During the last, miserable years of czarist Russia, Vladimir Lenin, who hoped to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the social chaos, is reported to have quipped, “The worse, the better.” As usually happens when one thinks of Lenin, Hillary Clinton follows quickly to mind.
Earlier this week, political pundits – who have been swooning over Barack Obama for months – once again seemed annoyed that Senator Clinton dared not concede the Democrat presidential nomination to their favored candidate. How many times, they seem to be asking, does Tim Russert have to climb Mt. Olympus and declare “It’s over,” before Mrs. Clinton accepts her obligatory fate?
And while it is indeed clear now, as it has been for weeks, that Barack Obama and not Hillary Clinton will be at the top of the Democrats’ ticket this fall, it’s not at all clear that Clinton has given up, wants to give up, or will give up all the resources she has at her disposal. Or, I would argue, that she should.
Barack Obama is a phenomenon, to be sure, a fundraising machine whose staff has adjusted admirably to the steep learning curve of political organization. But no experience or organization his campaign has amassed can compete with the Shadow Party Bill and Hillary Clinton have loosed on our politics.
The huge network of top-down, bottom-up, media, lobbying, public relations, and advocacy groups is still out there, still well-funded, and still loyal not to the Democrat Party or its nominee, but to the Clintons. Sure they will support Obama, and wholeheartedly so, but they won’t forget their roots. Coordinated liberal donors have pumped enough money into the Center for American Progress, the Thunder Road Group, Media Matters, CREW, America Votes, and The Media Fund (just to name a few) to continue waging whatever kinds of campaigns she pleases without the mantle of the Democrat Party.
This seems to best fit any objective assessment of Clintonian politics. In their worldview, the Democrat Party owes the Clintons its allegiance, not the other way around. And I think in many instances, they’re right.
Hillary Clinton accomplished quite a feat - nearly half of the of the Democrat delegates going into the convention, a record breaking 18 million votes, some cast even knowing she would lose. Bill Clinton’s not a long term problem – one assumes she’s learned to control him by now and can shut him up when the time is right. And she retains the levers of a huge, powerful political advocacy network. If Obama is smart, he will appease her and place her into a role of her choosing and of her design. But why would she give up her power outside the party structure? To be Secretary of Health and Human Services? I doubt it. To be Vice-President? Maybe. To be his top surrogate on the trail? Eh. Why fold her hand to accept second banana status in the Democrat Party when she could easily double down and come out on top?
Also remember, there’s no guarantee Obama will win, and if John McCain beats him, especially if it’s because Obama fails to win the working class voters Hillary has claimed as her base, the case for her candidacy in 2012 will be undeniable (and, facing a 76 year old incumbent after 12 years of Republican rule, maybe unstoppable).
Bottom line – she’s really not going away and her increased muscle in the movement suggests a new kind of political ‘roid rage that makes her the de facto Democrat leader. And that kind of power cuts both ways – after all, if Obama ends up losing, and she is blamed for not putting enough effort behind his campaign, then she has lost everything they have built.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are consumed with anger and ambition and a burning sense of entitlement to political power that simply will not be extinguished after one measly loss by a few dozen delegates. No. If she holds out, keeps pulling the strings of the Shadow Party she built, and takes the olive branch Obama must respectfully deliver her, she’ll be more powerful and closer to the presidency than ever before.