Tuesday, March 25, 2008

To a politician, what constitutes loyalty?

How many of you remember the scene from the 1976 film “All the President’s Men,” where Dustin Hoffman as Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein is berated by a low-level presidential aide for daring to ask her impertinent questions about the conduct of President Nixon’s re-election campaign.

“Have you ever heard of loyalty? Do you even know the meaning of the word?” the aide screeches, as her way of refusing to answer any questions that might imply her political boss acted improperly.

THAT VIEW OF “loyalty” has some validity in politics, although it is naïve to think of political people who are incredibly reliable and can be counted on in the clutch to return a favor you may grant them.

Loyalty to political people is more about what you are expected to do for them. Loyalty is demanded – it is rarely given out.

And on those occasions when a political person does show some loyalty, the recipient had better realize the bond is for life.

It almost brings to mind another 1970’s-era film, “The Godfather,” where in exchange for one act of retribution against some teenage boys on behalf of his daughter, the undertaker Amerigo Bonisera is eternally indebted to Don Corleone.

THAT IS THE mentality at work with political consultant James Carville, who used the Easter Sunday weekend to lambast New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as “Judas” for not supporting the presidential aspirations of Hillary R. Clinton.

Carville, of course, is the political operative credited with getting Bill Clinton elected as president in 1992 (his appearances throughout “The War Room” make that documentary film a memorable one), and he remains loyal to this day to the Clinton family’s political aspirations.

So when Richardson – himself a cabinet member and appointee of Bill Clinton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations – came out last week in favor of Barack Obama’s presidential dreams, Carville showed his loyalty to the Clintons by accusing Richardson of forgetting his loyalty.

By Carville’s definition, Richardson should have either supported Clinton publicly, or kept his mouth shut. Basically, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., is the model politico when it comes to someone who just can’t publicly get excited about Hillary.

EMANUEL WILL LIKELY go to the Democratic National Convention saying as little as possible, and will make his vote as a super-delegate in as low-key a manner as possible, particularly now that he can see what would be in store for him should he decide to back anyone other than Hillary.

Now some people might mock me for bringing up “All the President’s Men” and “The Godfather.” After all, this election cycle is real life, not reel life.

But that is what is sad about Campaign ’08.

It is generating political activity and storylines that would make for an entertaining movie. We would be able to sit back and laugh at just how incredibly half-witted our political people could be, all in the name of winning an election.

BUT THIS IS real. One of these people is going to be the next president of the United States, unless they do such an incredible job of beating up on each other that they cause John McCain to win by default.

Actually, even a beaten-up Dem could still probably wallop McCain – that’s how unpopular George W. Bush and the Republican Party is in this country outside of the most isolated, rural of communities.

Hillary Clinton, and potential first gentleman Bill, are the types of political people who will hold a grudge and engage in political payback to those people who did not back her presidential dreams from Day One of her campaign.

It is true that “politics ain’t beanbag,” and that any political person who is worth anything has a hard streak in them.

BUT THE KIND of behavior exhibited toward Richardson is an extreme. Having supporters of Hillary Clinton behave like Nixon supporters or Don Corleone – that’s not exactly the image any thinking person wants to have answering that telephone at 3 a.m. when all hell is breaking loose in the Middle East.

That could be the reason so many people allegedly view both Obama and McCain as more “honest and trustworthy” than Clinton. A Gallup poll from last week showed roughly two-thirds of people surveyed found Obama and McCain to be trustworthy, but only 44 percent trust Hillary – and 53 percent say the terms “honest” and “trustworthy” do not apply to her.

It could also be a factor in the even more recent Gallup poll (released Monday) that showed any lead Clinton had developed over Obama due to the incendiary rhetoric of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (Obama’s personal pastor) had withered away.

That poll literally showed Obama with a 1 percent lead (47 percent to 46 percent) over Clinton – which is so close as to constitute a tie.

THE CLINTON CAMP is trying to spin this as evidence that Obama’s huge leads from last month are gone. But if the American people were really so offended by Wright’s rants in the name of religion as Clinton wants to believe, she ought to have taken at least a slim lead.

She hasn’t.

All it really means is that some of the moderate-to-conservative people who were publicly saying they might consider an Obama vote will probably use Wright as their excuse to stick with the Republican Party. Basically, many of those people were votes that Obama was never going to get because of the trend among potential voters who claim when talking to pollsters to be more liberal on racial issues than they really are.

IT IS BECAUSE of that attitude from the Clinton camp that it could be difficult for the Democratic Party to unite behind whichever candidate winds up winning the party’s presidential nomination.

But that attitude is in keeping with the character of the Clinton campaigns of the past. That’s Bill Clinton, who in 1992 got hit with so such slime that a traditional candidate would have been devastated and forced to drop out early on.

Surrender is not the Character of Clinton, either Bill or Hillary.

THE SAD THING is that the Clintons, in their view of the campaign season, may very well be paying too much attention to yet another Hollywood film – “Primary Colors.”

That 1998 film starring John Travolta as a Bill Clinton-like presidential candidate who manages to win election to the White House despite running against an idealistic opponent and such despicable attempts by their other opponents to bury them in sleaze.

Somehow, I don’t think Campaign ’08 will give us the sequel, even though Emma Thompson might appreciate the chance to get some more acting work.


EDITOR’S NOTES: James Carville and Bill Richardson are engaging in political rhetoric that would make for an entertaining Hollywood production. (http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2008/03/24/richardson_carville_snipe_from_a_distance/2595/) It’s too bad that what they’re doing is real life.

Barack is back (http://www.gallup.com/poll/105589/Gallup-Daily-Obama-Clinton-Back-Tie.aspx), or so his supporters would like to think. Personally, I wish I could take a mid-campaign vacation (http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/24/obama-in-virgin-islands/) in the Virgin Islands.

1 comment:

mike vw said...

But maybe your missing the point. Maybe the similarities between the Clintons and Nixon aren't just rhetorical.