Will the Train Wreck Prevail?

Richard H. Collins

4/23/2008 12:59:57 PM - Richard H. Collins

If there is one thing the Clintons know how to do, it is survive. Last night’s win in Pennsylvania allows Sen. Clinton to do just that, but it does not bring a lot of clarity to the Democratic Primary. Hillary edges close to Barack Obama’s pledged delegate lead but at a glacial pace due to the proportional allocation. Her nearly ten percent margin means she is poised to catch him in the popular vote margin.

What we have is a stalemate. He can’t seem to win decisively and she refuses to go away. He seems increasingly limited in his appeal and she can’t shake near record negatives. And the Democrats seem powerless to stop the drama and pick a winner.

The once effervescent Obama is now often tired and frustrated on the campaign trail. As questions about his relationship with controversial figures like Reverend Wright and former Weather Underground member William Ayers linger, and the media debated the impact of his infamous bitter comments, his mood seemed to sour. Obama, and his obsessive fans, acted as if he should be above such inconvenient issues. Anything that distracted from how Obama was going to unite the country was labeled as illegitimate.

The problem for Hillary is that voters seem to be turned off when she tries to take advantage of these scandals and gaffes. Exit polls revealed that two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters felt that Hillary attacked Obama unfairly. And she continues to poll very poorly on trust and honesty.

And if that wasn’t enough of a challenge her husband seems incapable of staying out of the media spotlight and reminding voters why they dislike the Clintons. This week the former president continued to insist that he had done nothing wrong in the run-up to the South Carolina primary and that the Obama campaign had played the race card on him.

In a radio interview he argued that he couldn’t have used race against Obama–after all, his office is in Harlem! And thinking he was no longer being recorded, he offered an explicative to someone would dare question him on the issue. When the next day a reporter politely tried to question him on what he meant, he angrily denied having said anything of the sort and accused the media of playing games to trap him and distract the American people from the important issues.

Bill Clinton seems incapable of realizing that his every word is going to be analyzed and recorded; instantly available around the globe. And that his arrogant narcissism is an unwanted distraction that undercuts his wife’s campaign when it is struggling to survive. But it is impossible to take the ego and drama out of the Clintons. And just when voters might to forget it, Bill pops up to remind them.

Hillary hasn’t yet come up with a coherent message – other than refusing to quit - and struggles with “message discipline.” She has spent months attempting to convince the liberal base that she is the only candidate with a definitive plan and the commitment, to bring the troops home from Iraq. But this week she seemed to return to her former persona as moderate hawk willing to use military force even when it wasn’t popular.

Having previously castigated Obama for his comments about attacking terrorist sites in Pakistan, and refusing to answer hypothetical foreign policy questions, this week she asserted that she was prepared to “obliterate” Iran should it attack Israel.

When lefty blogs denounced this as neocon warmongering and the media tried to get clarification, her campaign seemed to back off the statement and imply that she wasn’t extending the American nuclear umbrella to Israel. It is hard to believe that she has become so desperate as to callously pander on national security in the hopes of painting Obama as soft on terrorism or the defense of Israel. But it is hard to find another explanation.

It has become something of a cliché, but it remains true that the Clintons are willing to say and do whatever they feel is necessary to regain the White House. And while Obama has campaigned on “turning the page” on the old politics and bringing the country together, he seems incapable of putting the Clintons behind him and uniting his own party right now.

So the stalemate continues and the train wreck seems headed all the way to Denver unless the Democrats can figure out a way to stop it.

One thing is clear: Hillary will fight until the bitter end. That has to be keeping Howard Dean awake at night.