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Bill Blowing the Election

Goodbye Billary, hello Obama. And more hunches.

Michael Fellman 29 Jan

Michael Fellman, an American historian and cultural critic living in Vancouver, will be writing from time to time about the 2008 U.S. elections.

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Bill's mouth turned off blacks.

The American political melodrama intensifies. Here we are on the eve of the Florida primary, a week before Super Tuesday, when nearly half of the American electorate will go to the polls.

Let's sort out the Republicans first, then the Democrats -- including how Bill Clinton may have scuttled Hillary's chances by offending black voters.

Giuliani's lost cause

Florida will end the curious semi-campaign of Mayor Rudi, and serve as a prelude to the choice between John McCain and Mitt Romney. (By the way just what kind of name is Mitt?)

Some have speculated that Giuliani gave up the campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire because he is ill. In any event it was a stupid strategy, as voters simply did not consider him as part of the mix until it was too late for him. Then too, with the unraveling of the economy, voters have come to fear domestic issues more than terrorism, and Giuliani was campaigning as the tough guy who would deal sternly with terrorism. He is proud to be as mean as a scrapyard dog.

Actually I think voters are sick of the endless fear-mongering of the Bush administration, and if the issue has slipped in priority, Giuliani doesn't have much more on offer. He is too moderate on issues like abortion for the Republican core. And he has a strange marital history, more than a passing interest in wearing dresses, and a history of personal vindictiveness. Come to think of it, his candidacy has always been amazing.

Mike Huckabee is charming but also believes the earth is flat. And he actually believes that the rich are not above criticism and that some taxes might be useful. Of course he also believes in the abolition of all other taxes in favour of a 23 per cent GST -- fiscal flat-Earthism. Too eccentric by half for everyone but the born-agains, who are an important part of the Republican coalition, but not the only part.

McCain if they're smart

So will it be McCain or the Mitt? Neither man quite fills the bill even for all the Republican base. Romney, smug, plastic and unlikable, has switched from pro- to anti-choice. Of course he had to be pro-choice to get elected governor of Massachusetts and he had to flip-flop to appeal to Republicans in the current campaign, but such changes appear a bit too baldly power-determined. And he is a Mormon, a conservative white-bread sect that true Evangelicals consider a cult.

That leaves McCain, also a problem for many Republican voters, as he is a loose canon. He angered many by co-sponsoring, with Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, the most radical Democrat in the Senate, a bill to reform electoral financing, and he has stood up against the use of torture in the Bush administration.

Also on the debit side for Republicans, McCain is 71 years old, tied to the unpopular war in Iraq, and simply not one of the fat-cat inner circle that has always been able to anoint candidates, most recently creating W out of smoke (from oil fires) and mirrors.

So Republicans will essentially be choosing from two candidates of limited appeal to themselves. If they are smart they will go for McCain, who is attractive to independent and even some conservative Democratic voters. He also has a fantastic "story" -- six years as a POW in Hanoi, where he was tortured. He can talk of the traditional notions of sacrifice without being a complete hypocrite. Of course he is also very, very conservative on the whole, although nobody's obvious tool.

OK. You see my guess, but we should probably only have to wait until Super Tuesday to find out.

Or maybe not. It could be that this raft of primaries will not be decisive, that none of the subsequent ones will be either, and that the party choice will have to wait until the convention. Lots of pundits are saying that -- probably as a device to hedge their bets -- as none of us really knows what motivates voters.

In any event, the same possibility of a deadlocked primary result also exists among the Democrats.

Bad-Mouth Bill

Until last Saturday, I believed that Hillary Clinton (or more accurately, "Billary," as Frank Rich of the New York Times calls them, "Hillbilly" being too bigoted an alternative), was going to be able to maintain what had been an enormous lead before Iowa. Billary are the party establishment, and lots of Democrats owe them favours. They have the machine that can turn out working class and older voters. And Hillary has enormous sympathy from women voters, for very good reasons.

However, Hillary is stolid and too obviously a cautious incrementalist while Barack Obama, who shares most of Hillary's views on the issues, is a brilliantly charismatic figure who can ignite a broad new electorate. Hillary reminds Democrats of their past, and she would galvanize Republicans and many independents against her, while Barack can reach a whole new electorate among these same voters, thus solidifying a majority in the general election. He appeals to idealistic upper middle class voters, and more importantly, young voters who might actually get off their duff and vote were he the candidate. He reminds many people of both Martin and Bobby.

Enter Bad-Mouth Bill. I believe that Bill Clinton has made the fatal error of the Billary campaign. Over the last couple of weeks he lit out after Barack in a way that deeply offended black voters, and Hillary chimed in as well. Now she says ol' Bill may just have been tired, but the Clintons indeed played the race card, thus reminding Democratic voters of the worst of the old style in American politics.

Let me insert my wee original, psychologically reductionist analysis of this deep error of Billary. I believe that Bill is dead anxious to make Hillary president. I mean that literally -- I believe that his anxiety drove his big mouth. Being the preeminent power couple of American politics, both Clintons, who have been frightened by the dramatic rise of Barack, have responded from their guts to the need to fight off this rising threat. Goddamn it, it was their turn and who the hell is this young dude to come in and take what they merit. Entitlement, anger, anxiety, and the lust for power led them over the precipice.

And the progressives now have a reason to choose the black man over the woman. The Kennedys coming over is deeply significant in this regard, as with them lies the older, idealistic, pre-Billary element of a party that was nearly triangulated to death by Bill Clinton, crypto-Republican.

Obama, the new Kennedy?

Not that Barack is actually much different from Hillary on the issues. Not that he necessarily would be more capable as president.

But Barack, whose "story" is also attractive, appeals to independents and even some Republicans; he would match up against McCain far better than would Hillary, who turns off many in her own party and doesn't have much appeal beyond there.

There are imponderables here. Hispanic Americans do not like African-Americans -- some pundits call them Hillary's firewall, especially in states like California where they are numerous. And older Democrats like her sort of message. But here is where Teddy Kennedy will be important. He will be on the road with Barack the next eight days, and he appeals to many of the same older voters and Hispanics, as does Hillary, albeit not for identical reasons.

Let me conclude with a close to home story, actually an at home story. My astutely political wife, like me a dual citizen, recently voted in the advanced ballot in California. She told me that she had been hanging fire, wanting to support a woman. But last week she voted for Barack, to considerable degree in reaction to the bad-mouthing from Billary. Of course this is a rather small sample, and the next week -- being forever in politics, right? -- may see Barack make his own faux pas, or Billary recover.

OK then, two hunches -- McCain and Obama.

Last time around I predicted in this publication that John Kerry would win the presidency, so take my prognostication with several shakers of salt.

Great sport, ain't it!

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