The question we keep hearing is: Why does Hillary keep running? The better question is: Why do people keep asking?
She’s running because, despite evidence and warnings to the contrary, she still hopes to win.
Hubris is an equal-opportunity affliction.
But perhaps there’s more than hubris at work here. On the one hand, yes, there is a sense of entitlement. The presidency is her due, not only for enduring public humiliations with which all are familiar, but also for smiling benignly through countless Bubba-fetes.
A Wellesley grad with a Yale law degree didn’t study her heart out and give a nationally recognized college commencement address to spend her life attending endless barbecues in her husband’s shadow.
Moreover, Hillary sincerely can’t fathom that the American people might actually elect a man who, though charming, isn’t half-ready to lead on Day One. She, after all, was already first lady of Arkansas when “Barry O’Bomber” was still shooting hoops at Punahou High School.
By 1992 when she was en route to becoming first lady of the United States, he was — well, O.K. — he was just out of Harvard Law School and working Chicago’s streets to register 100,000 minority voters. And, O.K., so maybe some of those newly registered voters might have helped put Bill and Hillary Clinton in the White House. Still. Didn’t anybody ever teach that young whippersnapper that ladies go first?
One can imagine that some of these thoughts are behind Hillary’s determined race for what now seems a fading dream. But there’s also a sharply honed political instinct at work, a deep brain understanding that anything can happen — and with the Clintons, it often does.
And, no, that’s not a wink at the terrible suggestion that some tragedy might befall Barack Obama. By now, everyone’s heard about Hillary’s chilling, if mischaracterized, remark to a South Dakota newspaper’s editorial board that Robert Kennedy was killed in June — as justification for her continued run.
Meaning that politics aren’t always decided according to a fixed calendar. Her husband’s nomination wasn’t wrapped up until June 1992 after he won the California primary, she also said, even though that’s not true. As veteran presidential reporter Carl Cannon notes on his Reader’s Digest blog, Clinton effectively wrapped up his nomination in March. But Kennedy, obviously, was still a contender in June, when he was murdered.
Hillary should have expressed herself differently — we all have our days — but she clearly wasn’t invoking assassination as a campaign strategy. She was suggesting that the race is not over yet. Not only are there three remaining primaries, but the rules committee of the Democratic National Committee meets this weekend to decide whether to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan.
Undoubtedly, Hillary hopes that if delegates from those states are seated at the convention, her popular vote lead could convince superdelegates that she’s the more electable candidate against John McCain.
Could anything still happen? That’s the operative question, especially when the 30-member rules committee is divided between Clinton and Obama supporters. And especially given that some of those members could have possible conflicts of interest.
Harold Ickes — former assistant chief of staff in the Clinton White House — is a paid adviser to the Clinton campaign, for instance. As a committee member, Ickes originally voted to strip delegates from Florida and Michigan for holding early primaries. Now he argues that the delegates should be seated. His first vote was as a committee member, he has said. His position now presumably is as a Clinton adviser.
Which persona will prevail this weekend? Likewise, committee member Eric Kleinfeld’s law firm — Ryan, Phillips, Utrecht & MacKinnon — is general counsel for the Clinton campaign. Federal Election Commission reports show payments from the Clinton campaign to both Ickes and Kleinfeld’s law firm. Records show that Ickes’ voter databank company, Catalist, has been paid by both the Clinton and Obama campaigns.
Conflicts of interest are commonplace in Washington, but the stakes this time are supremely high for Hillary.
In a letter to the New York Daily News published Sunday, Hillary said that she’s still running “because my parents did not raise me to be a quitter.”
What she didn’t say is, why should she quit? Because her former subjects want her to? Lest some have forgotten, the queen does as the queen wishes.
Let them eat grits.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group