Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

Another element in the developing debate over Bill Clinton’s behavior and Hillary’s campaign is the posture of transcendence that the Obama campaign has been adopting. Obama, the message goes, prefers not to get involved in politics-as-usual mudslinging. He would rather bring us together than divide us. This narrative is rhetorically effective, but it’s worth looking more closely at the political implications of this stance.

Paul Krugman offers a thoughtful take on this subject in his column today. In it, he looks at the similarities between the political climates of 1992 and 2008, and reminds us what can happen when vague idealism meets Republicans. He writes:

to the extent that Barack Obama 2008 does sound like Bill Clinton 1992, here’s my question: Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?

In particular, after the election of Bill Clinton,

Within just a few months the country was wracked by the bitter partisanship Mr. Obama has decried.

This bitter partisanship wasn’t the result of anything the Clintons did. Instead, from Day 1 they faced an all-out assault from conservatives determined to use any means at hand to discredit a Democratic president.

And this, I think, is a telling point. The Republicans are still there, seething with hatred at abortion, homosexuality, liberals, taxes, atheists, and the whole gathering of ideas and concepts that–to them–represent the core of the Democratic party. It is hard to remember this during primary season, when the parties aren’t fighting each other. It is easy to be transported by the powerful rhetoric of Obama to an ideal United States where everyone agrees about what must be done, and genteel debate will hammer out the details.

In truth, we don’t agree about what must be done. The Republicans are committed to theocracy, permanent war, and gilded-age wealth inequality. They are not prepared to be polite and genteel. Whoever we nominate will be hammered with criticism, based on both truth and lies. If our nominee wins the presidency, the Republicans will be vicious and relentless in their criticism and their attempts to destroy that president.

You really should read Krugman’s piece, because it clearly and succinctly reminds us of these issues. Of course, I support John Edwards, but it seems unlikely that he will win the nomination. I’m not sure which would be worse: the seductive idealism of Obama, or the less-liberal pragmatism of Hillary.

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