The Blog

Dear Al: It's Time to Put That Nobel Prize to Work

Those halcyon days when you could eviscerate an opponent on Monday and lock arms with him (or her) on Wednesday are long gone. EVERYTHING sticks.
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"If Sen. Clinton wants to take the debate to various places, we'll join that debate. We'll do it on our terms and in our own way but if she wants to make issues like ethics and disclosure and law firms and real estate deals and all that stuff issues, as I've said before I don't know why they'd want to go there, but I guess that's where they'll take the race.''

-- David Axelrod March 4, 2008

"Faced with many legitimate questions about Senator Obama's long-time relationship with indicted political fixer Tony Rezko, the Obama campaign has chosen to lash out at Senator Clinton....Instead of making false attacks, we urge Senator Obama to release all relevant financial and other information related to indicted political fixer Tony Rezko."

-- Howard Wolfson March 5, 2008 Remember all the flap around Barack Obama's evocation of Ronald Reagan just before the Nevada caucuses? Where Obama made his mistake was in not calling to mind the only really smart idea from the Reagan era, the so-called "11th Commandment," which holds "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican." This must stop. And it must stop before the Pennsylvania campaign becomes fully joined. If the Clinton and Obama teams don't understand that we no longer live in an era where ad hominem attacks evaporate into the mists of time after an election, then I suggest that they take a quick refresher course on the Internet Tubes from Senator Ted Stevens. Those halcyon days when you could eviscerate an opponent on Monday and lock arms with him (or her) on Wednesday are long gone. EVERYTHING sticks. And, in the words of that great political analyst Michael Stipe, "everybody hurts." Except John McCain. Here's what needs to happen: immediately after the Mississippi primary on Tuesday, both candidates must be called to Washington for a sit-down at the DNC. The convener of this gathering is Chairman Howard Dean, but the actual host is former Vice President (and new Nobel Peace Prize winner) Al Gore. Also attending are Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, superdelegates all. Obama and Clinton need to go alone, without staff. This makes it more likely (but certainly won't guarantee) that what happens in that room, stays in that room. The end result of that session should be a definitive public statement, voiced by Al Gore at a press conference, flanked by both candidates. It would go something like this: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm pleased to say that we've had a very productive discussion here today about this Democratic presidential campaign and that both Senators Clinton and Obama have agreed that our prime objective is to defeat John McCain and see one of them take the oath of office on January 20th, 2009 as the 44th president of the United States. Speaking on behalf of Chairman Dean, President Carter, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, as well as the vast majority of uncommitted superdelegates, we are very proud of these candidates. Either one would make an excellent Commander-in-Chief. However, we expressed our concern to both of them that moving forward their campaigns must remain positive and focused on defeating John McCain, rather than undermining each other for purely short-term gain. With that in mind, we uncommitted superdelegates -- and this includes the proxies of more than 200 others -- have made it clear today that while we applaud the continuation of this campaign into Pennsylvania and beyond, we will move as a bloc toward the first candidate who is the recipient of negative television, radio or direct mail attacks, as well as negative rhetoric from candidate surrogates or the candidates themselves. Of course, every presidential candidate deserves the chance to make his or her case. But that case must now become a distinctly positive one about each candidate's own strengths, as opposed to his/her opponents' perceived vulnerabilities. Let me be clear: I fully recognize that politics, as the old maxim goes, "is not beanbag." And I say this as someone who has fought hard to win campaigns in the past. I've said harsh things and, certainly, harsh things have been said about me. But this is a vastly different situation than we have ever found ourselves before. It is late in the campaign. One of these two candidates is now certain to be the nominee of our party. And we, as Democrats, can not allow our personal differences to cripple that nominee in the fall campaign against Senator McCain. That is why we are here today and that is what we have all pledged to ensure, as we go forward together toward victory in November. " Unlikely? Perhaps. But so is the situation that we're in. I can't help thinking of that line from James Goldman's timeless play, The Lion in Winter, delivered memorably on film by Peter O'Toole as the war-weary Henry II: "We are the world in small. A nation is a human thing. It does what we do, for our reasons. Surely if we're civilized, we can put away the knives. We can make peace. We have it in our hands."