Self-serving politics will hurt Dems

Harry Truman said, “It’s amazing how much you can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit.” But every now and then, egos do get involved in politics. Shocking, I know.

Candidates for public office must never have so much ego invested that they lose sight of the real purpose, which is the Rotary motto: Service above self. You can guess the subject I’m about to address: the formerly inevitable nominee Hillary Clinton. Clearly the Clintons (and both she and Bill are the candidate, let’s face it) never expected this young upstart, Barack Obama, to pose any threat at all.

From the very start, it was all about her. Thrashing about wildly, desperate in search of some message, any message, that might serve her and hurt Obama brings this point home.

After each loss, Senator Clinton blames each caucus and primary loss not on herself, but on special-issue activists. It’s as if she thinks the party would, and should, just come supplicant to her. It’s all about her. Clinton looked petty, trying to spoon-feed the national media the word “plagiarism” when Obama echoed words used by his friend Deval Patrick, with his encouragement.

Yet when she and Bill directly steal line after line from Obama, that’s OK. The difference must be that she’s the entitled one, Obama a pretender to the throne that is hers.

But Americans are determined to bring change. So Hillary says she’ll bring change too. The Clintons rely on old machine politicians. That’s how it’s always been done. Now the Clintons want 100 Clinton supporters to each give $100,000 to fund its $10 million “American Leadership Project” attacks in Ohio and Texas. But that is clearly not where the Democratic Party is in 2008.

The change from red to blue in New Hampshire is happening from the bottom up, from excitement and insistence on real change. It was not handed down from party leadership.

The threat to party strength and unity is not from people who stand up to the self-perpetuating machine. The threat is when candidates’ self-service blatantly outweighs sincere public service.

For example, as Clinton mires herself in bitterness and vitriolic attacks against Obama, it is she who brings harm to our party. There is concern that she’ll try to seat illegal Michigan and Florida delegates, where there was no competition in the banned primaries. That would kill our chances in November.

What threatens the party is when Clinton devotees try to fix blame on “the media,” or on those many voices within the Democratic Party that demand a party that is about real change. About more than just the old “get elected at any cost, go along to get along, support the war when it’s popular, oppose it when it’s no longer in vogue, whatever works.” We’ve got to do better. And as Obama says, “Yes we can.” Oh, yes, Hillary said that too.

We Democrats are looking strong despite the old team’s frustrations. But when it becomes about preserving the power of the establishment, or some notion of entitlement, the party loses. Obama, and our hope and optimism, do indeed have some momentum. Let’s continue to unify around that.

State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen now hosts a radio talk show.

Categories: Opinion