Sunday, February 10, 2008

Connely: Have Clintons worn out welcome?

Note: this column predates the Washington caucuses, which Obama won 68% to Clinton's 31%. Obama also won Louisiana and Nebraska by slightly smaller margins.

"As much as I respect Hillary Clinton's intellect, I think F. Scott Fitzgerald put it best in 'The Great Gatsby' when he wrote, 'They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.' The same could be said of Bill and Hillary."

The Clintons have -- literally -- retreated from "the folks" and days of Pike Place Market rallies.

The "Hillaryland" rally Thursday night was the first time since 1996 a Clinton event in Seattle has not required a check (or book buy) for admission. Until Friday's Tacoma and Spokane events, Hillary Clinton had taken questions here only from fundraiser guests who shelled out $2,300.

As well, even contentiously liberal Seattle wants an end to the acrid, acrimonious political divisions of the Clinton and Bush II eras. An Obama endorsement letter by six City Council members put it succinctly: "Like you, we seek a new politics that goes beyond old divisions and looks to a future where we all work together to solve problems. ... We know Americans have a deep longing for a revitalization of the spirit of America, a renewal of our quest for a just and sustainable nation."

They ticked off challenges facing cities, from climate change to affordable housing, much as Bill Clinton did when he promised to build a "bridge to the 21st century."

A big part of the Democratic Party yearns for a new bridge builder, in part to reconnect it with "red state" America.

Some people disagree with that desire. Some people (such as those at an old forum I used to frequent) want to continue "the acrid, acrimonious political divisions of the Clinton and Bush II eras". The political conflict is part of their identity, and if they cannot hate the opposition and view them as evil, they will be lost. It is, for the lack of a better word, their religion. Their desire to hate the Republicans, to view them as evil people who need to be stopped, not negotiated with or talked to, echoes the words of those very Republicans who so hate the Muslims of the world... or the words of those Muslims who so hate us. Etc. and so on. Even self-styled progressives aren't immune to the irrational hatred which accompanies fear and anger.

But for those of us who wish to see peace in the world, there is no way we can make peace with our enemies until we first make peace with ourselves. That goes for us as a nation. How can we make peace with the Muslim world if we're too busy punching each other in the face to even talk to them?

"We need a President willing to engage in a fistfight to safeguard and restore our national virtues," said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in a recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

Thing is, I've never seen the Clintons actually fight for anything other than their own political survival. Please correct me if you've ever seen the Clintons come out swinging for a principle. On gays in the military, Bill folded. On health care, Bill folded. Those were two of his biggest campaign promises in 1992, and he failed to deliver. On the Iraq War, Bill and Hillary both hedged, not standing firmly for or against it. He did put up a fight during his impeachment.

That's not to say they are without their accomplishments, but this image of them being fist fighters is largely based on their survival instincts. On policy matters, their record is remarkably similar to Pelosi, Reid, Daschle, and Gephardt: when the chips are down, fold.

A better idea would be to build a consensus among the American people around our ideas. To do that, we need a leader who people see as appealing and approachable. Hence, Barack Obama.

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