Having watched the Clintons in action--their splendid narcisissm, the elegant way they demonize their opponents by pretending to compliment them, their brutal tactics, and above all their (especially his) oceans of self-pity--I was hoping for just this scenario.
I've again finished reading Robert McKee's Story, his screenwriting book (not in preparation for attempting a screenplay, like Nicholas Cage's brother, Nicholas Cage, in Adaptation, but because McKee's writing is so damn fascinating). What McKee tells us over and over is: in order to reveal the true nature of your character, expose him (or her) to the maximum amount of pressure.
The "maximum amount of pressure" appears to be the case here, as the Clintons gird themselves for three weeks of "When Will She Get Out?" and "Clintons in Turmoil" stories while Obama moves through the relatively favorable part of the primary/caucus schedule. And so the question becomes: what stop will they pull out, what tactic will they employ, what glass will they need to break, what steamer trunk of evil have they been saving for just the moment?
As I wrote below, the Clintons have faced eight major challenges since being stunned by the 1994 mid-terms. The closest-run of the bunch was the early Lewinsky scandal, which Bill survived out of sheer gall: marching cabinet members out in the rain to declare their support to reporters, attending church hand-in-hand with Hillary in Great Stoic Face mode while holding out his Bible like a peace offering. The early momentum against Clinton was quelled in a matter of days, first with Clinton's lectern-pounding denial, then with a State of the Union Address that, by implication, somehow commingled the charges against him with effort to defeat Social Security reform.
I have friends who argue that the Starr investigation should never have gone into Lewinsky, it was all about sex, blah, blah, blah. I don't entirely disagree. (And I thought Ken Starr should have folded the hand months earlier, simply because I thought it so futile. The Grand Jury system only works upon the penalty of jail time for a refusal to answer; what was Starr going to do, deliver a contempt citation to the White House and lead Clinton out in handcuffs?) My point was, in a scandal that never really threatened his presidency, not after the SOTU, Clinton was willing to survive by challenging every canon of accepted political wisdom. Think about it: supposedly, the lesson of Watergate was that the cover-up was worse than the crime. Bill Clinton turned that notion on his head by engaging in a cover-up for months, and then, upon finding himself with no further outs, made a vague confession, whereupon his supporters instantly declared the entire business "old news the American people are sick of." And the thing is, they were right. The eight-month cover-up separated Bill Clinton from his misdeeds in a way no quick confession ever could.
Now the Clintons find themselves in a much rougher patch, staring at the first concrete evidence of their waning political power, and what is worse, their increasing irrelevance. And the question is: What will they do? We already have some clues provided by the New York Times here.
Of special note is the matter of the Florida and Michigan delegates. Veteran Clinton-watchers no doubt saw this scenario months ago. Now, I'm not a Democrat; it makes no difference to me how the Dems select their nominee. They could draw straws, for all I care. Still, one's essential sense of fairness dictates that everyone be told of the process from the start, so every candidate can plan and campaign accordingly, and that the process set in place at the start be adhered to. (The principle is the same with Gore's loss in 2000, but that's another conversation.) Going in, the Dems--all of them--were told that neither Flroida nor Michigan would count. Every major candidate agreed not to campaign in either state. Every candidate, save Hillary, removed their names from both states' ballots, an act I felt was odd at the time. (If pressed, a Clintonite might say, Oh, on, off, what does it matter?)
I had a familiar tingle when I heard that Hillary was making an appearance in Florida right before the primary, though we were told, No, this isn't campaigning, it's a fundraiser, and besides Obama is running ads on CNN, and Floridians get CNN, and therefore Obama is campaigning in Florida, not Hillary. (This is a common Clinton tactic: deny you're doing what you're doing, then accuse the opposition of doing what you're doing. See: "The politics of personal destruction.") Then Hillary--only name on the ballot, remember--stunned everyone by having a "victory celebration" in Florida, at the beginning of which I, while watching at home, said out loud, "She will talk about getting the Florida delegates seated within two minutes." I was wrong--it took one minute; one minute to turn the entire story from the rules of the Democratic nominating process to the "disenfranchisement" of the voters of Michigan and especially Florida, and, oh, by the way, did we mention how many of them are poor and black?
The only truly funny thing is how the DNC, by all accounts, had no idea the Clintons would pull such a gambit. A few days ago, this was presented as news:
With every delegate precious, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers also made it clear that they were prepared to take a number of potentially incendiary steps to build up Mrs. Clinton’s count. Top among these, her aides said, is pressing for Democrats to seat the disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan, who held their primaries in January in defiance of Democratic Party rules.
Mrs. Clinton won more votes than Mr. Obama in both states, though both candidates technically abided by pledges not to campaign actively there.
Gotta love that "technically."
And this is only the start.