Thursday, March 13, 2008
Running down toward the gutter in this, the winter of our discontent
I originally posted this picture on Flickr as one more in my series of "what a crappy winter this has been in Madison" photos: Now that the ice that has rutted Madison streets for weeks is starting to melt, it's being carved into deep, dark ice canyons a small animal could get lost in. The more runoff there is, the more these fissures grow, becoming the only channels in which water can flow toward the gutter. Was this how the Grand Canyon started?
Maybe the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is driving me crazy and has made me snap, but the more I look at the photo, the less I see a winter picture, and the more I see a roadmap of the fight for the nomination. Grand Canyon? The growing fissure in the party threatens to dwarf it.
Even so, the split in the party isn't really what worries me. Democrats have a history of coming back together in the fall (sometimes at the last minute) after a tough primary fight. They joke about the Will Rogers line, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." Then they focus on the Republicans.
But this year seems different. It's the gutter in this picture that concerns me. Both camps are demonizing the other side in ways that set the stage for similar, but far more savage Republican memes in the fall. Want to call Hillary a monster who will do anything to get elected? Fine. But how are you going to defend her when McCain's surrogates say the same thing and then add, helpfully, that she's a murderer as well? (With McCain saying, all the while, that she's a fine senator and he enjoys working with her.) Want to position Obama as an affirmative action candidate who gets an unfair boost from being black? Fine. But how are you going to defend him when McCain's surrogates say the same thing and add, helpfully, that he's also a brown-skinned, Muslim terrorist sympathizer? (With McCain saying, all the while, that he's a fine senator and he enjoys working with him.)
Sound far-fetched? It's not. This fall, one of the Democrats will be running against a ruthless operation that just a few years ago knocked a great American war hero and paraplegic -- Max Cleland -- out of the U.S. Senate by successfully smearing him as a Saddam Hussein sympathizer. Republican surrogates will say far worse than anything either Democrat's followers have said about the other, and nobody will be forcing them to step down. Republicans have plenty of real racists and real misogynists in their big tent, and they don't restrict their free speech rights.
Karl Rove must be beside himself with glee. (And I don't even want to think about what he may have done already to deepen this rift. How hard is it for dirty tricksters to pose as Democratic partisans of one candidate or the other on the blogosphere, injecting ever more toxic charges into the comment threads in a medium that encourages anonymity?)
Are we really winding down toward the gutter and threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against a weak Republican candidate? Will both contestants end up so tarnished in the public eye that neither will be a viable candidate?
Maybe we do need a brokered convention that goes a few ballots. It might give a lot of people's number two candidate a chance to get the nomination. Maybe it will take John Edwards to run a campaign that can win.