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More and more political experts believe we are witnessing the outright destruction of the Democratic Party during the increasingly bitter, overwhelmingly petty and unbelievably angry primary season.
Much of the anger is directed at both Hillary Rodham Clinton and her former President husband who are falling from grace from within party ranks and are increasingly viewed as agents of destruction by the same Democrats who once held them in high regard.
But some of the blame also falls on frontrunner Barack Obama, who has gone from an agent of change to a candidate of increasing questions about his ability, his experience and his intentions.
How bad is it? Bad. Can it get worse? Oh yeah.
“This election,” Bill Clinton said in the hours before the Pennsylvania primary, “is too big to be small.” It was a noble sentiment, succinctly stated, and the core of what Democrats believe — that George W. Bush has been a historic screwup as President, that there are huge issues to be confronted this year. But it was laughable as well. The Pennsylvania primary had been a six-week exercise in diminution, with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — and Bill Clinton too — losing altitude and esteem on an almost daily basis. Even as he spoke, the former President was in the midst of a tiny, self-inflicted absurdity, having claimed in a radio interview that the Obama campaign had played the “race card” against him. And that was the least of the damage.
Hillary Clinton won a convincing victory in Pennsylvania, but it came at a significant cost to the Clinton family’s reputation and to the Democratic Party. She won by throwing the “kitchen sink” at Obama, as her campaign aides described it. Her campaign had been an assault on Obama’s character flaws, real and imagined, rather than on matters of substance. Clinton also suffered a bizarre self-inflicted wound, having reimagined her peaceful landing at a Bosnian airstrip in 1996 as a battlefield scene complete with sniper fire. After six weeks of this, according to one poll, 60% of the American people considered her “untrustworthy,” a Nixonian indictment.
But that was nothing compared with the damage done to Obama, who entered the primary as a fresh breeze and left it stale, battered and embittered — still the mathematical favorite for the nomination but no longer the darling of his party. In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was “friendly” with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. All of which deepened the skepticism that Caucasians, especially those without a college degree, had about a young, inexperienced African-American guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin fluency with language. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the party about Obama’s ability to hold on to crucial Rust Belt bastions like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election — and to add long-suffering Ohio to the Democratic column.