Learning The Lesson On Bill

It sounds almost as though they might be listening.  Right up until the South Carolina results were released, it could easily be ascertained that the Clinton camp had come to one single conclusion; Bill Clinton as chief attack dog was a winning gambit.  To be sure, on paper it seemed an almost flawless strategy.  You have a former president with very high favorable ratings within the party actively siding against another Democratic candidate.  What could possibly go wrong?

To this degree, it seemed that the Clinton campaign was absolutely deaf to what was going on as chunks of the party became increasingly more vocal in their disdain for this employed tactic.  It didn’t matter; Bill Clinton’s participation should clinch the nomination.

But while the fact that the former president’s role may be siphoning off the super delegate support Hillary has counted on from the beginning never seemed to actually sink in, the numbers coming out of South Carolina apparently have.

One thing that exit polling made very clear in South Carolina was the attack mentality that drove Bill Clinton’s participation in the race actually hurt Hillary more than it helped.  This animosity not only allowed Obama to run up the score in South Carolina, but pointed to the fact that Bill Clinton was damaging his own credibility, minimizing his effectiveness in the future.

And, at least for now, it seems as though the Clinton camp is ready to pay heed to the lesson that so many Democrats have been trying to get them to listen to for some time now.  Thus, the Clinton campaign is going to try to shift Clinton out of attack mode, readjusting him to “supportive spouse” mode such as we saw before Iowa.

But the question I have to ask is, is it too late for that now?  Has Bill gone past the point of no return?  To a certain degree, it’s hard not to believe he has.  The former president has said things that can’t be unsaid, done things that can’t be undone, and above it all was the likening Senator Obama’s campaign to that of Jesse Jackson’s two presidential bids.  After a very tense period where the Democrats were battling on the precipice of destruction along racial lines, just after we thought that at least the actual candidates could put these tensions away (even if the media seemed dead set to fixate upon them), Bill makes a statement so unabashedly racially charged my jaw simply dropped when I heard him say it.  And keep in mind, I’ve always defended him on accusations of trying to stir racial tensions in the past (yeah, me of all people).

That kind of comment may fade away for some, but I know I’m not the only one who will carry that little nugget with me at least until our next president is selected, possibly even longer.

The fact is, at least some of the damage that Bill Clinton has done to the party is permanent (or at least chronic), despite what Kevin Drum likes to say.  Yes, I know, there are plenty of people that are up in arms now, but if Hillary gets the nomination, they’ll march lockstep, but one thing I’ve learned from working with people more liberal, and more politically active than I is that there are a lot of folks out there not willing to march lockstep if they don’t like the sound of the march.

Now, Bill Clinton may decide to behave, and the Clinton campaign might possibly be able to repair the damage done, or at least the bulk of it, but this brings me to my second and final question.  What makes us believe he’ll stick with it.  Keep this in mind.  From the moment Obama had been edging in on Hillary’s territory, Bill had been pressuring the campaign to go after him, to take him out at the knee caps.

Following the loss in Iowa, one can only assume that the campaign caved.  The fact is, Bill wants to be the axeman, and when push comes to shove, apparently he’s going to get what he wants.  With Florida being decided tomorrow, Hillary is likely to get a little good news, and with Obama’s hands off approach to the press, its likely they aren’t going to apply the kind of spin on Florida that is warranted (which would obviously be that all candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida, so it really shouldn’t count, especially as a failure against Obama who didn’t have the opportunity to change minds and spread his message there).  Thus, at least the first few days of the week before Super Tuesday should be Hillary friendly.

But Obama has a full week to make a difference, and if the Obama threat meter starts to rise, what’s to stop Bill from slinging mud again?

Based upon past experience, nothing.

(h/t memeorandum)

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