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How Hillary Can Lose By Winning

Scorching the political landscape could be a winning strategy for the nomination, but relentlessly tearing down Barack Obama is an absolute disaster for governing the country.
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Here's something you might not know: coming out of the first two contests, it is actually Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton, who has so far won the most votes. Because his margin of victory in Iowa was far greater than her narrow victory in New Hampshire, and because almost twice as many voters caucused in Iowa this time than ever before, Obama leads by more than 10,000 votes when you combine the two state totals. Why is this significant? Because how you win elections is more important than just the fact of beating your opponent. At least it is if you have any interest in governing effectively once you're elected. In these first two contests, Obama has demonstrated a remarkable ability to assemble an impressive coalition of Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans that could, if it continues to grow through November, become a New American Majority. It's a governing coalition that, in principle, could be there for either a President Obama or, if she has truly found her inspirational voice, even a President Clinton. That's the good news. The bad news is that politics-as-usual is now threating to turn a transformational moment in our nation's history into just another pothole on the road to the White House. Launched in the frozen fields of Iowa, then escalated in the slush and snow of New Hampshire, the cold war between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is now turning hot. The danger for Hillary is that African-American voters will long note and long remember what was said here. Campaign rhetoric that turns a hope-monger into a dope-monger might well be effective in the short term, but at what price? Scorching the political landscape could be a winning strategy for the nomination, but relentlessly tearing down Barack Obama is an absolute disaster for governing the country. I remember well how the 1968 campaign bitterness between Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy split the anti-war movement and, after Bobby's death, the nomination of Hubert Humphrey failed to unite the party until it was far too late. Thus, Nixon was the One. Many in my generation were left embittered and disaffected by the harsh realities of a system that in Barack's words "boils all the hope out of you." Yesterday on Meet the Press, Hillary at first walked the rhetoric back a bit, "This is the most exciting election we've had in such a long time because you have an African American, an extraordinary man, a person of tremendous talents and abilities, running to become our president...I have no intention of either, you know, doing something that would move this race in a wrong way." Then she ratcheted it up with this thinly-veiled threat: "...or, frankly, sit standing by when I think tactics are being employed that are not in the best interests of our country." Hillary should well remember that the first Clinton presidency was destabilized almost immediately by what she then accurately dubbed a "vast right-wing conspiracy." She now laughs when asked about it, saying that she hasn't "paid much attention to it for about 10 years." (Note to HRC: It's still there). Should she go on to win the presidency, Senator Clinton will need all the friends she can get to unite the country. What she does over the next three weeks will determine whether she'll have them and, more to the point, whether her victory -- should it come -- would prove grandly historic or tragically pyrrhic.