If you are paying attention to the long-running contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, what you are watching is the death march of the Democratic Party.
At this point, it matters little whether Obama or Clinton wins the party’s presidential nomination – or whether one of them goes on to win the presidency in November – the Democratic Party will not come out of this election intact. The guerrilla warfare that’s being waged by the Clinton and Obama camps and the failure of party leaders to stop the infighting, have dealt the party a mortal wound.
Like President William McKinley, who survived for eight days after an assassin pumped two bullets into his chest on Sept. 6, 1901, the Democratic Party will linger after this year’s presidential election, but its demise now seems as certain as McKinley’s death became once gangrene developed in his wounds.
For nearly half a century, the Democratic Party, more than any other political body, has championed the rights of blacks and women. It was Lyndon Johnson, a Democratic president, who signed into law the major civil rights bills of the 1960s and a Democratic-controlled Congress that passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 that ultimately failed to be ratified by the states.
Last year, another Congress with a Democratic majority made a new attempt to enshrine in the Constitution a protection against gender discrimination. The “Women’s Equality Amendment” that Democrats introduced in the House and Senate last year would give women the same constitutional protection that victims of racial discrimination now have.
As important as all of this has been in tightening the ties between the Democratic Party and blacks and women’s rights activists, it doesn’t compare with the frenzy the current presidential campaign has generated for these groups – two of the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituencies.
For the first time in this nation’s 232-year history, it is all but certain that either a black man or white woman will be the presidential nominee of a major political party. Early in this campaign, this possibility made Democrats giddy. Like the Brooklyn Dodgers, which will forever be remembered as the team that broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Democrats were poised to be the first political party to break an even more entrenched color – and gender – barrier.
But somewhere in the process of deciding whether it will be Obama or Clinton who breaks the party’s long-standing tradition of selecting a white man as its candidate for the White House, the Democratic Party has gone to war with itself.
The early sniping between Obama and Clinton has given rise to more caustic talk by one about the other. And this increasingly testy talk between the candidates has spawned the very controversial – and divisive – things that Clinton surrogate Geraldine Ferraro and Obama supporter Samantha Power recently said.
All of this has exposed the existence of a win-at-any-cost attitude in both campaigns that undermines the claim to party leadership by Clinton and Obama – and strongly suggests the two sides won’t be able to come together behind the eventual nominee.
Already there is polling evidence suggesting a significant share of the supporters of the Democrat who fails to win their party’s nomination will either not vote in the general election, or will back the Republican presidential candidate. This will not only doom the chances of a black or woman becoming this nation’s next president, it also may cause Democrats to lose control of the U.S. Senate and see its hold on the House of Representatives weakened.
That’s the road Democrats are now traveling. They are hurtling toward self-destruction, and if they don’t find a way to change direction soon, the great promise of this election will become the undoing of the Democratic Party.