Reactions to a Tough Decision

Crossposted at OpenLeft

Arianna Huffington and I were talking at the Take Back America conference, and she encouraged me to write a follow-up post about the decision I made a couple of weeks ago that I thought I would not end up making in this primary campaign: endorsing Barack Obama. I did so on March 5th, the day after the Ohio and Texas primaries.

It's not that I didn't like Obama. I've actually known him for awhile and liked him very much -- certainly I had been inspired by him like so many others. But I had been very much intending to stay neutral in this campaign for a couple of reasons.

The first was that for all my years in presidential politics (I've been directly involved in five different presidential campaigns since 1984, and have been involved in a variety of independent expenditure efforts in 2000 and 2004), I haven't been involved in the primaries since the 1988 cycle. I have always been a lot more focused on beating Republicans rather than on presidential primaries, and on building the broader progressive infrastructure. Because there don't tend to be huge issue or ideological distinctions between the leading candidates, as in this election, it has always seemed more important to me playing a broader building and uniting role in the party and progressive movement than getting into the intense flame wars that always seem to accompany these primary fights (God knows I've been exhausted by the flame war accompanying this one for quite a while).

The second reason was, as I wrote in the March 5th post and in several other posts over the last year, that I have a very high regard for and loyalty to Hillary Clinton. I was a senior staffer in Little Rock in the 1992 campaign, and a Special Assistant to the President in the first term of the Clinton administration, and in that role I had worked very closely with Hillary, especially on the health care fight. I have a great deal of affection and respect for her from those years, and feel a great deal of loyalty to her for all her kindness and friendships for me over the years. I had strongly disagreed with her on the war and on some other issues over the years, but that has not diminished my respect for her.

So I was determined to stay out of this fight. But the fight in Texas and Ohio changed all that for me. Not just because I was appalled at the Republican reinforcing fear thematic that Hillary used to win, but because there is no path for Hillary to the nomination at this point except an ugly, ugly path. Given the delegate math, she can only win this by a combination of fear-mongering attacks and behind the scenes deals with superdelegates. That would be terrible for our party, and for the entire progressive movement.

The reaction since my endorsement post has been really interesting. No surprise at all, I got shots across the bow by people connected to Hillary's campaign about my name being mud, etc. Hey, it's politics, I get that and expected it. But I have been surprised by the number of Hillary supporters who quietly said to me, "I've picked my candidate and I'm with her until the end, but I admire what you wrote, because there is no way to a win without it getting really ugly." And even the most ardent Hillary supporters -- the ones who say things like "well, yeah, but Obama's been negative, too" or "hey, politics is a contact sport" -- cannot spell out for me a path to the nomination for her, absent a big mistake by Obama, that isn't profoundly divisive.

Because of my personal ties to the Clintons, this was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made. But every day that goes by makes me more convinced that it was the right thing to do.