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Democratic dream team still viable

Gary Caruso | Thursday, March 27, 2008

To narrate the tale of the remaining two Democratic presidential candidates, modify the famous Charles Dickens opening phrase in “A Tale of Two Cities” to describe the current state of the race.

“It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, the election of wisdom and the election of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief as well as that of incredulity, it is both the season of Light along with the season of Darkness, it is the spring of hope following the winter of despair. We have everything before us, but we may gain nothing. We were all going direct to heaven while campaigning in Iowa – we now seem to be going direct the other way.”

That passage written nearly 150 years ago tells the story of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, similar looking men who are, however, very different in their personalities. Their particular doppelganger (a character who physically looks like another but with differing interests, beliefs, values, personalities, etc.) is that they both fall deeply in love with the same woman. Darnay is a romantic French aristocrat while Carton is a cynical English barrister. In the end, Darnay marries the woman but is eventually convicted as an aristocrat and sentenced to be guillotined. Ultimately Carton visits Darnay in his prison cell, drugs him, swaps clothing and in an act of self-sacrifice is executed in place of Darnay.

Ironically, this tale could have been written as a metaphor to describe our modern-day campaigns of Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama. It is indeed the best and worst of times for them as well as the Democratic Party. The volleys and returns about Clinton’s inaccurate account of her 1996 visit to Bosnia and Obama’s tepid distancing of himself from Reverend Wright’s inflammatory comments are natural elements of political campaigns. Yet both sides forget that truth squads find each side lacking every day.

For example, Clinton suggests that delegates should act independently while Obama calls for delegates to follow voting results. Yet when New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson chooses Obama despite his state voting for Clinton, Obama keeps him in silence while Clinton supporter James Carville calls him a Judas. Furthermore, it is disingenuous for Obama to decry the campaign banter as distractions which he claims take away from the debate about war when in media interviews his own campaign manager continually accuses Clinton of saying anything to get elected – a famous 2000 tactic that Karl Rove used against Vice President Al Gore. Yet, despite complaints from both sides, campaigns are about making points and counterpoints.

This week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll found that Democrats are evenly split in support of both candidates at 45 percent. Both equally raised their negative ratings by 5 percent. Clinton’s positive rating lost 8 points while 55 percent of Americans are disturbed about Obama’s pastor, Reverend Wright. Interestingly, both Democrats poll at 44 percent against Republican John McCain, although McCain gains 4 points against Clinton. Regrettably, a fifth of both Clinton and Obama supporters say that they are open to voting for McCain. Moreover, this week’s Gallop poll found that 28 percent of Clinton and 19 percent of Obama supporters could support McCain.

Distressing as the political pundits may lament while responding to current polls, the Democratic Party and both candidates can unite for the fall election. But it will demand real courage from both candidates by joining as the dream team. Rather than the Obama camp taking offense when Clinton suggested that they could run together, Obama should have seen it as a signal from Clinton that she would accept the vice presidency. With the odds favoring Obama as the nominee, he gambles that much of Clinton’s supporters would actually vote against him if he does not ask Clinton to join the ticket. In the past, other candidates soothed more rancorous feelings with a unity ticket.

Despite the delegate count, both Democrats have come so far in so many ways, and yet ironically their support remains evenly split. They must be as the Dickens characters and become a dream team to assure victory. To paraphrase the Dickens closing espousing Carton’s thoughts before he faced the guillotine, “It is a far, far better thing that they must do, than they have ever done; it is a far, far better ticket that they go to than they (or we) have ever known.”

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column usually appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at hottline@aol.com.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.