Belmont Club

Like a circle in a spiral

Tigerhawk provides a fascinating glimpse into Democratic — and perhaps American — political life.

In the middle of Evan Thomas’ insidery campaign book, A Long Time Coming, there is a section on early conflict between John McCain and Barack Obama in the Senate, even before Obama was openly running for president. I thought this bit was interesting for more than one reason:

Obama further aliented McCain on the immigration issue. McCain took great political risks on immigration, defying the GOP faithful who wanted to build a wall across the Mexican border and arrest and detain illegal immigrants. Working with Ted Kennedy and a bipartisan group, McCain came up with compromise legislation to create a guest-worker program. Obama asked to join the group. The senators agreed to hang together to vote against amendments from both the right and the left. Some very conservative senators honored the agreement, voting against conservative amendments — but Obama did not, voting in favor of a number of liberal amendments. After one meeting, Kennedy chewed Obama out for his fickleness. (Months later, asked by a colleague why he had endorsed Obama for president, Kennedy gave a one-word answer: “Caroline.”)

Without reading too much into this anecdote, on immigration, at least, Barack Obama took care of his base and John McCain did not, and his base included Caroline Kennedy. She must indeed be a little bitter about now.

The intriguing thing about this anecdote is that it illustrates the wheels-within-wheels and the sellouts-within-sellouts of political life.  It recalls the last chapter of 1984, with Winston Smith sitting in a flyblown cafe, drinking Victory Gin and hearing the words go round in his head. ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me.’ It also exemplifies Obama’s mastery of the art of paying for the sellout with the IOU. He double-crossed McCain, and in the process double-crossed Kennedy. But he squared the account with a check in the mail. “Caroline”. A whisper was all it took. Of course, the check bounced. And how.

Gov. Paterson rapped Caroline Kennedy at a private event the night before he tapped Kirsten Gillibrand for the Senate, telling guests Kennedy had been “nasty” to him and shown “disrespect” with how she bowed out, attendees told The Post. The governor’s attack came just hours after his office issued a statement wishing her well and disavowing quotes from a source close to him who had told The Post Kennedy had never been in true contention for the seat and was “mired” in personal issues.

The Kennedys wised up to the game, but too late. The NY Post says,

An “apoplectic” Kennedy family is seething over the rough treatment that heiress apparent Caroline got from Gov. Paterson’s office and is spoiling for revenge, several sources close to the clan have told The Post. “The governor’s going to pay for this,” said a well-placed Democrat. “Ted is furious. The family is furious. The Kennedys are now against the governor.”

But it’s doubtful that the Kennedys, their fortunes in decline, can collect from the Messiah in the Oval Office. You can almost hear the dialogue if they try.

‘But he said Caroline!’ said the Senator.

‘Caroline who?’ the voice of the chief of staff replied.

‘Caroline Kennedy dammit, don’t you know who we are?’ the Senator thundered.

‘He won,’ came the matter of fact reply, ‘get over it.’

He won indeeed, and all they can do, and maybe all John McCain can do, is bluster in the winter winds outside and watch the marquee beam its message to the nation. “The check is in the mail.”