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Coda for the Clintons

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By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Crank up your iPods, everyone. Herewith, a musical guide to the endgame of the epic contest for the Democratic nomination:

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Begin with "No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige. The hip-hop diva was singing about personal struggles, but her show-stopping anthem couldn't be more relevant to the nomination battle. There are many Democratic Party grandees who should download this tune immediately, chief among them Harold Ickes.

It was Ickes, after all, who pitched a fit Saturday when the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee made a valiant and mostly successful attempt to fairly enforce rules that Ickes helped write. Dramatically, he announced that Hillary Clinton "reserves the right" to fight all the way to the credentials committee meeting in late July over a compromise on Michigan's delegates that already gives Clinton more than she deserves.

Recall that the Michigan primary, like the Florida contest, was not legitimate. Period. As far as the party was concerned -- and as far as Clinton herself was concerned, before she fell behind Barack Obama -- the primary never happened. None of the candidates campaigned in Michigan. Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot.

Yet, in the interest of party unity, the rules committee came up with a formula that gave Clinton credit for 69 delegates that she "won" running virtually unopposed in a vote that technically never took place. Ickes and the angry Clinton supporters who protested the committee meeting objected to the fact that Obama was awarded Michigan delegates that he didn't win. But Clinton, too, was awarded delegates she didn't win, because -- remember? -- there was no legitimate Michigan primary.

All right, now let's cue up an old standard: "It's Only a Paper Moon," recorded by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and almost every other great singer in the history of jazz. "But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me," goes the lyric -- an apt comment on the "popular vote" tally.

If you watch any of the cable networks for more than, say, five minutes, you'll hear commentators -- okay, sometimes I'm one of them -- talking about the dispute between the Clinton and Obama campaigns over who is leading in the popular vote. These discussions can become excruciatingly detailed. Should there be an attempt to extrapolate probable vote totals in states that held caucuses? What about states, such as Washington and Maine, that didn't report caucus vote totals at all? And then there's Florida and Michigan.

The better question is: Have we lost our minds? The Democratic nominee is not chosen by popular vote any more than he or she is chosen by astrology or consulting the I Ching. It's a real tribute to the Clinton campaign's media machine that anyone spends any time at all performing a calculation that is definitively, officially, totally meaningless.

Finally, let's revisit an '80s classic that helped launch the music video era: Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love." I'm talking about the Clintons here, mostly Bill -- and no, I don't mean that kind of love.

I'm talking about the kind of love that comes from being at center stage -- the cheers, the adoration, the curtain calls. Since 1992, the Clintons have owned the Democratic Party. The fact that they didn't get all they wanted from the rules committee on Saturday is proof that the party has changed hands.

I've been critical of Hillary Clinton at times, but actually I'm confident that she will handle this new situation with equanimity and grace -- or, at least, with more of those qualities than Bill Clinton has the capacity to summon. The former president isn't dealing with any of this very well.

We've seen his red-faced eruptions on the campaign trail. We've seen how, in South Carolina, he helped drive African Americans -- formerly a loyal Clinton constituency -- away from his wife's candidacy. We've seen him descend from his Great Statesman perch to become, once again, a political street fighter -- but one whose reflexes seem to have dulled a bit.

A new Vanity Fair story asking what's wrong with Bill Clinton is the sort of thing that once would have just rolled off his back. Instead, his office issued a lengthy, detailed, persnickety rebuttal -- despite the fact that there wasn't much to rebut, except the concerned observations of unnamed friends and associates who worry about his emotional state.

I'd suggest he listen to a little contemporary gospel -- some Kirk Franklin, maybe, or Yolanda Adams -- but I don't want to make him madder.

The writer will be online to answer questions at 1 p.m. today here. His e-mail address is robinsong@washpost.com.


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