The Blog

The Clintons, Bringing Anxiety To American Politics For Twenty Years

As the Clinton and Obama camps hunkered down, political anxiety--a hydra-headed Wookie of arcane wonk--began its viral spread.
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After the gauntlet of inevitability had changed hands for the fourth time, people got a bit antsy. Super-Duper-Tuesday--the Tuesday to trump all those that came before--was spectacularly inconclusive. There was, it seemed on Wednesday, a very real threat of...well, no one was quite sure. But as the Clinton and Obama camps hunkered down, political anxiety--a hydra-headed Wookie of arcane wonk--began its viral spread.

First came the Super-Delegates. The insider political term hidden in your basement Britannica carried sudden cultural currency. From casual coffee break chats to exhaustive NPR reports, Democrats learned that their party might not be so democratic after all. The media parlayed some clichés--"smoke-filled rooms," "back-room-deals"--into a fortnight of collective unease.

The super-delegate issue seemed ominous enough. What would they decide, these random kingmakers? Some of them were young, like, still-in-braces-young. A super-delegate, like pork bellies or cattle futures, could apparently be bought and sold.

What would be their whims, these arbitrary tiebreakers? No one could say. It was like trying to report where tomorrow's starlings would alight. Every news source had its own delegate tally. It was impossible to keep an accurate score. To news junkies, and fans of representational government everywhere, it was all very unsettling.

But to the Clintons, the super-slippery loopholes looked cozy enough to call home. The more obvious Barack Obama's ascendance, the more intricately they planned their insurgency. Bill and Chelsea personally courted the young and unsure. In strategic anonymous leaks, campaign officials darkly noted an imminent end to fair play; even the so-called pledged delegates were up for grabs. Michigan and Florida? The wise candidate changes her mind.

The Clintons are a scrappy bunch, we know, but they wouldn't hijack the hopeful will of millions, would they? Bill Clinton, that lovable tawdry hero of culture wars past, wouldn't disregard decorum and dignity just to win, would he? Their behavior compounded the party's anxiety. Pretty soon, somebody called Chelsea Clinton a whore and the whole thing had officially gone sour.

So much Sturm und Drang. It was exhausting. Yet sort of familiar. The gathering thunderheads, the fury of a family beating its chest against the steady hail and winds of its own making. But this time, there was no amassed Republican foe, no buxom intern, just a man named Barack Obama offering voters something better than weather-beaten breastplates. He promised instead the warm shelter of inclusion, the even keel of compromise and the sweeping power of language loyally wed to its meaning.

It must be hard for Hillary Clinton, at the wheel of the once-oiled machine, to maintain direction and poise while her armored vehicle, lurching from pit to pit, seizes up and sputters. Each day, she careers in divergent directions.

With momentum to spare, a wary sense of elation is taking hold among Obama supporters. Months of low-pay grunt work by organizer and volunteer ground troops have paid off. This diverse crew doesn't consider their time, cynically mocked by Hillary Clinton, as squandered in delusion. They strive instead to do their part, day by day, in restructuring our dysfunctional politics. They work confident, certain that what lay ahead is brighter than what we have left behind.