Losing Camelot

Why did Ted and Caroline Kennedy endorse Barack Obama? They cited his inspirational campaign. And news stories report Ted Kennedy's anger over Bill and Hillary Clinton's alleged strategy of racial polarization; not even the Clintons' most fervent supporters are defending Bill's final likening of Obama to Jesse Jackson.

But there may be another reason. In their sixteen years on the national scene the Clintons have never before faced a formidable opponent within their own party. Until now, Democrats always rallied behind the Clintons, believing their real enemies were Republicans.

Thus, after Bill and Hillary appeared on 60 Minutes in 1992 and promised there would be no more Gennifer Flowers sort of sex scandals, Democrats favored Bill for the Democratic nomination over the upstanding but weaker Paul Tsongas. Clinton went on to win only 43% of the general election vote, but that was enough to beat George H.W. Bush, since Ross Perot siphoned off 19% of that vote, much of it from disaffected Republicans.

Following the massive failure of health care reform assigned to Hillary Clinton (which critics believe revealed Hillary's arrogant and secretive management style) and Bill Clinton's massive retroactive tax hike (that reversed his promise to cut middle-class taxes), Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 for the first time in four decades. Republicans believe this is the best thing that ever happened to Bill Clinton and the country since under their leadership Clinton was able to claim credit for signal achievements of his administration, such as balanced budgets and welfare reform.

But Democrats - including those in the media -- once again rallied around the Clintons when they were perceived to be victims of Republican witch hunts: Travelgate, Cattlegate, the missing Rose law firm billing records, the missing FBI files, Whitewater, foreign campaign contributions, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, and the many questionable Presidential pardons.

Bill Clinton was not challenged for the 1996 Democratic nomination (as Jimmy Carter had been challenged by Ted Kennedy in 1980) and Hillary Clinton received no serious Democrat challenges when she twice ran for the Senate in New York.

Nevertheless, there were Democrats - who knows how many of them - who were troubled by the Clintons. Talking quietly only among themselves, they blamed Bill and Hillary for losing Congress. They blamed them for the Dick Morris tactic of consulting polls and triangulating policy. They blamed them for riding the dot com bubble to seeming economic health that finally ended in recession right after Bill Clinton left office. They blamed them for failing to respond adequately to the series of terror attacks - starting with the first bombing of the World Trade Center and continuing through attacks on our forces in Somalia, Khobar Towers, the African embassies and the USS Cole - that arguably paved the way to 9-11; this may explain Hillary's ardent and eloquent initial support for the Iraq war. And they blamed the Clintons for the afore-mentioned scandals, many of which had more than a whiff of truth.

But it was not until Barack Obama challenged Hillary Clinton that Democrats had a viable, inspirational alternative within their own party.

How are the Clintons responding? Critics say they seem all too willing to sacrifice support in the primaries from African-Americans - the most loyal Democratic constituency - in order to gin up support among white and Hispanic voters, while counting on blacks to return to Hillary in the general election because they have nowhere else to go.  It may well prove to be a winning strategy.

But that strategy - and perhaps much else from the past - seems to be too cynical for Ted Kennedy, too contrary to his family's civil rights legacy.  Just read Kennedy's speech endorsing Obama, replete with references to unnamed others demonizing opponents, misrepresenting facts and pitting race against race and gender against gender. It was a shocking speech from someone who had long supported the Clintons -- before they had a credible Democratic opponent.

Jack would like to hear your thoughts on the 2008 Election.  Email him at jatherton@fox19.com