Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Will Hillary be the next Nader?

Recent history indicates that the Democrats have been successful at one thing: losing presidential elections.

As Americans face the prospects of never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economy that has tanked, the foreclosure crisis, health care costs still growing exponentially in relation to inflation, and myriad other indicators that spell out political D-O-O-M for the incumbent’s party, this year’s presidential election is the Democrat’s to lose.

But don’t underestimate the Democratic Party, which has been saddled with the historic curse of losing the presidency to George W. Bush not once, but twice.

When in doubt, leave it to the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Besides handing over presidential elections, the only enterprise Democrats have been more successful at the past eight years is blaming everyone but themselves. They have cornered the market on political scapegoats.

In 2000, the poster boy for Al Gore’s failure was the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who has been demonized by party loyalists. Nader’s spoiler status spilled over into the 2004 election but was deemed less of a threat by the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, under the direction of Terry McAuliffe, who served as Hillary Clinton’s national campaign chairman during her failed presidential bid, the Democratic National Committee took no chances and tied Nader up in court and drained his resources with lawsuits challenging his ballot access in several states.

This doesn’t sound very democratic, now does it?

However, Nader’s reigning scapegoat status was challenged and inevitably pushed aside by the new scapegoat on the block: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who helped sabotage fellow Vietnam veteran Sen. John Kerry’s bid with its book, “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.” The 527 group managed to effectively smear Kerry’s name, thus supplanting Nader for the reason why he lost.

This week as the Democrats gather for the Democratic National Convention in Denver to coronate their new presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a subtext is brooding underneath the unity narrative the Democrats are trying to spin as the general election revs into full gear.

Three words: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton, who was narrowly defeated by Obama in the Democratic primaries, has helped cultivate a loyal following, which is not ready to let go of their mentor’s monumental run that fell just short of victory a few months ago. Although Clinton has endorsed Obama, her most fervent supporters have yet to be won over by him. Moreover, some of these voters have vowed to vote for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain of Arizona. The most recent Zogby poll indicates that only 56 percent of Clinton-backers would vote for Obama, while 21 percent intend to vote for McCain.

The general election campaign is still young and there is time for some political wounds to heal, but to throw support from Hillary to McCain, who resides on the other end of the political spectrum, or I had assumed, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. I could understand harboring some differences with Obama regarding policy, but jumping on board with McCain suggests a few things.

For these voters, McCain’s ideology is more aligned with Clinton than Obama, which would point to a possible reason as to why the majority of Democratic voters didn’t vote for Clinton.

If these voters are upset and bitter about the outcomes and want to seek revenge against Obama, why not throw support behind third-party candidates such as Ralph Nader or the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney?

Unlike the faulty logic of the past two elections, when Democrats’ power of persuasion was reduced to “A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush,” there is no logical breakdown with: “A vote for McCain is a vote for McCain.”

What remains unclear is what exactly the Clinton faithful want from the Obama campaign, or what will appease them, thus enticing them back to voting for their party’s nominee. Some of these Hillraisers feel that Obama’s campaign did not reach out to them enough or disrespected them through the campaign’s treatment of their candidate in the post-primary fallout.

Some were holding out for a possible vice presidential slot for Clinton, but these hopes were officially dashed at 3 a.m. Saturday, when Obama text-messaged his choice for VP: Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

In a CNN poll conducted after this announcement:
Sixty-six percent of Clinton supporters -- registered Democrats who want Clinton as the nominee -- are now backing Obama. That's down from 75 percent in the end of June. Twenty-seven percent of them now say they'll support McCain, up from 16 percent in late June.
As the Democratic National Convention gets under way, it will be interesting to see how this subtext plays out as the Democratic Party attempts to build a unified front before taking on the Republicans in the final leg of the election.

Feeling disenfranchised by Obama and the DNC, one group, Political Unity My A.. (PUMA) refuses to give up the fight for Hillary. Although I’m not sure what they are still fighting for at this point, rather, it is what they are fighting against that appears to be behind their vow to make their voices heard at the convention.

The underlying threat that if their demands aren’t met, there will be hell to pay come November threads it way throughout the P.U.M.A. manifesto found on the group’s website:

But what our adversaries fail to realize is that it is not just we the people with PUMA affiliations that will make the difference in November.

It is all of us, all across this great country who feel disenfranchised, betrayed and hoodwinked by Obama and the DNC.

It is all of us who see through Obama’s persona.

It is all of us who believe that the measure of a man is his character. That people should be judged by the company they keep, the truths they live by and the lies they tell. Judged by whether they pander to the popular line, or take a hard stance, accepting the consequences of their actions and having the courage of their convictions.
Sensing the discord among the Clinton supporters who feel disenfranchised, the McCain campaign attempted to woo these voters by releasing some new ads after Obama picked Biden as his running mate.

McCain Ad: Clinton Supporters Can Come to Me

McCain’s ad, featuring former Clinton delegate and PUMA Debra Bartoshevich of Wisconsin, attempts to simultaneously woo Clinton supporters and appease any guilt about switching sides, but his ad may prove to backfire. The new poll numbers were already in his favor, not to mention, the Democrats were already lined up in a circular firing squad.

Exploiting Clinton and her supporters may only serve as the perfect opportunity to bring the two factions together and turn on the external enemy.

Either way, there’s a great deal at stake for Clinton’s future aspirations, should Obama lose in November. The Democrats will be out for blood and the Hillary Democrats who voted for McCain will offer a perfect target. However, they won’t blame Clinton’s supporters, because they’ll need a face to put on the scapegoat, and that is where Hillary Rodham Clinton comes in to play.

However, Clinton will be the headliner at the convention Tuesday, thus providing her an opportunity to assuage her supporters and convince them to get behind Obama, before she unleashes her delegates on Wednesday.

This will be the first step in the healing process, but the polls suggest Clinton may have more work cut out for her over the coming months. Granted, Clinton is not alone in this enterprise. Obama needs to reach out to these supporters as well and work to convince any undecided voters he should be the next president. But he can only throw the rope so far, and it may be up to Clinton to convince her loyal following to let go and move on.

For Clinton, the difference between them letting and not letting go may be the difference between her being a hero or a goat – a scapegoat that is.