Aug 16 2008

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The Convention and the Clintons

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Longtime devotees to these pages can attest to the paucity of positive coverage of the Clintons over the years, particularly when the perceived megalomania and narcissism of the former First Couple was under scrutiny. But the pressures of the 24/7 news cycle and the August doldrums have conspired to create an anti-Clinton story line so petty and ungenerous that it cannot be left unrebutted.

The scandal?  Both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton will participate in the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

One might simply expect a former president and the runner up for the nomination to speak and have a role in convention deliberations. But to listen to the pundits and Obamanauts, you’d think that the Clintons had all but pulled off some form of coup, invading a convention designed to coronate Barack Obama, and turning it into a gathering of Clintonian solipsism and intrigue, leaving Obama as a weak sister during his own shining moment. The narrative reeks of Obama-centric entitlement and an unaccustomed hostility toward the former “rock stars” of the Democratic Party.

For instance, Maureen Dowd wrote, “She (Clinton) is amazed at how easy it was to snatch Denver away from the Obama Saps.”

Dowd is suitably galled by Mrs. Clinton’s rank disingenuousness in requesting a roll call vote that would allow all the voices of her supporters “to be heard.” Dowd claims, “Hillary feels no guilt about encouraging her supporters to mess up Obama’s big moment,” without stating how recognizing Democratic voters robs Obama of anything.

Ms. Dowd also frets that Bill Clinton’s speech before the Democratic gathering will only allow the press to dig up and rerun Clinton’s “churlish comment from Africa about Obama’s readiness to lead, and his South Carolina meltdowns.”

Toby Harden, writing in RealClearPolitics.com goes further, saying that Obama was, “outmaneuvered and the Clinton show (emphasis added)  in Denver will help lay the foundation for a 2012 presidential bid.”

Fox News flack Dick Morris summarizes the issue neatly in saying, “Hillary and Bill have hijacked the Denver convention…rais(ing) a key question about Barack Obama: Is he strong enough to be president?  His failure to stand up to the Clintons makes one wonder how effective he will be against bin Laden, Iran, Chavez or Putin.”

A measure of proportion and propriety is clearly due here.

While it’s true that America has no history or experience with a durable and public political partnership sealed at an altar such as the Clintons,  it is also clearly a step too far to attempt to marginalize the First Couple for the sake of  Obama unity.

While Obama’s nomination is legitimately historic based on race, Senator Clinton’s run was no less historic based on gender. And in all the “inevitability” talk that surrounds Obama these days, the hard fact remains that nearly 50% of the delegates attending the convention did not vote for him in the primaries. But for a few well organized caucus showings, it would be Hillary Clinton accepting the nomination. Given these facts, would Obama tolerate the uncharitable treatment he now heaps upon the Clintons if the roles were reversed?

Instead, the Obama Nation has been miserly in its relations with the Clintons and uncharacteristically suspicious of a roll call vote – an otherwise routine function at most other conventions – which would allow Hillary’s supporters to be recognized. It is this reticence that makes Obama look timid and uncertain now.

As far as Bill Clinton, yes, his stature took a hit and feathers were ruffled as he delved (too) deeply into the campaign for his wife. But it just seems the height of absurdity to talk of limiting the role of the only two-term Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt.  What does it say about the Democratic Party that an impeached Clinton was the star of the ’00 and ’04 conventions, but that his welcome is circumscribed this year because he is married to the runner up?

If there is fault here, it lies with the Obama campaign. The keepers of Obama’s cult of personality were clearly clouded and conflicted in the demands of preparing for a convention and general election campaign. But the question remains, how is it that a man who attracted 200,000 Germans to a speech on foreign soil, is somehow worried about the Clintons?

Had Obama been magnanimous from the start, and recognized that the convention would be the right forum to share the limelight and pay deference to a trailblazing former First Lady and Senator, as well as the former president, he would have operated from a position of strength, rallying core constituencies that he’s going to need to unite in November.

Now the Clintons are speaking, and there will be a roll call vote of some construction, yet there is the lingering whiff of old style Soviet Central Committee  choreography in the air, unbecoming to “The One” and his preferred narrative.

The list of Clintonian arrogance and excess over the years is well documented. But in this rare instance, the Clintons have earned their roles at Denver. That Obama and his acolytes saw anything but opportunity in their active participation speaks louder than any crowd he has or will attract.


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