Will Hillary Clinton Spoil the Party?

I'm thrilled at the record Democratic turnouts across the country, and at the ground-breaking reality of the Democrats' two candidates. But I'm also becoming anxious at the prospect of a fight that could reduce the possibility of either of them entering the White House in January of 2009.

Is Hillary Clinton’s willing to sacrifice that possibility in order to preserve a tiny possibility that she'll get the nomination? With her win in Ohio and projected win in Texas, that seems so. In the days leading up to the Ohio and Texas primaries, we had Hillary Clinton's statement that both she and McCain have the experience to be Commander-in-Chief but Obama doesn't.

This is the first time in my memory that a major candidate in a primary has said that the other party's nominee would be a better president than his or her own primary opponent. We also had the outpouring of negative advertising from her campaign that both candidates had largely managed to avoid up to this point.

And while I can understand her decision -- bolstered by yesterday's results -- to fight on in this primary election, the reality is that she can only win by convincing large numbers of superdelegates to join her and re-engineering the Michigan and Florida primaries to her advantage, and then taking the fight all the way to the convention in August -- which if she gets that far, will be one of the most divisive in forty years.

I suppose I should not be surprised. If Hillary Clinton has experience in anything, it's in fighting when cornered. When Bill Clinton lost his governorship, it was Hillary Clinton who commissioned Dick Morris to advise the Clintons on a no-holds-barred campaign to retake the governor's mansion. At the start of 1995, when Newt Gingrich and company took over Congress and the Clinton administration looked in danger of becoming irrelevant, it was Hillary Clinton who installed Dick Morris in the White House, along with his sidekick Mark Penn, to "triangulate" by distancing Bill Clinton from the Democratic Party and moving the Administration rightward. (When Morris was subsequently discovered to have a penchant for the toes of prostitutes the White House dumped him but kept Penn on.) And now Mark Penn is the "chief strategist" of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The sad news is that whether the Clinton scorched-earth strategy ultimately succeeds or fails, it will have caused great harm. In the unlikely event it succeeds, the result will be a shame and not a little ironic. Barack Obama has breathed life into the Democratic Party, and into American politics, for the first time in forty years. Not since Robert Kennedy ran for president has America been so starkly summoned to its ideals; not since then has America -- including, especially, the nation’s youth -- been so inspired.

The Clintons would prefer to write off Obamania as a passing fad, but the reality is that idealism and inspiration are necessary preconditions for positive social change. Nothing happens in Washington unless Americans are energized and mobilized to make it happen. Hillary Clinton's tactics are the old politics the nation is recoiling from -- internal division and national fear. This only serves to deepen Americans' cynicism about politics, and makes social change all the harder to achieve.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

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