Worship or Fatigue

August was supposed to be a quiet month for Americans: people would enjoy of the final weeks of sun and surf, watch the Beijing Olympics, and take well-deserved break from presidential politics. Even Barack Obama was going to take a vacation! The month would end with the Democratic National Convention/lovefest in Denver, where Obama would be coronated in a show of unity not seen since the events of 9-11. So far, so good, right? Not so!

To the competitive McCain’s most boring campaign by any candidate since Bob Dole, you can now add the juiciest sex scandal since Bill Clinton “didn’t have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Last week, former presidential candidate John Edwards admitted having an affair with a former campaign worker, Rielle Hunter. (At least Bill mentioned his mistress by name, which is more than the latest political perpetrator of “inappropriate” behaviour could muster.) Edwards’s admission may further prove that the cover-up is often more damaging than the deed.

We’re also now hearing that Clinton supporters are considering forcing a vote on the floor of the convention in a show of disunity in the Democratic party not seen since 1968 in Chicago. In all likelihood, the Obama forces will do their utmost to avoid a confrontation, and they have made some gracious moves in recent days.

We already know Hillary will speak on Tuesday night to commemorate women acquiring the right to vote. Rumour has it that Chelsea will introduce her mother. President Clinton is scheduled to speak on Wednesday, the night of the vice presidential nominee’s speech. It is a big concession to the former president, unless we are embarrassed by the veep choice. It is understandable, too, since Clinton is the only post World War II Democrat to win two terms, hence the need to worship the Clinton name. So, while it may be Obama’s convention, the Clintons will get two nights!

There should be no doubt that the Clintons carry a lot of influence in the party and beyond. Bill is still popular and Hillary did get 18 million primary votes. In addition, the Clinton name is still magic in some constituencies that Obama needs to win in November. One can also make a very compelling case for Hillary as vice president: Obama needs a united party and enthusiastic Clintons behind him to win in November. The end result: the worship of the Clinton couple.

Surely, the Democrats will have a TV-ratings success in Denver. The Thursday night speech by Obama will take place before 75,000 cheering Democrats. As the first African American with a serious chance of becoming president, Obama is astute enough to play the worship game to the fullest. And he should.

As a Canadian observer of US politics, however, I am not held to the worship ethic of the Democratic party. When Harold Wolfson, a rabid Clinton operative, claimed (against all available evidence) that Hillary would have won the nomination had Edwards admitted his “mistake” before the Iowa caucus, I must admit that Clinton fatigue once again resurfaced.

Hillary blew her rendez vous with history by running the worst campaign in recent history for a frontrunner. An upcoming article in The Atlantic chronicles the in-fighting and the lack of strategic direction that did more to diminish her chances than Edwards’s indiscretions or Obama’s efficiency could ever do.

A bigger picture is starting to emerge: Many Democrats remember the victories and the good economy of the Clinton years. But they also remember the failed health initiative that Hillary led, the Travel-gate episode that Hillary managed, the Whitewater scandal that was exacerbated in part by the Clintons’ tactics, the Gennifer Flowers/Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky debacle, the Starr inquiry and witchunt, the overnight sleepovers at the White House for fundraising purposes, the impeachment, the Mark Rich pardon, etc. Maybe they too are feeling the fatigue. I know I surely am.

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