When they write the history of the 2008 Election, there’s a good chance that Tuesday’s for-the-cameras-only performance by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the one used to demonstrate how much things are changing in electoral politics with this election.
Clinton’s rush to Florida to stand in front of a rally clearly orchestrated to display a crowd of happy Democrats for the television news cameras is old school politics of the highest order. There’s the happy candidate, the enthusiastic crowd and the flat-out coded pandering.
In other words, politics as we know it: scripted, televised, aimed mostly at press perceptions and inside baseball.
Still, there was a lot going on in that Davie, Fla. gathering. So let’s break it down.
But what was really interesting was Clinton’s promise to see that Florida’s Democratic ballot counted at the convention in Denver. That’s not what the party has decided. In fact, Florida’s being punished – like Michigan – for moving its primary up early. So why was she making that promise and making it so publicly?
Clinton’s rival, Sen. Barack Obama, didn’t just win South Carolina. He won South Carolina with a healthy margin. He drew black voters and he got lots of support from women. Even better, Bill Clinton’s attempts to turn back the clock to the mid-1980s and bait white voters with not-so-subtle references to the much-despised Rev. Jesse Jackson were solidly rebuffed.
Two days later, Obama turned and said that he thought drivers’ licenses should and could be given to the 7 million or so “illegal aliens” residing in this country. His campaign followed up on that with an endorsement from Sen. Ted Kennedy and one from Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.
The drivers’ license question is the one that Clinton bollixed up Philadelphia and it means a lot – it’s a formal piece of identification that lets you open a bank account, insure a car, get on a plane – to those folks who have been in this country with out proper credentials. And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to hear that news was receiving big, big play on Spanish language news outlets and radio stations.
Which means Barack Obama might do a whole lot better in California that the polls currently show.
The Caroline Kennedy endorsement is coming from someone who should be Hillary Clinton’s natural constituent, a wealthy, well-educated women supporting the idea of a woman in the White House. Those women aren’t supporting Clinton, however. In addition Schlossberg’s endorsement comes with the tactic understanding that, were things a bit different, she might be standing next to her late brother who, it was once rumored, wanted to be a New York Senator, following in his uncle Bobby’s footsteps.
The whole thing is a straight off slap in the face to the Clintons.
So is Ted Kennedy’s endorsement. Having the party’s senior statesmen offer support is cover – think large, shady oak, hot summer day – for any elected Democrat in the country to break party ranks and support Obama. This is very important for the so-called “super delegates” – elected officials within the party who have for reasons too numerous, too valid and too complicated to outline here – a series of beefs, large and small with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Which means that Barack Obama is going to start picking up endorsements from politicians who can help him with on-the-ground campaign logistics.
The bigger problem with Clinton’s Florida appearance, however, is how mechanical it feels. Swooping in to claim a half-hearted victory that, when you get down to it, wasn’t much more than a name recognition contest so the television cameras can show you with a win? The problem is that whole idea is so transparently obvious that, well, it looks half-contrived, half-silly. No one’s fooled.
Which is why Obama might be picking up points with real voters. As the Washington Post’s main press scold Howie Kurtz observed yesterday, Obama doesn’t much care about what the press thinks. Contrast that to former President Bill Clinton’s oft-recording diatribes about how the press is kowtowing to Obama.
All of this means Democrats should brace for a big fight if Clinton decides – if she hasn’t already – to get the convention’s rule-makers to let her count the delegates she won in Florida and Michigan to claim the nomination. That’s the kind of backroom battle at which Bill Clinton excels and that may mean, in the end, that the Democrats support his wife.
Because when it comes to dealing with Bill and Hillary you can never be too cynical. And that’s the real problem with the Clinton’s campaign.