It was supposed to be a run for the roses, only to turn into the chariot race from Ben-Hur, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama grimacing like Chuck Heston down the brutal homestretch, lashing toward a multi-horse pileup. No, this wasn’t anybody’s dream finish.…The vicious Clinton-versus-Obama rupture at Daily Kos, the most activist site in the liberal blogosphere, reflects a party-wide split.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is fond of repeating the political maxim “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line,” and a halfhearted queue formed behind McCain’s candidacy despite the cranky impetuosities of a highly crafted nonconformity that grated on the Rush Limbaugh dittoheads, the Club for Growth tax-cut fanatics, and the nativists who wanted to Berlin Wall the border with Mexico to keep out the intruders causing Lou Dobbs such gastritis. Democrats had fallen in love with Obama, in heavy like with Hillary and Edwards.
A born-again populist, Edwards functioned as a lubricant, a slick lining separating—and dampening the friction between—two competing iconographic surge forces (the first black presidential nominee versus the first female nominee) and drawing enough support on Daily Kos and other liberal-Dem Web sites to diffuse the animosity, competitive zeal, and gender-generational differences between the two camps.
Once Edwards dropped out of the race, however, the buffer zone was removed, direct contact replaced triangulation, and the Obama and Hillary supporters faced off like the Jets and the Sharks. The rancor was disproportionate in intensity and extravagant in invective, a fervor worthy of ancestral foes. Months-old grievances seethed and erupted as if they had been bubbling for centuries in a lake of bad blood.
On the most egoistic plane, it seemed like a clash of entitlements, the messianics versus the menopausals. The Obama-ites exuded the confidence of those who feel that they embody the future and are the seed bearers of energies and new modalities too long smothered under the thick haunches of the tired, old, entrenched way of doing things. The Hillarions felt a different imperative knocking at the gate of history, the long-overdue prospect of the first woman taking the presidential oath of office. For them, Hillary’s time had come, she had paid her dues, she had been thoroughly vetted, she had survived hairdos that would have sunk lesser mortals, and she didn’t let a little thing like being loathed by nearly half of the country bum her out and clog her transmission.
Not since Nixon had there been such a show of grinding perseverance in the teeth of adversity, and Nixon in a pantsuit was never going to be an easy sell contrasted with the powerful embroidery of Obama’s eloquence—his very emergence on the political scene seemed like a feat of levitation. Hillary’s candidacy promised to make things better; Obama’s to make us better: outward improvement versus inward transformation. With Hillary, you would earn your merit badges; with Obama, your wings. Hillary’s candidacy was warmed-over meat loaf—comfort food for those too old or fearful to Dream.