Problems, Problems

Paul Greenberg

5/2/2008 12:01:00 AM - Paul Greenberg

Here's the big problem with Jimmy Carter's having conferred with that terrorist chieftain in Damascus: Just where will the Democrats fit in him at their national convention?

To have him speak would be to risk associating the party with him in the public mind - and wherever Jimmy Carter goes, as with Al Capp's legendary comic-strip jinx, Joe Btfsplk, malaise is sure to follow.

But you can't very well leave a former president out of his party's national convention as if he were Richard Nixon after Watergate.

Yes, it's a problem.

Maybe the Democrats could schedule him for 4 a.m. one day, and make sure no television cameras were present at the time.

Or forget a personal appearance entirely and go video: Just play highlights from the famously successful Carter administration, which shouldn't take very long.

Someone could suggest that late August, which is when the Democrats are to assemble in Denver, would be the perfect time for Mr. Carter to be out of the country. Maybe he could visit his Carter Center's major benefactors in Saudi Arabia. He's said to be very popular there.

Other problems await the Democrats at Denver. With the roaring, whistling, smoking Clinton and Obama specials right on schedule for their high-speed train wreck at the convention - Denver and Bust! - you'd think the party would have enough to worry about. Now it's got to figure out what to do with an ex-president the whole country might love to forget.

The big problem for Barack Obama, the suddenly all too evitable Inevitable Nominee, has become how to get another public figure out of television range. Namely, his former pastor, mentor, spiritual adviser and current Jimmy Carter-sized headache, the contentious Rev. Jeremiah Wright of God-damn-America fame. Or rather notoriety.

Maybe the junior senator from Illinois, formerly the post-racial candidate, could deliver another speech explaining away his connections with this political albatross who's been tied around his neck.

But how many times can Barack Obama give that speech, fine as it was, without becoming a bore - and just calling more attention to his problem du jour?

Sen. Obama could just ignore the feisty preacher, but his old friend isn't easy to ignore. Jeremiah Wright is well on his way to becoming the next Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. He was all over television last weekend, and surely a book deal is in the works by now. Ignore him? It'd be like trying to ignore a steam whistle that goes off every hour on the hour.

As for that other formerly Inevitable Nominee, Hillary Clinton's immediate challenge is quite the opposite: How keep the Rev. Mr. Wright (BEGIN ITALICS)in (END ITALICS)the public eye, especially in Indiana? An epicenter of the old KKK back in the '20s, Indiana now has become the latest crux of this never-ending fight for the Democratic nomination.

It feels as if this title bout has already gone 15 rounds, but both contenders keep coming out at the bell.

This is the kind of Democratic contest that only a Republican could love. The party's two surviving presidential candidates seem ever more determined to beat each other into submission, and both may succeed.

Whoever wins this increasingly bitter debate may find the prize hollow, for will the party's nomination retain its legitimacy after so bitter a contest? Will the more fervent partisans of the loser, convinced they were cheated of victory, drift away in a huff? Or even, perish the thought, vote Republican in the fall?

This whole presidential campaign has been a never-ending succession of surprises:

It's been a campaign in which John McCain was supposed to be washed up, but then comes back with a Surge.

It's been a campaign in which a freshman U.S. senator by the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama (hey, what a country!) comes out of nowhere to lead the race for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. And if Sen. Obama keeps dissing whole categories of American voters the way he did small-town folks in Pennsylvania, he may be headed right back there.

It's been a campaign in which, to quote one political kibitzer, Hillary Clinton has done the impossible: She's raised her negatives.

Stay tuned for more of the same - if you can stand it. Great issues may face the country, but they go largely unexplored. Trivialization, thy name is American politics.

For example, I see by the perfectly serious New York Times that Sen. Obama's advisers had debated whether to let him be pictured playing some basketball on the campaign trail because, though it might help him look like a regular guy, especially in Hoosierland, "it could raise racial stereotypes."

You can't make this kind of thing up.

It's remarkable how the Times' esteemed correspondents can keep a straight face when reporting on this year's presidential election. And something tells me the campaign has only begun to get silly.