A great day for John McCain
His nomination sewn up, he can now watch the Democrats self- destruct, says Alexander Cockburn
After eight disastrous years of George Bush, and with a Republican candidate like John McCain, who says he knows nothing about the economy and thinks the US will be in Iraq for the next 100 years, almost the only way any Democratic nominee can lose the presidential face-off in the autumn is if there is a protracted internecine battle. Any Democrat with any memory of kindred blood-lettings in the past should shiver as history begins to repeat itself.
The press is blaring tidings of a great Clinton comeback in Ohio and Texas last night, both states in which she had 20-point leads in late February. But in terms of delegates Barack Obama is ahead by what appears to be an insurmountable margin.
The only way Hillary can win the nomination is to savage Obama with calumnies, bloodying him to a point where the Clintons can make the case to the super-delegates at the Democratic convention in the last week of August that, in a race against McCain, Obama has already been fatally wounded.
It's a course to which the Clinton campaign is now totally committed, exactly along the lines advocated by Mark Penn, Hillary’s pollster and chief strategist.
Penn's policy has been the antithesis of Roosevelt's grand coalition of the 1930s. Already in South Carolina, Clinton was willing to throw the black vote overboard. In Texas, she exploited Hispanic-black animosities.
Obama has plenty to be rueful about. He managed the astounding feat of being on the defensive in Ohio about trade, at the hands of a Clinton. The history of the late 1980s and 1990s was the Clintons at the head of the Democratic Leadership Council, arguing that the free trade agreements were essential to America's future.
Ohio, devastated by job flight, was treated to the spectacle of the Obama campaign failing on this very issue, because Obama shrank from making the full case against what Clinton did to working people in the 1990s. He could have slaughtered the Clinton record on Hillary's disastrous effort at health care reform, on the trade agreements, on the welfare bill, on the fact that the people who did well in the Clinton era were the rich. He was too innately cautious to play the populist card and he paid the price.
The adulatory press coverage that Obama enjoyed throughout February took the edge off his campaign and left it flat-footed when Hillary had the effrontery to claim Obama had to do the explaining on NAFTA.
Obama was similarly slow to counter Hillary's decision to play the national security card, telling voters America would be safe in either her or John McCain's hands but not those of the young senator. If Obama could not swiftly counter by pointing out that Clinton bought the Bush line on the war hook, line and sinker, doing no independent checking of her own, then his prospects of standing up to McCain don't look too rosy.
In 1968 the anti-war forces came to the convention in Chicago fired with the sense that their candidates, Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, had crushed Hubert Humphrey in the primaries. But just as Richard Daley's police battered the protesters, so the party machine crushed the anti-war forces and forced Humphrey down their throats inside the convention hall. Humphrey was never able to reunite the party and lost to Richard Nixon.
In 1972 the party bosses never accepted George McGovern, who was sabotaged by his own party and the unions and crushed by Nixon in the election.
The Clintons have never confused their own political fortunes with those of the Democratic Party. In 1996 and 1998 Bill Clinton refused to release campaign surpluses from his own war chest to help elect Democrats to the House and the Senate.
Obama's campaign has most certainly rallied blacks and the young to the Democrats. These new recruits will surely melt away as they see the party machine grind the politics of hope in the dirt. McCain couldn't have hoped for a better day. ·
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