Time to Make Nice? Don't Bet on it

Washington Matters

Time to Make Nice? Don't Bet on it

Since Hillary Clinton appears to be ignoring counsel (mostly from supporters of Barack Obama) to unite the party by giving up, it looks like Democrats are going to Plan B. I doubt that will work either.

With  concerns mounting that the divisive campaign will dampen the party's chances in November, there is growing pressure on both camps to take what should be a commonsense approach -- no more dirty pool. Influential Democratic consultant Robert Shrum made the most recent call to political sanity in a New York Times op-ed piece Friday. He argues that Clinton has enough of a chance at the nomination to reasonably continue her race and that the way to calm things down is for the candidates and their staffs to stop using negative tactics that may tarnish the party and improve the stock of Republican John McCain.

While both sides have found ways to engage in some mud slinging, the Clinton side -- as you would expect with a candidate and team desperately trying to claw its way back on top -- has been the far tougher of the two campaigns in recent weeks. And Shrum points out that Clinton's popularity ratings have taken a sharp dive over the same period. But Clinton, her husband and many of her top aides come from a brass knuckles school of politics, arguably because that was the only way to respond to the tactics they had to endure through the Clinton presidency.

Can she change her ways? Perhaps. But part of the problem is where you draw the line. While Shrum argues that the Clinton camp should quit raising with uncommitted superdelegates the specter of Obama's controversial pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, columnist Charles Krauthammer is outraged at the suggestion there is anything improper with doing so. "It is now dishonorable to even make note of Wright's bigotry and ask how any man -- let alone a man on the threshold of the presidency -- could associate himself for 20 years with the purveyor of such hate," he wrote. And, of course, there is the Internet. No one can stop scurrilous e-mail attacks and rumor mongering by overzealous supporters -- and there's no sure-fire way of knowing for sure that a campaign aide my not have a hand in spreading them, either.

But Clinton is far from politically tone-deaf and knows what can turn off voters. She can certainly control herself and her staff. I argued here a few days ago that Democratic fretting over these divisions were overblown, that a tough race was unlikely to do any lasting damage to the party and that Clinton has every right to stay in. If she's to fall, she should go down swinging -- but not swinging below the belt. If the party was poised to nominate a clear loser or if this campaign was about hugely important issues and warring ideologies, a campaign more befitting a roller derby could arguably be in order. But these folks are arguing about the quality of their resumes and degrees of competency. Surely Clinton doesn't want the job so badly that a significant part of her legacy would include damaging the party's chances at recapturing the White House after eight years of exile.


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