Taking Stock

April 2, 2008 on 1:01 pm

We are now more than half way from March 4 (Texas and Ohio) to the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. Though the longest pause this primary season, we have not been wanting for political news. In titling our March 7 post “Heavy Weather Coming,” we had no inkling of the storms and squalls about to befall the nation.

First, of course, was a force five hurricane by the name of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Trinity church in Philadelphia and spiritual counselor to Sen. Obama. To say that his “God damn America!” sermon was the polar opposite of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is to miss its visual and emotional impact by a factor of ten. And if a nightmare in the Obama camp, it was no doubt just deliverance to Clintonites who for so long had cited the senator from Illinois as “not fully vetted.”  

This, to be sure, was vetting in the extreme. Not only did the good reverend blaspheme, he blamed 9/11, the most horrific event since Pearl Harbor, on US! Even better, it was done in a black church and in the high register of a black preacher and in a parish Sen. Obama called home, the place where his children were baptized. What Clintonite could have even imagined such an event, such a wind fall? But there it was, 24/7 by 24/7, for all the world to see.      

Obama’s response was a nationally televised speech on race in America. In condemning Wright’s words, he spoke to the frustration of millions of Wright’s generation who suffered the legal denial of their civil rights and discrimination of every order and at every turn. Obama also spoke of the frustration of whites suffering reverse discrimination as wrongs in which they played no part were addressed. While some cited it as historic, it certainly answered the Wright tapes. Moreover, it showed Obama to be decisive and purposeful under extreme pressure.

The Reverend Wright tapes remain available to the Republicans for resurrection in the general election, perhaps this season’s version of the Swiftboaters. For the Democratic primary, though, Obama appears to have put this behind him, now leading in the most recent Gallup national tracking poll (March 29-31) by 49 to 45. And he remains ahead in the delegate counts – a lead of 169 in committed delegates and one of 136 in combined committed/super delegates.

While nothing of a force five nature befell the Clinton camp, recent weeks have not been without their tempests. First, there’s to be no help from Florida and Michigan. The primaries will not be re-done. Next, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the nation’s top Democratic Latino, endorsed Sen. Obama. Having served in President Clinton’s cabinet as Secretary of Energy, this had to hurt personally. Also, many saw his announcement as an indication of where other notables among the super delegates may be headed.

Most dramatic, of course, was Sen. Clinton’s repeated mistaken memories of ducking and running under sniper fire on her arrival at Tuzla airport in Bosnia on a 1996 good will mission as First Lady. File tape shows the arrival with her shaking hands and greeting children on the tarmac with no sniper fire in evidence, certainly no ducking and running. Though later acknowledging her error, such episodes serve to explain her low scores on trustworthiness. To some, they also bring back memories of a Clinton White House riven with scandal, topped off, of course, with the national soap opera that was Monica Lewinski.

Then there have been the calls from Democratic leaders for Sen. Clinton to withdraw from the race, most notably by senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.  These have been countered by her campaign staff and most directly by Sen. Clinton herself in a March 30, Washington Post interview, one that she had requested. Those encouraging Sen. Clinton to withdraw express concern that an extended campaign will give Sen. McCain a free pass with the American electorate for as long as it lasts. Also was the concern that the Democratic contest will spiral down still further with attacks and counter attacks that may leave the eventual winner compromised in November.

A couple of points here. Regarding Reublican Presumptive Candidate McCain having a free pass, he has been less than impressive in recent interviews. First was the on-screen coaching he needed from Sen. Lieberman of Connecticut to get straight exactly whose fighters were being trained by Iran. Then there were his comments on the economy where he called for less regulation in financial markets, exposing a clear indifference to the plight of millions of Americans facing bankruptcy. If this continues, the only free pass he may be getting is back to the U. S. Senate.

As to the impact of a continuing and negative primary contest, it can only continue to engage and energize Democrats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana and other states yet to be heard from. This seems certain to boost voter registration by Democrats, new and old, for November. Indeed, in the run up to the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, Democratic registrations have swelled by over than 230,000.    

For Obama, every day he is the front runner, every day he out paces Clinton in fund raising, is another day of leadership. Despite the occasional misstep, he remains the front runner largely by dint of his vision and bearing, and, with the Wright episode, no small measure of courage. Indeed, the question must be asked: When does having bested the most powerful political force in the Democratic Party – a Former First Lady/Senator from New York with an ex-President as consort – count for something? If politics is the art of the possible, candidate Obama has done the impossible. Indeed, if he is so unready to lead as Sen. Clinton maintains, how did he overtake her in the first place?

For Clinton, now challenging reports of funding and financial problems, staying in the race to the end is the only choice she has. And she’s certainly right about one thing: She is a fighter.

For the Independent, the longer it goes, the more we learn. The Perfect Election does continue. Is it to be a Hinge Election? This is in the hands of the Democrats.








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