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Friday, June 06, 2008

Department of Bad Historical Analogies

I know that "unity" is our daily affimration and all of us Obamacrats are supposed to go easy on Hillary and her supporters, but I've still got some gripes. Since in a few days you'll care about these even less than you do now, I'm going to beat on that ol' drum today. My main beef is the line I've heard a dozen times now, notably from the usually solid Joan Walsh at Salon, that Hillary was unfairly expected to drop out of the race early because she was a woman. Walsh references the exceptional Digby at Hullabaloo giving positive mention to Jesse Jackson's anti-unity convention speech in 1988: "Her Jackson comparison is inspired (though we should also note that Ted Kennedy and Gary Hart took their losing campaigns all the way without calls for their political execution)."

This is really, really wrong. The idea that nobody griped about the self-destructive windmill tilting of Teddy in 1980 or the extended futility of Gary in 1984 or the divisive identity politics of Jesse in 1988 is just nuts. First, these are not great election examples if what you care about is your party WINNING! Nice of Walsh to throw in Ford/Reagan '76 for good measure, even if it was the only close election in the bunch. If you look at recent history, convention battles pretty much always mean LOSING. And they are usually poison for the person who unnecessarily pushes them. Teddy Kennedy went into a very long wilderness after 1980, one where he was a figure of mockery and malevolence for Republicans and Democrats alike. Ironically enough, it was George W. Bush that finally brought Teddy out of that wilderness in 2001 as part of a brief effort to look boldly bipartisan on education reform. Otherwise the Teddy love fest that's been going on this year never could have happened.

So too with Jesse Jackson in 1988. His emasculation of Dukakis had such an enduring effect on the Dem psyche that in 1992 Bill Clinton's single biggest gambit during the nomination was his "Sister Soulja" moment, which had little to do with the anti-white rapper and everything to do with knocking Jesse down a few pegs to ease the fears of white voters. Jesse has never been as powerful a figure again. And then there's Gary Hart. Hard to blame 1984 on him. Same with Reagan in 1976, thanks to that bigger elephant, Watergate. They survived their convention fights only because they couldn't really be held responsible for what followed. But if Obama loses in a tidal wave year like 2008, after Hillary took it to the convention when she knew she couldn't win? Say goodbye. Whether or not anyone had called for her "political execution," she would have pulled her own switch.


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