History will hate us if we allow ourselves to be conned by Hillary Clinton's win-at-all-costs, facts-don't-matter, feed-the-fear tactics. We seem dangerously close to squandering something I never expected to get: a chance to fundamentally change the arithmetic of American elections.
A natural, overwhelming Democratic majority is hibernating in the United States today. These are people who care but don't vote, who need government but don't trust any politician to deliver on promises of help. These folks are struggling daily. They would find universal national healthcare as obvious and uncontroversial as municipal running water.
The hibernating masses that are essential to progress in America are chiefly visible through their invisibility. They are the 35 percent of eligible voters who didn't even cast ballots in 1960, when we set the modern record for turnout in a presidential election.
I won't pretend that everyone who stays home would vote for a Democrat. And I'm not partisan enough to even wish that were the case.
I won't pretend that every hibernating citizen sits out elections for exactly the same reason. But I believe I know where low turnouts come from. I believe you do, too. We know this from chats with neighbors. We know this from jokes we've heard our whole lives. What we know is this: Americans -- the ones who do vote and especially the ones who don't vote -- believe politics is filthy.
He's never said it quite this way, but Senator Obama is essentially campaigning on the idea that politics doesn't need to be filthy. It's an idea that has roused a tiny fraction of the hibernators. Blinking in the glare of the winter sunlight, they are still not sure if Senator Obama means what he says.
This uncertainty -- the fragility of people's optimism -- is the only electoral asset the Clintons have left. Given that bankruptcy, Senator Clinton would have only one choice if she cared as much about America as she cares about herself. A person with a conscience would quit the race, search her soul, return to the Senate, dedicate herself to helping President Obama help Americans, and possibly try again – as a humble, positive, principled candidate -- in 2016.
That's harsh. I don't know Senator Clinton personally. So I can't legitimately claim she has no conscience whatsoever. But her campaign behavior is unconscionable. That much I can say. As a candidate, she does not follow even the most basic rules of integrity and decency I can count on from my seven-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. My kids understand that people won't want to play with you anymore if you try to change the rules in the middle of a game. Senator Clinton's unseemly effort to seat delegates from a state where she alone kept her name on the ballot show her to be someone who'd soon find herself with no playmates if she showed up with Chutes and Ladders at an elementary school.
Even if we elect Senator Obama, there's no guarantee he'll rouse the rest of the hibernators or that he'll reward the ones who've awakened already. He has told us he is not a perfect person. He has told us he won't be a perfect president. Last week's fumble over the Canada/NAFTA stuff showed he is not a perfect candidate. But all human progress is the work of fallible human beings.
This election is not a referendum on whether a woman can be elected president. This election is not about whether an African-American can become president. This election has become a referendum on whether politics needs to be filthy.
Senator Clinton can win the nomination. If Senator McCain self-destructs, she might even be able to win the presidency. But she has shown she can only win by throwing "the kitchen sink." She can only win, in short, by proving again that politics is filthy. She can only win by telling the hibernators that they were chumps to wake up. A Democratic "victory" that sends the hibernators back to sleep can only yield an administration that comes and goes without bringing any durable progress to America's schools, its healthcare system, its foreign policy, and everything else that matters.
Let's not blow this.