When the Clintons first reacted so badly to Barack Obama’s emergence as the Democratic front-runner, I had a theory. This looked like the 1992 general election, only this time the role of the dazzling newcomer belonged to someone else. In this play, the Clintons were stuck with the much less appetizing part of George H.W. Bush.
Now, I realize that it’s actually much worse.
The Clintons aren’t just Daddy Bush. They have become a bizarre hybrid of both Bushes. Worse, they have become a melding of both Bush teams, complete with Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Depending upon on how Florida turns out, we might have to throw Jeb in there as well.
Look at the past three months.
From the Atwater playbook, there was the 1-2 punch of race and patriotism. A subtler touch is required in 2008 than it was 20 years ago, but you can put the photo of Willie Horton next to the photo of Obama during his visit to Kenya and the political lines of ancestry are clear. In 1988, the Bushes ran on the flag and pledge of allegiance and in 1992, it was Clinton’s trip to Moscow. Now, the flag and the pledge are back, and instead of a Soviet connection, it’s a Muslim connection.
Rove’s contribution? Fear. And shamelessness. Hillary refers to terrorists “testing” new British prime minister Gordon Brown in the opening days of his administration. Bill uses 9/11 and Hillary’s status as a New York senator as justification for her vote to authorize force against Iraq. If it were a movie, I would have looked for Rove’s name in the credits.
More damning is the similarity between the Clinton campaign and the current disaster in Iraq.
Convinced that God and history were on their side, W. and Clinton charged into a massive operation assuming that obstacles would part before them. Victory was preordained and planning, certainly contingency planning, was unnecessary.
Shock and awe would come in Iowa and New Hampshire and the Edwards and Obama statues would topple on Super Tuesday. When Iowans and South Carolinians failed to greet the Clintons as liberators, it became clear that they were unprepared for a lengthy occupation of the campaign trail.
In the past seven years, we have seen what happens when there is no Plan B. We have also seen what happens when there is a refusal to acknowledge mistakes and failures.
The Bush administration repeatedly minimized the military and political failings in Iraq. So, too, as the primary and caucus losses piled up, Clinton would climb up on the podium and either try to diminish the meaning of the contest or ignore it altogether.
The analogy strains a little, but ultimately holds, as both Bush and Clinton approach the end game. For Bush, it was a surge that consisted primarily of the Americans essentially bribing those who had been shooting at the Americans weeks earlier, and changing the rules about how attacks and casualties are tallied. For Clinton, it is working the superdelegates, using tactics better imagined than described, and trying to change the way the votes are tallied.Much has been made of the competing dynasties.
If Clinton were to be elected and run again in 2012, there would be voters in 2016 nearing their 50th birthday without ever having a chance to vote in a general election without a Bush or Clinton on the ballot.The question that is beginning to emerge, though is this: When does a rivalry become a tag-team?