In Panic Mode, Hillary Clinton Joins the LBJ Wing of the Democratic Party

Hillary repeats, endlessly, that this campaign is about her "life's work" of 35 years. But at the end of the day, how important are her causes, really, versus vaulting ambition?
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I can't remember the last time a candidate for the Democratic nomination invoked the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson. But last night Hillary Clinton name-checked the scar-revealing, escalation-happy, nomination-spurning president as part of her desperate effort to limn the difference between rhetoric and action. She said:

Dr King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964... The power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president capable of action.

But here's what Senator Clinton is missing. Change isn't easy. Change is, perhaps, the hardest journey to take, whether it's losing ten pounds or integrating the armed forces or giving up your Hummer.

The reason people are powerfully and historically drawn to the Obama campaign is because they recognize he is one of those rare transformational figures who is capable of giving people the capacity to change. Without an inspirational figure exhorting us to reach outside the suffocating limitations of our own self-interest and grab onto something bigger and grander, we'll never do it.

Had Martin Luther King not created a cultural context that was ready to accept the landmark civil rights legislation -- and had JFK not introduced in bill in June of 1963, just six months before he was killed -- the bill would never have passed. It was LBJ who turned that tragedy into momentum, but he sure as hell didn't create the opportunity. In fact, it was Senator Mike Mansfield, the then Majority Leader, who devised the procedural strategy to keep the bill out of the conservative Judiciary Committee where it would have been squashed.

For Senator Clinton to attribute passage of the civil rights legislation in 1964 to the fact that Lyndon Johnson was "capable of action" is a willful disregard of history.

The most successful leaders are those capable of inspiring and then converting that emotional energy into action by alchemy of charm, muscle, horse-trading, flattery and relentlessness. FDR was able to galvanize the nation, yet was a shrewd political operator (how else could he have got the Lend Lease program through a skeptical Congress?) Lincoln and Churchill had similar qualities.

I believe Senator Obama has those qualities as well. And it appears that millions of voters are being pulled to him because they are ready to step into change, because they can see something strong and sunny enough to get them to accept a different kind of politics.

For whatever reason, Senator Clinton doesn't have the ability to create that same context for change. She's frustrated by that. She repeats, endlessly, that this campaign is about her "life's work" of 35 years. And, in fact, she has been a passionate advocate of some important causes.

But at the end of the day, how important are those causes, really, versus vaulting ambition? Because if she looked at the situation objectively, she would drop out, throw her support to Barack Obama, and let him finish what she started.

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