Damsel of Distress

Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2008

This is an amazing story. The Democratic Party has a winner. It has a nominee. You know this because he has the most votes and the most elected delegates, and there’s no way, mathematically, his opponent can get past him. Even after the worst two weeks of his campaign, he blew past her by 14 in North Carolina and came within two in Indiana.

He’s got this thing. {snip}

The Democratic Party can’t celebrate the triumph of Barack Obama because the Democratic Party is busy having a breakdown. You could call it a breakdown over the issues of race and gender, but its real source is simply Hillary Clinton. Whose entire campaign at this point is about exploiting race and gender.

Here’s the first place an outsider could see the tensions that have taken hold: on CNN Tuesday night, in the famous Brazile-Begala smackdown. Paul Begala wore the smile of the 1990s, the one in which there is no connection between the shape of the mouth and what the mouth says. All is mask. Donna Brazile was having none of it.

Mr. Begala more or less accused the Obama people of not caring about white voters: “[If] there’s a new Democratic Party that somehow doesn’t need or want white working-class people and Latinos, well, count me out.” And: “We cannot win with eggheads and African Americans.” That, he said, was the old, losing, Dukakis coalition.

“Paul, baby,” Ms. Brazile, who is undeclared, began her response, “we need to not divide and polarize the Democratic Party. . . . So stop the divisions. Stop trying to split us into these groups, Paul, because you and I know . . . how Democrats win, and to simply suggest that Hillary’s coalition is better than Obama’s, Obama’s is better than Hillary’s—no. We have a big party, Paul.” And: “Just don’t divide me and tell me I cannot stand in Hillary’s camp because I’m black, and I can’t stand in Obama’s camp because I’m female. Because I’m both. . . . Don’t start with me, baby.” Finally: “It’s our party, Paul. Don’t say my party. It’s our party. Because it’s time that we bring the party back together, Paul.”

In case you didn’t get what was behind that exchange, Mrs. Clinton spent this week making it clear. In a jaw-dropping interview in USA Today on Thursday, she said, “I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” As evidence she cited an Associated Press report that, she said, “found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

White Americans? Hard-working white Americans? “Even Richard Nixon didn’t say white,” an Obama supporter said, “even with the Southern strategy.”

If John McCain said, “I got the white vote, baby!” his candidacy would be over. And rising in highest indignation against him would be the old Democratic Party.

To play the race card as Mrs. Clinton has, to highlight and encourage a sense that we are crudely divided as a nation, to make your argument a brute and cynical “the black guy can’t win but the white girl can” is—well, so vulgar, so cynical, so cold, that once again a Clinton is making us turn off the television in case the children walk by.

“She has unleashed the gates of hell,” a longtime party leader told me. “She’s saying, ‘He’s not one of us.’”

She is trying to take Obama down in a new way, but also within a new context. In the past he was just the competitor. She could say, “All’s fair.” But now he’s the competitor who is going to be the nominee of his party. And she is still trying to do him in. And the party is watching.

{snip}

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