Imagine, if you can, that the situation was reversed.
Imagine that Hillary Clinton had a prohibitive lead in the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Imagine that just about everything was trending her way -- money, votes, public support, momentum and superdelegates. Imagine that for her opponent, Barack Obama, to remain in the race would only have the effect of dragging down the chances that Clinton and the Democratic Party could win the presidency in what should be a slam-dunk election against reviled Republicans.
Now ask yourself two questions: Would Obama stay in the race in this situation? And, would he be allowed by other Democrats to stay in, or even by the progressive grassroots?
The answer to the first question is, simply, "No". Obama is a team player, and has provided little evidence whatsoever of being so absorbed with himself that he has turned this election into his own personal quest for glory. This basic humility is what we expect of most fellow humans (though it is rather more, er, rare among politicians), but it is especially notable in the case of Obama. I mean, the guy is a political rock star. It's like the Beatles, 1964. People are practically fainting and throwing panties on stage whenever he appears. Seriously, it can't be entirely easy for him to keep a sense of proportion, and yet I've never seen the slightest hint to the contrary in more than a year of him campaigning across the country.
So, if the situation were reversed, would Obama be so enamored of himself that he would insist on remaining in a race he could only lose -- even if it meant wrecking his party and his country and the world for another four years by electing a Republican -- just because he felt that only he was worthy of the nomination? I think not. I'm quite sure he would do what John Edwards and all the other candidates did when the handwriting was clearly inscribed on the wall. He would get out.
The answer to the second question is even more interesting. Would Democrats and progressives (too often not necessarily the same thing) 'allow' him to remain in the race under those conditions? The answer is, "Of course not." True, no one can be removed from contention against their will, but they can be effectively or literally driven from the race by being hounded and later just ignored, presuming they're too daft and graceless to remove themselves. Or, the superdelegates could just swiftly finish the job. Clearly, this is what would happen to Obama were he doing a Hillary right now. Clearly, it would be understood that to remain in the race -- tearing down the all-but-inevitable nominee and leaving her mortally wounded for John McCain's assassins to move in and finish the job -- that this would be an outrage. And it would be understood that Obama would be committing career suicide by continuing to do this. This is a nice little mechanism by which parties are traditionally able to prevent their most self-absorbed members from putting their own interests ahead of the party's.
So, why do we treat Hillary differently? Is it because we feel sorry for her and her travails? We sure as heck shouldn't. Lots of people would kill for her position in life, and rightly so. So Bill has a zipper problem. Does anyone sense that she really particularly cares? And, anyhow, who among us has a perfect life? This woman has good health, scads of money, tons of power, and more fame than all but a few people on the planet, along with what appears to be a genuinely loving (if more than occasionally pathological -- with Chelsea now unfortunately joining the act) family. As a senator, she's already a member of the self-styled 'most exclusive club in the world.' She spent eight years in the White House as a powerful First Lady. She might be president someday. That ain't such a bad run for one lifetime.
Do we treat her differently because she is a woman? Again, we shouldn't. While the United States desperately needs diversity amongst its political ranks, and needs it purely for its own sake, we should never allow a candidate's sex to serve as a shorthand for their politics. Margaret Thatcher is a woman, and so was Indira Gandhi and Cleopatra. Anyone who thinks that Hillary Clinton's first devotion is to feminism and women's issues over her own ambitions better stock up on coat-hangers, I'm afraid. This is a person who knowingly voted for a war based on complete and obvious fabrications in order to advance her own political career. That war has now likely claimed over a million lives. Does anyone seriously believe that someone who could do that wouldn't also be capable of selling out abortion rights for the same purpose? Indeed, she already has. Let's not kid ourselves about where her interests lie, and where they always lie. And, by the way, if equitable representation is the logic, let's also not forget that there's a certain African American still in this race, as well, and that his is another community that has been more than a little, shall we say, under-represented in the American political firmament these last four centuries or so.
Do we treat her differently because we've (well, actually, not me!) all bought into the whole self-reverential Clinton mythology? Way too many of us believe that Ol' SpongeBill NoPants was a great president, just because he knew so well how to convey the impression that he was soaking up our concerns with his endless faux empathy. Like his hero JFK, who at least has the excuse that he only had three years to work with, the Clinton presidency was in truth almost entirely image and little substance. In fact most of the real substance was a complete sellout of the American people and the historic constituencies of the Democratic Party. But -- again, like Kennedy -- Clinton gets a lot of adoration from among a hopelessly politically credulous electorate who continually fall for his smarmy routine. Or at least used to -- one of the great developments of the 2008 campaign is that Billbo has outed himself for the vulture he actually is, and has severely damaged his own reputation, which even still remains massively inflated, though a lot less so than before.
Anyhow, the Clintons can't quite seem to sell Hillary as a presidential nominee to Democrats, but they still manage to get a lot of RSVPs to their maximally self-indulgent pity party. They just simply believe -- like a certain other family whose American dynasty you may be familiar with (and, no, I'm not talking about John Quincy Adams here) -- that the presidency belongs to them. Right from the beginning of this process they've laid out all the groundwork to make it happen, and darned if they don't feel entitled to claim their prize. Does anyone seriously believe that the Clintons just coincidentally moved to New York? Does anyone think that she wanted to be senator just to pass good legislation? Does anyone think that she has a particular jones in this lifetime for getting potholes fixed for upstate New York hicks who might as well come from Arkansas? Does anyone think that Hillary Rodham -- oops, that went out in 1992, make that Hillary Rodham Clinton -- chose to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee because that's an issue she's always been passionate about? Does anyone believe that she voted for war in Iraq because she believed the crap BushCo was peddling? Does anyone think she puts the interests of her party, or even her country, ahead of her own?
This is a predator we're talking about, ladies and gentlemen, a maximally opportunistic political scavenger who is quite satisfied to peck out your eyeballs and clean the flesh from your very dead bones (just ask 4,000 Americans or one million Iraqis) if there are a couple of superdelegates to be picked up in exchange. Really, the great wonder is how anybody ever went for it. But, then again, if George W. Bush was once at 90 percent approval ratings, I guess anything is possible in a very scary America. Sure, it was right after 9/11, I know. But let's remember that 9/11 was (at best) just about the worst national security disaster in American history, and it happened on Bush's watch. Let's remember that it came after the president had been warned about the danger, but spent the next month on vacation in Crawford, jogging, clearing brush and otherwise jerking off. Let's remember that he kept on sitting in that classroom with the kiddies while the country was under attack that morning. And let's remember that he flew -- not heroically into the mouth of danger when we needed his leadership -- but way west to Nebraska, when it got a little too scary for this tough guy president. If that's what gets you 90 percent in America, no wonder so many have bought into the Hillary sob story.
All those are possibilities, but I suspect that the real reason we treat Hillary differently is the same reason just about everybody in the GOP gets treated differently, from Reagan to Bush to Cheney to DeLay. Because to do otherwise means that a price will be exacted from you, and we're nothing if not a nation of political cowards. The Clintons know how to play hardball.
Did ya see the thing in the New York Times about the superdelegate who got the call from Chelsea, begging her not to go over to Obama? "Why? Why?," Chelsea kept repeating over and over. Class act, eh? Chip off the old block. That very sense of entitlement which now seems to have added a new generation to the roll-call is precisely what's wrong with this family. The Clintons take the presidency extremely personally because that all it is for them -- a personal joyride. They don't have some agenda -- progressive or otherwise -- for making this a better country. They just want to be in the White House. You get in the way? You're road kill, babe.
That's why we're seeing them do anything whatsoever to win. Anyone who doesn't appreciate this -- and there are a lot of them, particularly in Pennsylvania -- has never understood the Clintons. Remember Ricky Ray Rector and the death penalty? Remember NAFTA and WTO? Remember the Defense of Marriage Act and don't-ask-don't-tell? Remember welfare reform and sitting on Kyoto? How about blocking the UN and other countries from saving lives in Rwanda, and then apologizing there later on for 'not doing enough'? Anyone who thinks the Clintons care about anyone besides themselves is a fool. Anyone who thinks they have principles is deluded. Anyone who thinks they give a damn about the Democratic Party is hopelessly lost. Hell, by 1996 -- after they had led the party over the cliff in 1994 -- it was already completely overt, and Clinton followed the advice of the switch-hitting, prostitute-impressing and appropriately named political guru Dick Morris to pursue a strategy of triangulation. In other words, running against your own party in Congress. What more evidence does anyone need?
Okay, well how about the campaign of the last year and a half? First of all, her's has been horrifically mismanaged. Ready on Day One? Really? Because, um, it's like Day Five Hundred of the campaign and just about all they've done so far is to boot what was once a sure thing, chiefly by treating it as a sure thing. She was the presumptive, odds-on winner, and now she's in debt, her negatives are skyrocketing, she's been out-hustled everywhere by the upstart Obama campaign, she's lost twice the number of states he has, and she is mathematically out of contention, unless she can somehow weasel the nomination by buying off superdelegates. Impressive, eh? Ain't that just who you want running the ship of state?
As if that weren't damning enough, the Clintons have made clear yet again just how ample is their scuzziness quotient. No Democrat can touch it, other than Joe Lieberman, and even he really isn't in their league. If necessary, they can play the gender card, so she got weepy in New Hampshire. They're quite capable of playing the race card, and they did so in South Carolina. They're happy to play the national security fear card, and they have, with the 3:00 AM ad, the Osama bin Laden ad, and now the obliteration of Iran bit. (If it walks like a Republican, talks like a Republican, and sounds like a Republican...) They're capable of telling outright whopping lies, and so they do, like her unbelievably outrageous Bosnia gunfire story, and then the lies they've both told to cover up the original lie. They're capable of sleeping with any enemy, and so they have, colluding with no less than Rush Limbaugh, Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife, of all people -- the very topmost Conspirators of the Vast Right-Wing. Bill actually went on the Limbaugh radio show as both of them encouraged Texans to vote for her! Gee, what could possibly have been Limbaugh's motivation for that? (Hint: President Hillary ain't exactly what he had in mind.) What in the world does that alone say about how much the Clintons care about the Democratic Party?
Really, my favorite, however, is the theater of the absurd arguments they keep advancing for why she should actually win the nomination even though she's behind in delegates, she's behind in the popular vote, she's lost twice as many states, she's broke and he's flush, superdelegates have been breaking one after the other toward him and none toward her, and nearly all the enthusiasm and new Democratic voters are with him.
None of that matters, of course. According to the Clinton camp, we should be choosing a nominee based on a somewhat, ahem, more unusual metric (which even in itself changes from week to week, and which even they refuse to ultimately commit to as the definitive criterion). All the of the following have actually been advanced by the Clintons or their soldiers in the past month or two as what should really count in picking a winner: The nomination should go to the person winning the big states (guess who that just happens to be?), or the candidate winning the November swing states (can you guess who?), the winner of states that use primaries instead of caucuses (you know the drill), the winner of the national popular vote (which they actually aren't, but can hope to be), or -- this one kills me -- the states with the most Electoral College votes to be counted after November. Oh, and don't forget we must also include the states that Hillary previously agreed must be excluded, Michigan and Florida.
For any of us so deluded as to have believed that nominees should be selected simply by a majority of the party delegates, this has been quite an educational ride!
The simple but ugly fact is that the Clintons are utterly amoral. They differ from Bushist Republicans only in that they appear (though this is as yet unproven) to be merely passively willing to be destructive should that benefit their personal agenda, rather than actively seeking to be so. It's the difference between allowing Iraq to happen, on the one hand, and initiating the war, on the other.
Many Democrats have been hopelessly in love with the Clintons these last twenty years, for reasons that never made any more sense to me than did, well, the hatred Billary have engendered from Republicans. The Clintons couldn't be more harmful to the Democratic Party if they were roguish drunks, continually crashing the family car and getting fired from their job, but doing so in some sort of (barely) charming fashion.
Fortunately, many Democrats have wised up to their ways this last time round, and one of the joys of this election may be to bury this curse forever, permanently ostracize the Clinton cancer, and return the party to its traditional New Deal agenda of genuine compassion and governance in the public interest.
Meanwhile, though, isn't it time for Democrats to dump this destructive spouse, once and for all? Haven't the Clintons finally gone on a drunken selfish bender one too many times? If helping John McCain win the presidency doesn't qualify as the last straw, I don't know what would.
The Clintons are never going to give up their insatiable quest for attention and power voluntarily. It's way past time for the superdelegates of the Democratic Party to put an end to this Arkansas family drama.
What are they waiting for? The breathalyzer results?
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (mailto:email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.