Only two people have ever defeated a Clinton in electoral combat. The first was a Republican, Frank White, who evicted Bill for a couple of years from the Arkansas governor's mansion in 1980. The second is Barack Obama, who went over the top in the delegate count Tuesday night, prompting Hillary Clinton to slouch sulkily to the brink of a formal concession, while she continued to maneuver for everything from an offer of the nomination for vice president to a big role at the convention in Denver to help in paying off her campaign debts.
To have persuaded enough Democrats that a black man can be their champion in November and have a passable chance of winning the Oval Office is a tremendous achievement, even if Obama's campaign has flagged badly in recent weeks. But by then, Obama was cantering through the final straight. The battle was won in the first two months, when Obama ambushed Clinton's slow-moving phalanx. He crushed Clinton in grassroots organizing and in fundraising, which eventually left her campaign top-heavy with consultants extorting huge salaries, deeply in debt. Meanwhile, Obama banked millions both from big Wall Street institutions and small contributors.
Obama survived the uproar over his radical pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who surely helped his former congregant — if the accusation were that Obama is a closet Black Panther plotting to enslave the white race, it was better he got this charge hurled at him in the spring than in the fall. Clinton was not so agile in separating herself from her husband, who spent what he described as probably his last day on the campaign trail cursing a New York Times reporter, Tod Purdom, for a nasty piece in Vanity Fair charging him with uncouth cavortings with teenage girls and billionaires.
Obama inspires young people who flock to his rallies. He promises not only to "create a new kind of politics" but to "transform this country," "change the world," "create a Kingdom right here on Earth." Comingled with these doses of uplift are the familiar coarse pledges to crucial interest groups, such as the Miami Cubans. Obama's speech to them on May 25 was an appalling exercise in right-wing demagoguery. Last Wednesday, he made similar groveling pledges to the Israel lobby.
We can look ahead to months of Obama deflecting McCain's onslaughts on him as a starry eyed peacenik by insisting that what the beleaguered Empire above all needs is efficiency, ruthless if necessary. "The generals are light-years ahead of the civilians," he reassured one of his fans, the neoconservative New York Times columnist, David Brooks. "They are trying to get the job done rather than look tough."
Can a black man get elected president in 2008? Hillary Clinton said no. In the last weeks, she ran up some impressive totals of white voters agreeing with her, as in West Virginia, where Obama scarcely campaigned, just as he remained invisible to voters in Kentucky, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin.
Obama right now has an edge in electoral-college votes, though this somewhat depends on which faction of number crunchers you believe. By almost every yardstick, except the wild card of his skin color, he'll win. It should be inconceivable for a Republican to capture the White House for the third time in a row when the price of gasoline is headed toward $5 a gallon, food prices are soaring and most Americans reckon things are going to get a lot worse.
Hillary's supporters suggest that as Obama's running mate, she would be a huge boost to the ticket. Others say all she might deliver him Arkansas and maybe help in Florida, and who wants Bill Clinton anywhere near the ticket? Other possible veep choices for Obama range from Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, supposedly a draw for Hispanics, or Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a tough Vietnam vet who talks one of the best populist games in America, or the Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a decent fellow, also a Vietnam vet against the war in Iraq, though his anti-abortion stand is anathema to liberal Democratic women.
At least for now, the Clinton dynasty is headed for the retirement home. None too soon, I say, however Obama turns out.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.