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Truly a Scorched Earth

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Democrats have to be asking themselves how they got to this point. Hopes of a quick and definitive primary have disappeared and they find themselves embroiled in a bitter stalemate punctuated with accusations of racism and sexism while the GOP nominee uses the time to raise money and mend fences.


The irony of course is that Hillary Clinton has gone from being the inevitable and early nominee to waging a desperate battle until the convention; from planning an above the fray campaign with feints to the center to throwing everything she can think of at her opponent no matter the ideological coherence or potential damage to the party.

And with the awkward question of what to do with the delegates from Michigan and Florida still left unresolved, Democrats have to be wondering how far and how ugly this can go.

A few things are clear: Hillary won’t give up as long as there is a slim chance for victory and she will use all available weapons. If there is a remotely plausible scenario where she wins, she will hang on. If a tactic has a chance of giving her an advantage, no matter how temporary, she will use it.

What sometimes gets lost in the mythology and nostalgia surrounding the Clintons, particularly among hardcore Democrats, is that their primary mode of politics is to attack in order to survive.

The pattern plays itself out with regularity: they overreach politically or refuse to come clean about ethical lapses; their response is to attack the press and their critics; and the goal quickly switches from accomplishment to survival.

The problem is that they have pulled this off so often that they believe they are invincible; that they really are martyrs to a vast conspiracy. Hillary in particular has never been known to reflect on her actions and there inevitable repercussions. Her first response is always: attack!


What did Hillary do when confronted with questions about land deals and investments in Arkansas? She stonewalled, lied, and attacked the press and her critics all the while pretending that she was completely innocent.

When confronted with the Paula Jones lawsuit what was her reaction? Adamantly refuse to compromise and instead attack and demean Jones in the press until she refused to settle. This fateful choice nearly destroyed her husband’s presidency.

This character attack tactic continued with Kathleen Wiley and others. And yet, when her husband finally admitted lying about Monica Lewinsky to not only the entire country, and his close friends and associates, but to Hillary herself what was her reaction? Immediately organize the political defense of her husband.

In the Senate when she faced what she described as “the hardest decision she has ever had to make” – the decision whether to go to war in Iraq – she cast her vote for war. This could have been a courageous chance to defend the vote as correct despite the subsequent repercussions or to admit she was wrong. Instead, she tied herself in knots trying to rationalize her vote and her subsequent strident anti-war rhetoric and went on to attack Obama’s stand against the war as “mere words.”

Despite her policy wonk persona, and her claims of being qualified to be commander-in-chief, Hillary’s real experience lies not in real life leadership or war and diplomacy but in the political war room. She is an expert not in accomplishment but in the never ending campaign. This is exactly what she is waging today.


In the past when an opponent criticized her or her husband the plan was always to attack their credibility by whatever means necessary and marginalize them whenever possible. She has employed this same tactic against Barack Obama.

But Obama is not Ken Star, or Newt Gingrich, or Rick Lazio. Obama is the first credible African American presidential candidate and even now the likely Democratic nominee. Hillary’s scorched earth style may give her hope of victory but the longer it plays out and the uglier it gets the stronger the likelihood it leaves bitter feelings behind. In the identity politics of the Democratic Party attempts to marginalize Obama are going to be seen as marginalizing his community and raising racial tensions.

Hillary has never shown willingness to compromise and her entire career is based on refusing to face reality and instead fight tooth and nail for survival. Why would she suddenly decide to rise above it all and put her party first?

Deep down this has to worry Democrats.

The Republican response: Pass the popcorn.

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