Obama wins South Carolina, a state where 61% of the voters were female, by fighting and wisely staying positive, leaving Hillary and Bill wallowing in the mud and muck of the low road, a place where in very early returns they were mired in 18% to Obama's 70%, complete and utter devastation and a resounding rejection--by blacks, whites, women, everybody--of the type of slimy politics that the Clintons and their cult of personality embraced. Bill and Hillary's act has become one of genuine pathos.
The bumper sticker in South Carolina was humorous and prophetic: "I'm not going to vote for Monica's ex-boyfriend's wife." It's hard to feel sorry for either Clinton in the aftermath of their destruction of their own reputations and the likely end of Hillary's chance for the presidency, which is all they got out of their race baiting tactics and outright lies that they desperately tried to ride to victory in South Carolina. One can only imagine the Machiavellian nature of their discussions behind closed doors, as the ambitious Hillary prodded her attack dog husband to go for the jugular:
MacBill: "If we should fail?"
Lady Clinton: "We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place,/ And we'll not fail"
MacBill: "False face must hide what the false heart doth know." (Macbeth 1.7.60-83)
Unfortunately for the Clintons, Obama showed in the Monday debate that he's no Duncan who is going to let MacBill come into his room with his pride, ambition and daggers to do his wife's dirty work. Long term, the Clintons may have achieved their goal of defining Obama as a black candidate, but at what cost? That cost will be clear in November if Hillary wins the nomination, when many of us will search for any viable alternative to voting for the Clinton co-presidency. It was an unpleasant spectacle to see Obama and Clinton trading sucker punches in the middle of the ring, but that's what the Clintons needed, to bring Obama down into the mud they wallow in so gracefully, to strip the aura of hope and optimism and make him look like another hypocritical fringe black candidate. Obama, to his credit, had to engage in the fight; he simply had no choice but to respond forcefully against the two-headed Clinton monster or lie down and fade into the dustbin of history. In essence, he did what he had to: When a fighter is pinned against the ropes he either covers up, holds on, or comes out swinging: Obama wisely chose the latter, as James Carville observed if he had taken a different path, "Obama runs a risk of being wussified."(NY Times 1-25-08) Indeed, he would be more of a "wussy" if he left the heavy lifting of attack politics to his capable and perhaps too articulate wife, Michelle, who has been deemed too "edgy" by his campaign. Translation in political speak: She tells the truth too much.
As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in 1796, "No man will ever bring out of the presidency the reputation which carries him into it." Indeed, but Bill's demise into the orange tie wearing, red-faced blowhard who sleeps through Martin Luther King Day speeches, only to wake up refreshed for a new round of lies about Obama--radio ads that say he loved Reagan, supported the war, is a closet Muslim extremist, was a street level drug dealer, is in bed with a slumlord(the one who posed for a picture with Bill and Hillary at the White House of course)--is surely the most disconcerting image liberal Democrats have had to digest in years. When Bill Clinton is basically being told to shut up by party elders such as John Kerry, Pat Leahy, and Ted Kennedy, one would think a moment of reflection and self-analysis is in order, yet Bill carries on, cynically blaming the media for bringing up the race issue, when it was his own wife who stated the obvious by saying it "took a President" to get civil rights passed. Bill's own lead lawyer who defended him in his impeachment case came out and endorsed Obama this week, and in today's New York Times Bob Herbert claimed Clinton "has at times sounded like a man who's gone off his medication. And some of the Clinton surrogates have been flat-out reprehensible."
In Obama's words, Bill has essentially been reduced to "bamboozling" voters. Supporters are fleeing the Clinton campaign at an astounding rate, as some of us actually have principles, actually believe in some of the equality, justice, and unity themes that the party we support used to stand for, at least we thought it did. The New York Times reported that "Mr. Clinton is deliberately trying to play bad cop against Mr. Obama, campaign officials say, and is keenly aware that a flash of annoyance or anger will draw even more attention to his arguments...Mr. Clinton has treaded onto far more combustible ground, like race."(1-25-08) Hillary Clinton entered this campaign with the highest negatives of any major candidiate in recent memory, and as those negative feelings expand exponentially, the end result for the Democratic Party comes into clearer focus: If Hillary gets the nomination, the Republicans--even with their horribly flawed candidates--have to be favored to win in November beacause, unlike the Democrats, they will be united and galvanized by three words that strike fear into their hearts: President Hillary Clinton.
It's hard not to feel like Buckingham in Richard III, who pauses before responding to Richard's request to kill the two innocent children(one the rightful king) in the tower. He had followed Richard in all his devious plots to that point, but everyone has his or her personal limits, a line we simply cannot cross and still retain our personal sense of morality and values. In Shakespeare's play, Buckingham makes a run for it because he knows that he will literally lose his head if he sticks around.
In South Carolina, for many of us, the only possible way to avoid the downward spiral of racial bigotry and divisive politics was to flee the Clintons for good, to close the chapter on a legacy that made the 1990s an era that this country can and should celebrate: Bill Clinton was an outstanding president, despite his personal flaws. Humanity is flawed--that is the reality of human nature. It always puzzles me how much more enlightened Christ was than his generally ignorant followers: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The Bible is full of excellent advice and principles to live by, but by and large the Bible has become no more than a primary source for fanatics who take a phrase and paste it to their forehead, claiming they know "the word." Bill Clinton's personal flaws aside, he did much to help this country rebound from 12 years of tax and spend Republicans, who created a tremendous budget crisis that Clinton managed with acuity and a good deal of common sense. Thus, it is with a tangible and profound sense of sadness that I see this man I supported as leader of the free world wandering around South Carolina in his obnoxious suits, providing cover and engaged in full-on attack mode for his wife, the one who claims she is ready to lead from day one but cannot even fight her own battles, the one who is afraid to utter the nonsense that she assigns to her presumed "first lad" husband and his odious henchman. As Bob Herbert asked in the NY Times today, "What kind of people are the Clintons?" When a respected liberal black writer is left to ponder this question, what is the country left to think? I no longer know these Clintons, and frankly, I have no desire to know either of them anymore--not now, not on Feb 5th, and certainly not in November. To millions of free thinking, liberal-minded Americans, the Clintons have become strangers.