Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Will Hillary be the Humphrey of 2008?"

There is no way a politician as savvy as Bill Clinton could be this clueless about just how seismic a division Iraq is for Democrats, so I can only assume it was the guilt talking -- the former president trying to make up for the wrong-headed advice he's been giving Hillary about adopting a Bush-lite, "centrist" stance on the war. A stance that means she has to keep assuming, in the face of all evidence, that everything will turn out okay in Iraq -- an assumption that with each passing car bomb explosion and sectarian massacre becomes more and more divorced from reality and puts Hillary, and all those who agree with her, on the wrong side of history.

I find it amazing that Clinton's comments on Iraq didn't cause more of an uproar. Indeed, they were nowhere to be found in the mainstream press, relegated to a single paragraph in a story in the Aspen Daily News.

If you want a better understanding of the importance of Democratic differences over the war, just look at what happened in 1968. The presidential campaign was all about the battle over how to deal with Vietnam. In the Democratic primaries, first Eugene McCarthy and then Bobby Kennedy took courageous stands against LBJ's prosecution of the war, eventually leading Johnson to announce he would not seek re-election and causing a massive rift in the party. Before RFK was gunned down following his victory in the California primary, the race was shaping up to be a showdown between the anti-war Kennedy and Vice President Humphrey, who was standing behind Johnson's handling of Vietnam.

Can you imagine someone in 1968 telling Bobby Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey that they "ought to be whipped" for fighting over their views on Vietnam?

In the end, Kennedy was assassinated, and Humphrey (backed by the party bosses) prevailed over McCarthy to win the nomination. In the general election campaign against Nixon, Humphrey continued to defend the war, alienating the Democratic base and prompting anti-war protests at almost all of his campaign appearances. Five weeks before the election, trailing Nixon badly in the polls, Humphrey finally made a speech distancing himself from Johnson and calling for an end to the U.S. bombing in Vietnam. The move turned his campaign around -- but not in time to overtake Nixon. There is speculation that if Humphrey had come out against the bombing even one week earlier, he might have prevailed.

So, 40 years later, the question becomes: will Hillary be the Humphrey of 2008?

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