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ISSUE 121 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/7/2007

Clinton alienates

By Peter Farrell
Executive Editor

Friday, December 7, 2007

Why, exactly, are Democrats so eager to resign themselves to the inevitability of Hillary Clinton's victory in the Democratic presidential primary? Certainly, the media's done a fantastic job of convincing voters on both sides of the aisle that Clinton's coronation as the Democrats go-to-girl in 2008 is a foregone conclusion. The Republican candidates continually reinforce this notion by invoking the much-reviled Senator's name at every given opportunity. (With the G.O.P. in tatters, Clinton bashing remains one of the Republicans' few unifying activities.)

In this sense, the enthusiasm with which Giuliani, Romney and company have embraced Clinton's candidacy is understandable; she still mobilizes the G.O.P.'s dangerously immobile base. Conversely, Democrats are much less invigorated by the prospect of Hillary's nomination, but the desire to reclaim the White House is overpowering. Clinton's national stature, centrist platform and her seemingly endless trove of campaign finance treasures make Clinton appear unstoppable.

Of course, Mr. Clinton is helping, not hurting, Hillary's case for the presidency. Nostalgia for the 90s economic boom is powerful currency as the fallout from the sub-prime mortgage crisis portends a recession, and in comparison to the debacle in Iraq, most Americans would welcome the return of Bill's sexual bloopers. Cigars and semen-stained dresses are preferable to political paralysis.

But the supposed "inevitability" and "invincibility of Clinton's nomination is illusory. From the outset of the primary process, influential Democratic donors rebuffed Clinton's advances and looked to invest their money elsewhere. Barack Obama, for instance, has kept pace with Clinton's fundraising, and he's also collected from a wider base of donors. And while Clinton's dominance in national polls is noteworthy, it masks the polarizing character of her candidacy and the extent to which she alienates crucial swing voters.

The drawbacks to Clinton's nomination are numerous and well documented. Still, her numbers remain strong, and most Democrats seem unwilling to consider the possibility that the secondary front-runners - especially Obama - will overtake her in the primary.

Why? It boils down to perception. As Andrew Sullivan points out in The Atlantic, the media creates a "campaign narrative" in the run-up to any presidential election. Since this primary season started so early, each candidate's role is well-defined: Edwards plays the raving populist, Obama dazzles as the youthful idealist and Clinton is the experienced "machine" grinding her way toward victory. Journalists and pundits continually characterize her campaign as "textbook-perfect," "precise" and "exacting" - and Democrats are buying it. In 2004, the party made the same mistake. John Kerry's moribund candidacy inexplicably rebounded on the strength of his military background. How, everyone asked, could Republicans castigate this guy as soft on terror? He's got three purple hearts! Democrats threw their hat in with Kerry not because they believed he was the man best suited for the job, but because they though other people would vote for him.

It was a bad bet then, and it's a bad bet now. Kerry's candidacy felt funny, and Democrats ignored their skepticism and hoped that other people would find Kerry convincing. If Democrats capitulate to the notion that Hillary is an unfortunate - but necessary - inevitability, the same faulty logic that led to Kerry's crippled candidacy will strike again, with equally atrocious results. Hillary's not inevitable - thankfully, she's avoidable.

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