Sunday, March 23, 2008

MAUREEN DOWD: Haunting Obama’s Dreams


It is a tribute to Hillary Clinton that even though, rationally, political soothsayers think she can no longer win, irrationally, they wonder how she will pull it off.

It’s impossible to imagine The Terminator, as a former aide calls her, giving up. Unless every circuit is out, she’ll regenerate enough to claw her way out of the grave, crawl through the Rezko Memorial Lawn and up Obama’s wall, hurl her torso into the house and brutally haunt his dreams.

“It’s like one of those movies where you think you know the end, but then you watch with your fingers over your eyes,” said one leading Democrat.

Hillary got a boost from the wackadoodle Jeremiah Wright. As a top pol noted, the Reverend turned Obama — in the minds of some working-class and crossover white voters — from “a Harvard law graduate into a South Side Black Panther.”

Obama blunted the ugliness of Wright’s YouTube “greatest hits” with his elegant and bold speech on race. But how will he get the genie back into the bottle?

Pressed about race on a Philly radio sports show, where he wanted to talk basketball, he called his grandmother “a typical white person, who, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know, well there’s a reaction that’s in our experiences that won’t go away and can sometimes come out in the wrong way.”

Obama might be right, but he should stay away from the phrase “typical white person” because typically white people don’t like to be reminded of their prejudices. It also undermines Obama’s feel-good appeal in which whites are allowed to transcend race because the candidate himself has transcended race.

Even swaddled in flags, Obama is vulnerable on the issue of patriotism. He’s right that you don’t have to wear a flag pin to be patriotic, and that Republicans have coarsely exploited patriotism for ideological ends while failing to do truly patriotic things, like giving our troops the right armor and the proper care at Walter Reed.

But Republicans are salivating over Reverend Wright’s “God damn America” imprecation and his post-9/11 “America’s chickens coming home to roost” crack, combined with Michelle Obama’s aggrieved line about belatedly feeling really proud of her country.

On Friday in Charlotte, N.C., Bill Clinton, the man who once thanked an R.O.T.C. recruiter “for saving me from the draft” during Vietnam, sounded like Sean Hannity without the finesse.

Extolling John McCain as “an honorable man,” and talking about McCain’s friendship with his wife, the former president told veterans: “I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country. And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.”

Some people consider the Clintons to be the “stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.” Tony McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff and an Obama adviser, accused Hillary’s hatchet husband of McCarthyism.

After the Hillary camp lost — and trashed — Bill Richardson and was outmaneuvered by the Obama forces on mulligans in Michigan and Florida, Hillary’s hopes dwindled down to the superdelegates.

If Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi are the dealmakers, it won’t take Hercule Poirot to figure out who had knives out for Hillary in this “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Carter, who felt he was not treated with a lot of respect by the Clintons when they were in the White House, favors Obama.

“The Clintons will be there when they need you,” said a Carter friend.

Al Gore blames Bill Clinton’s trysts with Monica for losing him the White House. He resented sharing the vice presidency with Hillary and sharing the donors and attention with her when she ran for Senate as he ran for president.

“There’s no love between him and Hillary,” said one former Clintonista. “It was like Mitterrand with his wife and girlfriend. They were always competing for the affection of the big guy.”

Like Carter and Gore, Nancy Pelosi was appalled by Bill’s escapades with Monica. And, as The Times’s Carl Hulse wrote, the Speaker has been viewed as “putting her thumb on the scale for Mr. Obama” in recent weeks. As a leading China basher, the San Francisco pol tangled bitterly with President Clinton over his pursuit of a free-trade agreement with China, once charging him with papering over China’s horrible record on human rights. And she has been put off by the abrasive ways of some top Hillary people.

If Hillary’s fate falls into the hands of Jimmy, Al and Nancy, the Clinton chickens may come home to roost.

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