Thursday, June 05, 2008

Henninger fingers fatal Clinton flaw

Daniel Henninger, writing in today's Wall Street Journal, implicitly (and perhaps inadvertently) pins Hillary's loss on Bill. He may be onto something.

Claiming that the Democratic nomination fight boiled down to "identity politics," Henninger poses this question:
Some in the Clinton tong profess not to understand what happened to her. "We are filled with disappointment and amazement," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who helped deliver unto her the Keystone State. "Why haven't these results caused the superdelegates to come around?"

Did Ed Rendell ever believe that the 794 superdelegates, weeded from the party's topsoil, would decide that of the two candidates' constituencies - Hillary's "women" and "white" voters and Barack's black voters - they would stiff Sen. Obama's nearly 90% black base? So long as he led her by one delegate, this was never going to happen.
Perhaps. But why would the superdelegates collectively conclude that the black vote would be alienated if Clinton won the nomination? It's not simply because blacks "broke" for Obama. Clinton could have lost the black vote without losing the respect and affection of black voters. Obama had long ago forecast that African Americans would come to him en masse if they ever had hard evidence that he could win. Iowa provided that evidence.

It was Bill Clinton's denigration of Obama -- from the "fairy tale" comment belittling his opposition to the war to his equation of Obama's win in South Carolina with Jesse Jackson's -- that drew the racial battle lines. Without the sense of betrayal those remarks engendered -- later called and raised by Hillary's claiming "hard-working Amercians, white Americans" as her own -- the superdelegates might ultimately have bought Hillary's electoral logic.

Or perhaps not. Clinton's command of the working class white vote was at least in part a function of the campaign she chose to run. That campaign evoked her character, and it wasn't pretty. After Obama's long string of February victories, Hillary did turn the tide, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. From "John McCain has crossed the commander in chief threshold" to "I'm not bitter" buttons to "hard-working Americans, white Americans" to "JFK was assassinated in June," Clinton drove a meat cleaver through the Democratic coalition. By the time she emerged with nearly half the vote, waving her bloody side of electoral beef, the superdelegates were doubtless repelled as well as boxed in by the demographic dynamic Henninger describes.

Henninger's insight here is a mere byproduct of an ideologically blinkered assessment of Obama's true beliefs. The column's main thrust is a preposterous attempt to pin the most rigid "identity politics" on Obama himself. Never mind Obama's steadfast refusal to play the victim or any other kind of race card.

Henninger is sure that Obama views people as group members, rather than as individuals, because a) he went to Harvard Law, and b) he made this statement about factors that ought to inform judges' decisions:
Speaking last July about picking Supreme Court nominees, he said: "We need someone who's got the heart . . . the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old – and that's the criteria by which I'll be selecting my judges." This is the language of identity politics.
Henninger implies that this statement is a paean to affirmative action. It's not. It's a response to the Court's recent hard-line rulings against individuals alleging active discrimination. To argue that the Supreme Court ought to be sensitive to the injustice done to a woman unquestionably paid less than her male co-workers for many years is very different from asserting that the Court ought to accord her preferential treatment. But such is the desperation of the hard right to pin all their own coded "identity" tags on Obama.

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