If there is one thing that most Democrats love more than fighting with Republicans, it is fighting with each other, but there is mounting evidence that the Clinton/Obama war is starting to tear apart the Democratic Party.
New polls done this week in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina show that one quarter of all Clinton supporters would consider voting for John McCain if Barack Obama is the nominee, but only 10% of Obama supporters say that they would consider voting for McCain over Clinton. What’s going on here? Is this a case of the potentially losing side feeling sour, or does this represent a more fundamental battle within the party?
The problem for both Clinton and Obama is that they appeal to different sections of the party, and neither one has party wide appeal. Clinton is beloved by poorer, older, less educated, rural, white voters, and Obama support comes from wealthier, younger, more educated, urban, voters of color. In the early months, the campaign was civil and Democratic voters recognized that they were lucky to have two outstanding candidates.
Democrats were originally focused on winning back the White House, but in the last few months that focus has been replaced with a borderline obsession with the Hatfield and McCoy like feud that has taken over the campaign. Supporters on both sides have developed a deep hatred for the other. They act as if all hope is lost for America, if their candidate loses. They have gotten so lost in the day to day battle that they have lost sight of the real objective, which is to win back the White House.
Policy wise there isn’t much difference between Clinton and Obama. They aren’t far apart on top issues like the economy, Iraq, and healthcare. Either candidate would be better than John McCain, but many people on both sides seem to have forgotten this.
The Clinton supporters paint Obama as a lying, shallow, media creation. While to the Obama supporters, Clinton is a lying, soulless, neo-con who is no different than the Republicans. Of course both of these characterizations contain a bit of truth, but on the whole they are false.
The big winner here is John McCain. He has gotten a free pass for months, while Democratic candidates raise the negatives on each other. There is no way that McCain should be running close to either of the two Democrats, but Republicans always have been better at unity (this is because they are almost all White and Christian) than the Democrats.
What is really happening in the Democratic Party is a generational battle for control. Clinton represents the old guard who thinks that Obama isn’t ready yet. Obama represents the new wave of Democrats who think the ways of the Clinton wing have led to nothing but defeat, and that it is time for a new approach. Historically, except for 1960, when the Democratic Party tears itself apart, it costs them in November.
Perhaps the Democratic Party may have to look back to 1960 for an answer to their problem. Supporters in both camps shudder at the idea of Clinton and Obama running together this fall, but it is probably the one surefire way to reunify the Democrats. The problem is that both Clinton and Obama have titanic egos that would never allow one play second banana to the other.
A more realistic solution is that loser of this race endorses and campaigns hard in the fall for the winner. Since Obama is likely to be the nominee, Clinton could do him a world of good with white rural voters this fall.
The Clinton/Obama struggle has created a deep division in the party that only some combination of the two of them can heal, and I think that supporters on both sides need to be reminded that the real goal is not to beat each other, but to defeat John McCain this fall.