Commentary: Bruising battle may be a plus
Well, here it is. We’ve complained about not having a role in the selection of the presidential nominees. Now the campaign of the Democrats has come to our door. We are “in play” at last.
So, what do we say about it? Do we celebrate our importance in the national decision-making contest? No. We shake our heads, frown and grumble that the on-going, increasingly negative campaigning that characterizes the Obama-Clinton battle is annoying, counterproductive, and demeaning.
Many North Carolinians agree with the sentiment expressed by the New York Times last week. “The Pennsylvania campaign … was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it. Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work. … It is getting to be time for the superdelegates to do what the Democrats had in mind when they created superdelegates: settle a bloody race that cannot be won at the ballot box.”
Maybe the Times and the many others I have heard express the same view are correct. Maybe the primaries in North Carolina and the other remaining states are counterproductive for the Democrats and for the country.
But I see it another way. I think the hard fought primary campaigns, negative advertising and all, may be the Democrats’ best possible preparation for the fall campaign. Conceding, of course, the downside in “bitter” feelings and lowered popularity of the ultimate candidate, I think the organizational process, the fundraising experience, and the challenges the candidates have faced, are good preparation for the ultimate Democratic nominee. An easy win for Clinton or Obama would not have conditioned either of them for the political war that the nominee will have to fight this fall. Political “coronations” may encourage happiness and good feelings within a party, but the so-called campaigns that lead up to them do not build the kind of experienced organizations that Obama and Clinton continue to grow. Ask Senator McCain!
When the Democratic candidate goes to war this fall, his or her armies will have been battle tested. The candidates and their organizations will know the terrain of the entire country, and their troops will have the confidence of hardened veterans who have already fought together and learned the strengths and weaknesses of their fellow soldiers. They know who can help in every part of the country, and, more importantly, they know the people who actually can be counted on to do the job.
The hard knocks Obama and Clinton have exchanged this year so far are nothing compared to what the nominee will experience in the general election. As Time magazine columnist Joe Klein explained last week when discussing the necessary qualities of a presidential candidate, “It helps to be a warrior, for one thing. It helps to be able to take a punch and deliver one ó even, sometimes, a sucker punch.”
With respect to Obama’s disdain for rough and tumble campaigning, Klein writes, “But the presidency will not be won if he doesn’t learn that the only way to reach the high-minded conversation he wants, and the country badly needs, is to figure out how to maneuver his way through the gutter.”
If Obama is the nominee and then is victorious in the fall, the person to whom he should be most indebted would be Hillary Clinton. As the toughest sparring partner imaginable, she will have turned Obama’s great potential as a candidate into a seasoned and solid national competitor. The reverse is also true. If Clinton is nominated, she should thank Obama for making her stronger than she would have been otherwise.
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D.G. Martin lives in Chapel Hill and is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch.