into question whether the true will of the people is being represented. How disingenuous is it of Clinton to raise the point now, in Texas, with the race almost over and her candidacy near extinction?

This possible challenge comes on the heels of yesterday's comment, quoting Obama's book, that he is a "blank screen." Sure, candidates vying for their party's nomination have to be able to show why they are a better choice than their opponents. But one thing that all the hopefuls have to avoid doing is making attacks that the opposing party can use in the general election. It's one thing to say, "I'm better than you, but we're both better than them," but it's entirely something different to say, "You're an ass." In the first instance, a November opponent has nothing to use. In the latter proclamation, the foe can stand up and say, "Well, even a member of your own party said you're an ass." All we need is John McCain reminding tens of millions of people that not only does he think Obama is too inexperienced to be president, but the esteemed former First Lady and current New York senator thinks so, too.

No, Clinton has crossed the line. She is endangering the chances of her party to win in November, and that's unacceptable. It's time for her to go.

The stakes are just too high. As much as McCain would like you to think he is a moderate (and the so-called liberal media loves to join in and perpetuate this myth), he has walked virtually in lock-step with Bush on key issues, including Iraq. Even when he has departed with Bush in the past, like on tax cuts for the rich, McCain has backed down now, saying he supports making Bush's tax cuts permanent. After the damage Bush has done in two terms, we can't afford another four years of Bush wearing a John McCain mask.

In recent days, there have been several reminders of what it is like to live under Bush rule. Earlier this week, in a story that was horrendously under reported, Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that combat tours had to be reduced, because the Army was under severe strain from the war in Iraq. He said: "The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance, consumed by the current fight and unable to do the things we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force and restore our flexibility for an uncertain future."

Bush's folly in Iraq has left us unsafe and less prepared to defend ourselves. And yet McCain would have us continuing the fight in Iraq, on the theory that the surge is working. Which, of course, completely misses the point. It should not surprise anyone that our military, which is quite effective, can go into any situation and take care of business for a limited period of time. But the point of the surge was to give "breathing room" for the political process of reconciliation to take hold in Baghdad. The Republicans love pointing to alleged signs of progress, but no meaningful change has taken place, and it seems as if the three main factions, the Sunni, Shia and Kurds, are as at odds with each other as they always have been.

In fact, this week, the Iraqi presidential counsel rejected provincial elections, even though the matter was approved by the parliament. The Shiite government in power is willing to take cosmetic baby steps to appease the United States, but when it comes time to make real decisions on power sharing, oil, or any other issue that really matters, they have shown an unwillingness to move. So what is McCain's answer to that? Do we keep more than 100,000 troops in Iraq for the next 20 years? Even he would not be in favor of such a policy.

This week also brought the story that Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey barely escaped going to prison. Did he steal money? Get overly amorous in a Minneapolis airport rest room? No. Rather, the U.S. Forest Service dragged its feet in complying with a court order to enforce certain environmental laws, and the judge in the case was ready to cite Rey for contempt. Based on the Bush administration's record, it's not much of a stretch to guess that Rey was taking orders from the White House. So, in effect, the Bush administration would rather violate a court order than enforce environmental regulations. This is just one of many examples of how the Bush administration stacked government agencies charged with protecting the American people with individuals who have no interest in actually doing so.

That's three stories in one week to remind us of the carnage left behind by Bush, and the need for a new voice to come forward to change the country's path. That change is more important than the individual fates of Clinton and Obama. And Clinton needs to realize that.

If nothing else convinces her, it's time for her to face the fact that she in not electable, despite her claims to the contrary. I have written multiple times on this issue, including in July, November and earlier this month, so I won't go into all the details here. But a quick overview of some recent news shows that while Clinton can come up with anecdotal evidence that she's better equipped to win in November (she's been smeared and survived, she says), all the numbers say that Obama has a better chance of prevailing in the general election.

Let's start with the polls, which have consistently shown Obama doing better in match-ups with Republicans than Clinton. The latest polls have maintained that trend. This week, CNN's amalgamation of the latest numbers show McCain even with Clinton, but trailing Obama by seven points.

More importantly, though, if you look below the numbers, you see that Obama has pounded Clinton with independents, both in their head-to-head primary races and in polls of proposed pairings with John McCain. The bottom line is, she cannot get much support beyond her Democratic base, which is a sure-fire way to lose a general election, while Obama can compete with McCain for independent voters.

Clinton has lost 11 straight contests. Even when she had her best financial month ever in February, she still raised less money than Obama. The momentum is with Obama. Obama, fair or unfair, has started a movement of sorts. People are excited about him. Nobody is excited about her. Again, fair or unfair, he is now perceived as an agent of change, while she is seen as a vestige of the past. It is his moment in time. And if Clinton tries to skewer his moment by going on the attack, even if she succeeds and wins the nomination, she loses, because she will have left her party in tatters. More likely, she will lose anyway, but will have fatally wounded Obama in the process.

McCain has had the stage to himself too long. It's time for the Democrats to unite around a candidate. And, whether Clinton likes it or not, the people seem to have spoken, and that Democrat is not her, but Obama.

The stakes are high. Winning is more important than ever. And right now, by flinging mud at Obama, Clinton is a part of the problem, not the solution. I believe she is a well-intentioned, competent, caring public servant. She is just not the choice of her party. And it's time for her to realize it and step aside. Even if it takes an intervention for it to happen.