Eve of Destruction
Well, the eve of the politics of personal destruction, at least.
In a recent post, Walter Russell Mead has a photo taken from Wikipedia, that's a snapshot of a fascinating moment before a long internecine struggle on the American left that would eventually have key implications for the rest of the world. In a way, it's reminiscent of the relatives of Queen Victoria more or less happily meeting a few years before plunging Europe into World War I.
The above photo shows the now infamous Rev. Jeremiah Wright and President Clinton, both wearing sober, expensive business suits, and taken at the 1998 White House Prayer Breakfast.
Three years later, Wright would have this to say immediately after another September 11th, as ABC reported:
"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.
"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.
Sen. Obama told the New York Times he was not at the church on the day of Rev. Wright's 9/11 sermon. "The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification," Obama said in a recent interview. "It sounds like he was trying to be provocative," Obama told the paper.
Well, that's one way to put it. And of course, Wright would eventually add:
Gosh, that's rather "provocative" as well. Adding to all of that conversational provocativeness in President Obama's former church, an associate of Wright would say this in 2008 about a former first lady:
Of course, during that period, if John Heliemann and Mark Halperin's 2010 book Game Change is to be believed, the former president would have this to say about his would-be successor, as this summary in the London Daily Mail highlights:
The former president allegedly claimed during the hard-fought Democratic primary race: ‘A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.’
He is said to have made the racist remark in a phone call entreating Senator Teddy Kennedy, the party’s vastly influential elder statesman, to endorse his wife, Hillary, in the delicately balanced 2008 nomination battle.
But the call so offended Senator Kennedy that it backfired and helped make up the veteran Washington power broker’s mind to throw his complete support behind Mr Obama’s historic bid for the White House, according to a new book.
Mr Clinton was once lauded by African-American admirers as America’s ‘first black president'.
But the ‘coffee’ controversy has opened old wounds from the campaign trail when Mr Clinton was accused of being racially dismissive about the underdog who went on to derail his wife’s White House dreams.
At the time, Mr Clinton scorned Mr Obama’s primary election victory in South Carolina, noting that Jesse Jackson had also carried the state in his failed presidential bid two decades earlier.
The former two-term president angrily denounced critics who suggested the comments were racially motivated and still seethes about the rumpus it caused to this day.
And since, as the left concluded in the 1970s, "the personal is political," even ordinary rank and file Democratic voters weren't immune from criticism in 2008:
This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks more than they hate women. And when I say people, I don’t mean people, I mean white men. How ironic is this? After all this time, after all these stupid articles about how powerless white men are and how they can’t even get into college because of overachieving women and affirmative action and mean lady teachers who expected them to sit still in the third grade even though they were all suffering from terminal attention deficit disorder — after all this, they turn out (surprise!) to have all the power. (As they always did, by the way; I hope you didn’t believe any of those articles.)
To put it bluntly, the next president will be elected by them: the outcome of Tuesday’s primary will depend on whether they go for Hillary or Obama, and the outcome of the general election will depend on whether enough of them vote for McCain. A lot of them will: white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them. And McCain is a compelling candidate, particularly because of the Torture Thing. As for the Democratic hope that McCain’s temper will be a problem, don’t bet on it. A lot of white men have terrible tempers, and what’s more, they think it’s normal.
That's from Nora Ephron, the writer turned film director, turned tyro blogger at the Huffington Post.
Speaking of movies, President Obama has said that The Godfather is his favorite film, and he's been known, particularly at election time, to pepper his language with Corleone-isms. The above photo and what we now know of its aftermath is reminiscent of another line in the first Godfather movie, when Clemenza says to Michael, on the eve of the turf war between the Five Families, "Probably all the other Families will line up against us. That's alright -- this thing's gotta happen every five years or so -- ten years -- helps to get rid of the bad blood. Been ten years since the last one."
Similarly, "The Democrats are a coalition, forged in the New Deal, of diverse interests that do not get along well," Richard Miniter writes today in Forbes. "Imagine the deer-hunting union member sitting down with the vegetarian college professor and the lesbian lawyer and you will begin to see the trouble party leaders have holding the horde together."
Which is why there's always another internecine struggle around the corner with the left -- sometimes within just a few years of a seemingly happy photo-op.
How ugly will the next one be?