Clinton: Marching From One Pyrrhic Victory To Another

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Perhaps Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would do well to heed the lessons of King Pyrrhus. Already, Hillary Clinton has alienated, through her scorched earth tactics, hitherto one of her core and most loyal group of supporters--the Black community. And this is also a core constituent of the Democratic Party.

[Black Star News Editorial]

Judging from the recent news reports and media commentaries, Senator Hillary Clinton scored a string of vaunted victories against Senator Barack Obama in Ohio and Texas in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Once written off as a political comatose following Obama's sensational victories--eleven landslides in all, prior to last Tuesday--Hillary is being proclaimed, once again, as the "comeback" candidate, an appellation that recalls her husband Bill Clinton’s remarkable recovery in New Hampshire in 1992.

Playing the media: Readers may recall that Bill Clinton had a political meltdown in New Hampshire following the twin accusations that he had dodged the draft and, more riveting, that he had had an extramarital affairs with an Arkansas waitress called Gennifer Flowers.

Bill Clinton, who had led the field following the withdrawal of former New York governor Mario Cuomo from the Democratic race, quickly lost nearly 20 points within a week just prior to the New Hampshire primary. What was remarkable then, as now, is that Bill Clinton did not win New Hampshire in 1992. After coming in second behind Paul Tsongas, Clinton simply declared himself the "comeback kid." The media roared with approval and took the story to the bank. Bill Clinton went on, from victories interspersed with losses, to capture his party's nomination. His charisma and political skills would brook no obstacle in his path.

Fast forward, sixteen years later another Clinton has inherited, or concocted, the "comeback" mantle. As she demonstrated in her victory speech in Ohio on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton dedicated her victory to all the people who get knocked down in life but simply refuse to submit to defeat. In victory she summoned up the indomitable frontier spirit that has governed the fate of this Republic from its early days in the wilderness. It was a bravado performance and political theatre, the sort of political touch she has long been accused of lacking.

What is even more remarkable now than in the snow-covered fields of New Hampshire in 1992 is that just two weeks ago, Hillary Clinton had led Barack Obama both in Ohio and Texas by nearly 20 points. Her lead in these two key states rarely wavered. After her devastating defeat in Wisconsin, she simply turned tail and fled to Texas behind her self-proclaimed fire wall. It was not mere victory that she sought in Texas and Ohio. Hillary Clinton had drawn a line in the Texan sands and in the semi-permafrost of Ohio. She was not only going to win and stop the Obamamentum; she was going to deal him a crippling blow. The question was not whether she would win; rather, it was by what magnitude of landslide.

But as Obama marched on from Wisconsin, the terms of reference quickly changed. Within a few days Obama had closed the gaps in Texas and Ohio and soon threatened the invulnerable Clinton in her own lair. Like in New Hampshire in 1992, Clinton sensed danger and quickly engaged Obama in a devastating political jujitsu.

Incrementally the Clintons begun to lower the bar in Texas and Ohio from “landslide” to a “comfortable victory.” Then it soon morphed from “comfortable victory” to just “victory.” In the end, as Tuesday rolled by, the argument had been completely reformulated. It was no longer whether Clinton would win. It was now whether Obama could win by a “significant margin” in Texas and Ohio. If not, the Clinton campaign boldly argued, it would be a sign of "buyer's remorse," revealing for all to see that Obama had finally been dispossessed by the discerning voters of America. It was a performance of such Orwellian brilliance by the Clinton campaign.

So when Clinton finally won Ohio by a mere 10 percent--far less than Obama's 17 percent blowout in Wisconsin, which incidentally was his lowest margin of victory in an eleven consecutive victory run--she was quickly declared the "comeback" candidate. And Obama's loss in the Texas primary by merely three points (he won the Texas caucuses by a margin of over 10 points), the media declared it a "stunning" defeat for Obama. Never mind that Hillary Clinton was supposed to win both Ohio and Texas in landslides. It's all about parsing.

Hillary's pyrrhic victories

: The mass media has bought into the Clinton's argument that her victories are in the all-important critical states where Democrats must win in order to recapture the White House in November. Naturally Obama demurred by calling it "a funny way of keeping scores." But this is too important an argument to be dismissed by the sleight of the hand. It goes to the core of Clinton's argument for the nomination.

Clinton's argument can be restated and reformulated briefly: that Hillary's victories in both primaries and the so-called "big states" illustrate her capacity to beat John McCain in November. She has won, she claims, all the critical states Democrats must retain or recapture in November. Obama's victories, on the other hand, are insignificant, and the caucuses are mere distractions, the Clinton argument goes. Hillary alone is the repository of Democratic hope in November 2008. If Bill Clinton was from Hope, Hillary Clinton sees herself as the embodiment of American hope and the post 9/11 aspiration.

This is a brilliant argument. It would be magnificent if its core assumptions and premises, and conclusions, were even remotely true. Unfortunately they are not. Let's examine Hillary's core contention.

First, it is important to acknowledge that Obama, in fact, won Texas. He lost the Texas primary to Hillary Clinton by a small margin. However, he won the Texas caucuses by a significant margin. As a result, he will emerge out of Texas with a net gain of at least 3 delegates. That is to say that Hillary Clinton will withdraw from the battle fields of Texas with a net loss of at least 3 delegates. Not exactly her Los Alamos, but this is a stunning defeat for a candidate who, only 10 days ago, led Obama in Texas by nearly 20 points. If this is not a demonstrable reversal of fortune, nothing else in American politics will qualify.

Yet the mass media, just as in New Hampshire in 1992, will insist that Clinton won Texas and Obama suffered a “stunning” defeat in the Lone State. This, perhaps, should serve as Exhibit A for the media's civic independence and probity.

The battle for real estate:

Hillary’s claim that she has been winning the crucial big states is truly gutsy. Let's examine this argument. In her columns are New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas, and Ohio. Divide these states into three categories to get the full import of Clinton's argument.

New York, MA, NJ, and CA are proven democratic states. No Democrat has lost them since Ronald Reagan. That being the case, Clinton's victories in these big states are relatively insignificant because any Democrat would win these states. She is not adding any new or critical state to the general election for the Democratic Party.

Texas. No Democrat has won Texas since Lyndon Johnson. Hence a Texas win in the primary does not add to the Democratic column in November. And this goes for Obama as well.

This leaves the great state of Ohio. This is perhaps the only big state Hillary has won that has significance. The problem is, Ohio is bleeding from the effects of NAFTA, a program that Bill Clinton put in place and was, until recently, vociferously supported by Hillary Clinton. McCain will use this information to devastating effect against Hillary in November, if she is indeed her party's nominee.

Finally, Hillary has caricatured the caucuses where Obama has had solid victories. Let's examine this argument too. General elections have traditionally been decided by turnouts. This means devotion to a candidate. This is precisely what the caucuses gauge. The fact that Obama is winning the caucuses shows that he has more devoted followers; a very good sign for the general election.

This brings us back to the nature of Hillary Clinton's victories. Whenever she wins, she has declared it to be a crucial, catalytic victory. Even on Rhode Island. But as we have seen, these victories can only be properly described as pyrrhic against Obama, and, alas should she win the primaries, pyrrhic against McCain.

The empire of desolation:

And this reminds us of the war of King Pyrrhus of Epirus against the Romans. When the fog of war had cleared after the battles of Heraclea in 280 BC and the battle of Asculum in 279 BC, one of King Phyrrhus' enablers remarked that the king had won a great military victory against the Romans. Phyrrhus had lost many of his best troops, as did the Romans.

But Pyrrhus was keenly aware that he could not easily replenish his troops with fresh recruits. As recorded by the historian Plutarch, the King observed that "one more such victory would utterly undo" me.


Perhaps Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would do well to heed the lessons of King Pyrrhus. Already, Hillary Clinton has alienated, through her scorched earth tactics, hitherto one of her core and most loyal group of supporters--the Black community. And this is also a core constituent of the Democratic Party.

Clinton is now in danger of urging her troops to fight on for flag and country while she insidiously shreds the very flag to which her troops owe their devotion. It would give pyrrhic victory a truly Clintonian meaning and significance.


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