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If you did not read the "comments" sections under Looking Forward: Election 2008 and/or Explaining Bill's Odd Behavior, you may have missed an extended (and worthwhile) discussion of "where we are" right now. I am posting some highlights here from my thoughts in response to JC's provocative questions and/or assertions:

JC: I believe Clinton still has the edge over Obama. The hard-core Dems. will follow Bill (not necessarily Hillary) for the most part. Bill has enough political power to make things go their way.

WF: Some "hardcore Dems" will side with Bill--but my guess is that the majority will fall in with the Obama juggernaut, if it is still on course. They want to win more than they feel any sense of obligation to Bill. The Clintons are finding to their great surprise and chagrin that their vaunted ability to control the party machinery is wide but not very deep.

JC: There are Democrats who will have to hold their noses (big time) to put the Clintons back in the White House.

WF: Yes. More and more Democrats seem to have serious reservations about the Clintons. I find this amusing, as they are now offended by the same attributes that Rush Limbaugh has been castigating for nearly two decades. But life is funny. Enough said.

However, never underestimate the power to hold your nose and vote for your party candidate. Even as bad as things are for John McCain, the vast majority of Republicans who are fundamentally unhappy with him will ultimately "hold their nose" and pull the lever.

The Democrats are more desperate to win this time around; therefore, we can expect them to be even less reticent about "nose holding."

JC: Many Independents and some Democrats would vote for McCain/Crist.

WF: Can you really vote for McCain? The war monger? The man who says he might fight the Iraq war for 100 years? The man with an 84 percent conservative lifetime record in the Senate?

The cruelest part of this election may turn out to be the betrayal of McCain's enablers, many of whom may now feel compelled to paint the "maverick" as the reactionary. We will see.

Experience and Organization: Isn't Obama equal to Hillary in that regard?

WF: Hillary has tremendous experience. She has been actively engaged in politics since law school. It is not fair to take that away from her. She is not a political wife in the image of Barbara or Laura Bush or Pat Nixon. She played a crucial and active role in the political life of Bill Clinton. She has held her own in a very high profile senate seat. She is an incredibly polished and practiced American statesperson.

Obama's organization must be read as an endorsement of his ability to command and control. But more than organization and strategy, Obama is winning on charisma. Having said that, I take nothing away from his genius and vision in understanding this campaign better than any other candidate in the race. But I am serious when I wonder if even he wonders if he is actually ready to carry the ball on this.

JC: Obama isn't scary. In particular, his youth is less scary than McCain's age. McCain will be 72 by November, and has had some health problems. That VP choice will be very important.

WF: Obama is a bit scary on some things. He is an idealist--and they have traditionally scared the American electorate. He has no record of legislative or executive accomplishment. All we have is image and ideas. They are powerful--but Obama-mania is an unpredictable vessel on which to run a fall election campaign.

I will give you that McCain is the most UNattractive candidate in either party to come down the pike in decades. His age is dreadful. His looks are dreadful. His oratory is dreadful. Standing on a stage with Obama will be an extremely painful experience for Senator McCain. I have said before, I do not think he can overcome the surface visuals in this image-conscious age.

JC: I agree that a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket would be the strongest bet for the Dems. I'm not sure either would want the #2 slot. Obama could learn a lot by traveling with Bill, and they would make quite a pair. But Obama would risk tarnishing his image and desire for a different kind of politics.

Throwing in with the Clintons would be an imperfect choice for Obama--but one thing 46-year-old idealists have to learn at some point is that this world is full of imperfect choices.

After I intimated that Obama's original anti-war stand on Iraq was more good fortune and local politics than far-sightedness,

JC responded:

As an ardent Obama supporter, I wanted to take exception to your characterization of his opposition to the Iraq war as "politically expedient". Although he wasn't yet on the national scene, Obama was gearing up for his U.S. Senate run at that time. If you think about the confusion that reigned then, and what most of us thought was a certainty: that WMD would be found in Iraq, Obama was the only Democrat (later to run for president) who saw the situation with clear eyes. Finding chemical weapons or a nuclear program in Iraq, would have immediately put Obama in a bad position for his senate run.

You should read his entire speech, if you have not.

WF: Obama's 2002 anti-Iraq speech is a great speech. And, YES, it is incredibly prescient. On the other hand, I think it is a stretch on your part to argue that it was bad politics (even if he was preparing to run for the Senate). After all, he was not preparing to run for the Senate in Texas; he was vying for a seat from Illinois. He was not thinking about a presidential run like John F. Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Chris Dodd et al. He was planning on running for the US Senate in a state where Dick Durbin never lost a wink of sleep voting against the war resolution.

JC: I noted your description of Obama supporters... but I think I'll let that pass!

WF: As for Obama supporters: I think they are good folks--just overly optimistic about human nature. This is the endearing flaw of most progressives, who make great and compassionate friends--but often steer us into intractable problems on the macro level.

Of course, I continue to support the most naive idealist of the modern era, George Bush. So who am I to chide you for your sanguine assessment of what Obama can accomplish?
Thinking Out Loud:

1. If the Democratic "super delegates" had to decide today, thinking strategically, they would pick Obama (as he seems unstoppable). But they don't have to pick today. The imperative for Team Clinton? They must win Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania (tough but not impossible); however, that is not the hardest part. In addition to that feat, the Clintons must knock a big hole in the mystical Obama aura of purity, righteousness, and invincibility.

2. Moreover, the Clintons must convince the Democratic Party establishment and decision makers that a Clinton/Obama ticket is the ultimate "sure thing." Conventional wisdom has it that Obama will trounce McCain. I am inclined to believe that. But, in truth, there are great risks. There are some very scary things about Obama (youth, inexperience, LBJ-style liberalism, his black nationalist church, etc.). If the Democrats pick Obama, they are hoping for a potential watershed election, but they will necessarily hold their collective breath for seven months (three months--whatever). Running Obama at the top of the ticket is a big gamble. It is a good gamble, of course, for there will be great reluctance among voters to deny America our moment of "racial redemption" and a "fresh political start." This could very well be an election in which ideology and logic go out the window. Nevertheless, there will be some very tense moments for Democrats during an Obama fall campaign.

What if the Democrats pick Clinton? The conventional wisdom holds that the contest between McCain and Hillary is very close--with McCain holding a slight advantage. I disagree. While it is the probably the best match-up for the GOP, she is more likely to slug it out with McCain and, in the end, probably win a very tight election.

Practical Drop-Dead Serious Question: even if McCain picks Florida governor, Charlie Crist (a distinct possibility and a smart choice), and Crist delivers Florida, what do you do for Ohio, which is seemingly irreparably poisoned for Republicans right now? And, if you don't win Ohio, how do you win the general election--if you are a Republican candidate?

FYI: For those who want McCain to pick Joe Leiberman, he simply cannot. McCain must try to reach out to conservatives. He cannot pick a running mate whom conservatives perceive as more liberal than he. Conservatives love Joe Leiberman when he is running against Ned Lamont or slamming Harry Reid--but they don't want his 95-percent liberal point of view in a position of real power.

Back to the Democrats: What of a unity ticket? The Dream Ticket (Clinton/Obama) delivers the enthusiasm of the "Obamanation" and the crafty experience of Team Clinton. Bill and Barack can travel the world "repairing the image of the United States," while Hill stays home, works hard, and grinds out laws and executive orders. In truth, it would probably be a very efficient administration.

If Obama takes the second slot, he has the leverage to write his own ticket. He will opt to redefine the recently redefined role of the modern VP, and he will position himself well to run for president in 2016 as the most qualified candidate in that field at the still very young political age of 54. Not a bad move. And maybe even Obama realizes that he is not quite ready for prime time. As smart as he is, he may realize that he needs eight years of seasoning before he takes over the most powerful office in the world.

By the way, if Hillary snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, and "steals" the nomination, and then offers the veep to Barack H. Obama, he cannot refuse. For if BHO refused the second slot, and Hillary lost, he would never recover from the ill will generated within the party. He would never overcome the perception of selfishness.

But Hill and Barack together? Forget about it. Roll Bill, Chelsea, and Michelle (not to mention Oprah) into the mix, and you have the most attractive combination since JFK, LBJ, and Jackie.

3. As for McCain, there is good news and bad news.

Good News: McCain is not a bad fellow; that is, he is a whole lot better than Hill, Bill or BarackO. The caricature created by his enemies bears almost no resemblance to the real McCain. Bad News: It does not really matter, he is not going to win.

Let us be optimistic and assume that somewhere between 92 and 95 percent of the currently irate conservatives come around to McCain. That is not enough. The GOP is running uphill this year. The victory of McCain is the result of a collective Republican funk (depression). If the GOP had any fight in them, McCain would never have won this nomination. Down deep in their bones too many Republicans believe that this race is futile. They are tired, worn down, and frustrated. Why? They see the myriad obstacles to victory, and they have a palpable sense of justified guilt over the lost opportunities of the last fourteen years.

Things are tough. To win in this particular cycle, the GOP would need 110 percent support. Ninety-two percent, 95 percent, or even 99 percent is not going to cut it.

Furthermore, Conservative Talk Radio has also sown the seeds of the McCain failure in 2008. McCain cannot appease these foes with any amount of conservative rhetoric, nor can he come up with a veep choice that completely repairs the damage done. Some conservative talkers are trying to undo the damage (like Hugh Hewitt--God Bless Him), but they are not enough. Too many (Rush, Hannity, the Great One) have gone too far in convincing their listeners (literally millions of us) that McCain is a liberal devil. Supporting McCain at this point would strike too many of those honest folks as a betrayal of conservatism. Frankly, Rush and his gang have created a monster that they cannot dismantle completely. Again, keep in mind that even 99 percent repair is not enough.

Nevertheless, at some point, I look for almost all of talk radio to support McCain to some extent--but it will not be of the genuine variety. The tenuous accords will be similar to when the Corleones made peace with Tataglia and Barzini; it will not be heart-felt support and will only mark a temporary interlude before the shooting starts again.
Is Bill Clinton out-of-control? Or is he wily like a fox?


Why was Bill Clinton out on the trail running amok?

Simple answer: after Iowa, the Clinton campaign found itself (and it remains thus) in an extremely desperate situation.

The Second Coming of JFK transformed the political landscape. The Clintons did almost everything right between 2000 and 2008 to insure the election of Hillary Clinton. They worked hard to solidify their network of admirers, contributors, and powerful friends. Hillary kept the media at arm’s-length, and they came to accept her aloofness and her inevitability as facts of life. She acquitted herself well in the Senate, earning the praise of almost every objective observer.

Following the time-tested Clinton strategy, Senator Clinton positioned herself as a moderate (centrist) Democrat. She waxed empathetic to those in need, showed herself mindful of the plain folks who wanted government to be helpful but not intrusive, and stood strong on defense during a period of international risk.

It was a perfectly executed long-term strategy.

What went wrong? Two wrinkles in the plan:

1. The war in Iraq, which Mrs. Clinton had taken great pains to support in dramatic fashion, tragically and unexpectedly, spun out of control. The "slam dunk" went terribly awry, and the scramble that ensued left the American electorate, once united in support of an aggressive projection of national strength, splintered, frustrated, and anxious to single-out politicians for blame.

Mostly, the public blamed George Bush (aka "Mr. 29 Percent"). But the majority of her political tribe is not content to blame George Bush alone for the fiasco in Iraq. Mrs. Clinton’s vote in favor of the war remains a festering wound and continues to plague her with the Democratic base. According to her plan, Iraq should have been a distant and misty-colored memory at this point in the American present. But it is not, and her remarkable challenger, mostly through good fortune, is on record as opposing the war back in 2002.

Why? Mostly because he was toiling outside of the national spotlight at the time when all the decisions were made. As an Illinois state senator representing a district in which the vast majority of his constituents were instinctively suspicious of US intentions and jealous of American largesse to foreign lands, Obama found it politically expedient to agree with the voters he represented. As he said in 2004, who knows how he might have voted if he had been in the big leagues and cast a vote that actually counted? But that much nuance is irrelevant in a front-loaded, media-driven, national campaign. Bottom line: Obama was against the war; Hillary was for it. End of story.

2. Obama himself. He is a remarkably charming candidate (perhaps a hundred-year storm), who has fortunately caught a popular wave of unfocused discontent, uninformed optimism, and naiveté.

So, what to do if you are the Clintons?

First, hope you can finesse your “Iraq problem.” Say some ugly things about the President. Cast some high-profile destructive votes in re the war. Revise history when possible. And hope your base will forgive you in hopes of backing a winner.

Second, hope that "kid" fades. Folks will see that he has no experience, right? This insurgent candidacy needs to draw an inside straight; he will make a mistake; he will tire; he will show some frustration. We will be okay. Don't worry. We're going to be okay.

But then Iowa happened. Then the polls in NH went absolutely crazy. What in the hell is happening here?

The original plan was for the Clintons to run to the middle, for Hillary to take the lead, and the campaign to hold Bill in reserve mostly, sparingly employing him to strengthen the core constituencies where he plays very well. Early on, this strategy was on display. Bill was fairly quiet and absent from the day-to-day contest. Every once in a while--like when Edwards looked like he might be a threat in Iowa back in the summer--Team Clinton would roll out Bill to remind the faithful of the glorious struggles and triumphs of the Clintonian past.

But when Hillary stumbled into third place in Iowa, and New Hampshire looked lost, and the brain trust sheepishly looked around at one another in disbelief, and the mainstream media began the drumbeat of "the fall of the House of Clinton," Bill and Hill asked for the ball.

You got to want it to win it, and they want it more. Bill and Hill stepped up and moved forward. What to do? Hit back. What to do? Take this to the people. What to do? Take on the media and the establishment and play the underdog.

Is Bill Clinton out-of-control? Or is he wily like a fox?

Here is how he is wily like fox.

Bill hit hard and fast and created a lot of questions concerning his wife's opponent. By the end of the week, he had the formerly calm, cool, and collected Barack Obama slinging mud and playing the race card. Was Bill winning any popularity contests? Absolutely not. Even some of the strongest Bill fans were running for cover. But he changed the conversation. More importantly, none of the trash talking seemed to be coming out of his wife's mouth.

The timing was also significant.

Wild Bill grabbed the headlines during a week in which Hillary had little chance of winning the South Carolina primary. What have we heard from Bill this week? Almost nothing. Hillary is back in front of the cameras smiling and promoting a positive message. Bill is in the background. But everything Bill said last week is still in play this week.

Having said that, Bill may also be out of control.

I am convinced that he cannot help himself sometimes. He must know that his propensity to focus on himself leads to an impression that his wife is running for his third term. When Bill is leading with "I," we too often see the Hillary campaign as "Ma Clinton," running to extend the reign of "Pa Clinton."

The bottom line: much of the red-faced, cranky Bill is a well-choreographed sideshow--but not all of it. This is the real Bill.