Politics & Policy

Dem Tussle

McCain is the inevitable winner of the bowl-off.

When you set out to take Vienna,” Napoleon famously advised, “take Vienna.” That might be updated to: “If you’re going to bowl, bowl better than a 37.”

That’s what Barack Obama scored when he set out to demonstrate he was just one of the guys at a Pennsylvania bowling alley recently.

He started with a gutter ball.

Hillary Clinton responded with an April Fools’ Day gag about deciding the nomination with a bowl-off.

“A bowling night. Right here in Pennsylvania,” Clinton proposed. “The winner take all. I’ll even spot him two frames.”

“It is time for his campaign to get out of the gutter and allow all the pins to be counted. I’m prepared to play this game all the way to the 10th frame. When this game is over, the American people will know that when that phone rings at 3 a.m., they’ll have a president ready to bowl on Day One.”

The saddest part is that this was, without a doubt, the absolute funniest thing Hillary Clinton has ever said (after, of course, “I believe you, Bill”).

Unfortunately, Obama missed an opportunity to explain that he was bowling so badly because he was under sniper fire.

Obama’s weaknesses don’t end with bowling, which may be why the Democratic Party — and many in the media — are obsessed with putting the Democratic contest to bed. The press went into a tizzy over the fact that many Obama supporters now say they’d vote for John McCain over Clinton should their candidate lose the nomination. Likewise, a significant number of Clinton voters say it’s their gal or nothing. My hunch is that this is, for the most part, nonsense. Clinton and Obama supporters won’t be voting Republican in a fit of spite come fall. And while black voters might hold a serious grudge against Clinton if she were perceived to have “stolen” the nomination from Obama, it’s doubtful the rest of Obama’s base — basically the Howard Dean vote — would abandon their eight years of biblical fury toward the GOP and the war just so they could vote for a guy who is to Bush’s right on foreign policy at the expense of the first female president of the United States.

No, the real reason top Democrats are desperate to put an end to this thing might be because Clinton is validating all sorts of things Republicans will say about Obama if he’s the nominee. For example, she said Obama’s not ready to be president “on Day One” or receive emergency 3 A.M. phone calls on Night One. (Clinton’s obsession with 3 a.m. phone calls seems bottomless — perhaps because of all those nights she got hang-up calls from Monica? Clinton just released a new ad in which she says John McCain won’t be ready to handle a 3 a.m. call on housing foreclosures. My guess is he’ll be plenty ready to scream at the idiot who thinks he should wake the president of United States in the middle of the night about something like that).

And when the Jeremiah Wright controversy was winding down, Clinton tried to reignite the firestorm by saying that Obama’s choice of ministers is fair game.

This is a wonderful boon to Republicans. Clinton’s criticisms of Obama’s foreign-policy inexperience and his association with Wright are both perfectly legitimate. But if she weren’t making them, Democrats (and much of the press) would denounce Republicans for saying the same things. If Obama had secured the nomination by now, the Democrats would surely be labeling any criticism over Jeremiah Wright as unfair, racist “swift-boating.” That’s hard to do when Bill and Hillary Clinton are making this criticism bipartisan.

As the New York Times’ s David Brooks has argued, the Clinton-Obama smackdown is destined to churn up a lot of identity-politics bile and reduce this contest to a race between the Very Liberal Woman and the Even More Liberal Black Guy. And the more Obama is seen as the lefty black candidate rather than the Pepsi candidate — i.e. a politician for a New Generation — the easier it will be for McCain to run as a truly bipartisan figure.

The old adage that if you’re going to try to kill the king, you’d better succeed in killing him, applies to queens too. Obama failed to slay her Royal Highness Hillary, and now she’s gunning for him. The problem is that she can’t kill Obama either. And while one still has to bet on the Republicans losing in ’08, the possibility that the Democratic nominee will be fatally wounded is improving with each passing day.

Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

(C) 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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