Curse of the Clintons
Speaking the truth is discouraged in Washington DC. For journalists there is the fear that truth telling will mean not being invited back for the next press conference or another exclusive interview. For political insiders the fear is that speaking up will injure their careers by costing them political appointment. This dynamic has helped keep the lid on the curse of the Clintons.
From the start of the 2008 primary campaign many political experts have believed Hillary Clinton would have difficulty winning the general election even if she sailed through the primaries. This is because polls have consistently shown she has exceptionally high negative ratings, which matters enormously as it is very difficult to win-over people holding negative views. The best that can be done is persuading them not to vote.
If winning were difficult before, current conditions make a Clinton general election win even less likely. Her slick assist in letting the race genie out of the bottle has alienated African-Americans, and without their turnout a Democratic win is almost impossible.
Equally importantly, should Senator Clinton manage to wrest the nomination from Senator Obama by insider dealings, she stands to alienate the young and independent voters that he has attracted. These voters will probably not vote for John McCain, but their enthusiastic support is also critical for a Democratic victory.
That begs the question of why Senator Clinton persists in running. One reason is hubris prevents her from acknowledging the political facts, so that she really believes she can win. A second more cynical reason is that Senator Clinton's political ambition is best served by having a bruised and battered Senator Obama run in November, thereby facilitating a McCain victory. That would allow her to run again in 2012 on an "I told you so" platform.
For Democrats this is a terrible curse. If Clinton persists with her campaign, Obama is weakened in November. And if Clinton actually gets the nomination, Democrats stand to lose the election and also forfeit Senator Obama's extraordinary political bequest.
In political science one of the best established facts is that the way a person votes the first time is a strong predictor of how they will vote the rest of their lives. Senator Obama has attracted droves of first time voters, setting up the prospect of a generation of Democratic political dominance. Depriving him of the nomination risks so disenchanting these new voters that they may return to political apathy. That would cheat Democrats of a bright future, which is something super-delegates with political futures of their own should ponder.
In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton turned his back on progressive politics, many speculated Hillary was the real progressive among the two. The reality is both are cut from the same cloth, which is marked by unbridled ambition and desire for power for power's sake.
Bill Clinton lied under oath during the Lewinsky investigation. Senator Clinton lied about being under fire in Bosnia. Bill Clinton abandoned unions and working families with his promotion of NAFTA, free trade with China, and the elimination of the right to welfare assistance in hard times. Senator Clinton initially endorsed this policy legacy, and only changed her tune when John Edwards' call for real change started gaining traction. Bill Clinton's middle name is "triangulation". Senator Clinton shamelessly sought to profit from Barack Obama's casual observations about the link between economic disenfranchisement and "guns and bible" politics. In doing so, she showed a willingness to keep alive right-wing conservatives' major wedge issue just to damage her rival.
The cruelest irony concerns women and women's rights. Many women champion Senator Clinton as a defender of women's rights, including the right to an abortion. However, her ambition is increasingly jeopardizing that right. Mrs. Clinton cannot win in November, and her refusal to bow out has done damage to Senator Obama's prospects. That sets up the conditions for a McCain victory, the price of which will be the Supreme Court.
Truth telling is difficult in Washington, and the truth is also often stranger than fiction. When it comes to the Clintons, the truth is they have become a curse for Democrats and not an asset.
Thomas Palley is founder of Economics for Democratic & Open Societies Project.
Copyright Thomas I. Palley