Now Cough

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Whatever It Takes

Many years ago I was covering an election night and volunteered to stake out a conservative Democratic candidate's party at The Baltic Club. This club was really an ethnic men's watering hole in the so-called River Wards: a stretch of sad row homes and warehouses stretching up from center city Philadelphia along the Delaware River.

This is very blue collar. The streets are narrow. No trees anywhere. More industrial England than anything else.

Inside, The Baltic Club was dark. Some of the older men were hunched over, speaking foreign tongues, and the hall was a grim room with bad lighting, long folding tables and metal chairs. Wheeze-filled balloons and dingy paper decorations were hung around. Two pimply teenagers were setting up a cassette deck, speakers, a mic and a makeshift mixer.

In a back room, more like a large closet, sat a very fat man smoking cigarettes. He had on a vest and people were crowded around him. He had a phone, a legal pad and a calculator. He was talking constantly to people who were calling in from various precincts. Numbers were his game. He was determining in a very street-politics way how the vote was going. The people calling him knew who had voted and who had not. And, they had a very good idea which WAY they had voted. He smoked, scribbling numbers in long columns and swatting away the men who crammed in asking "Howze it lookin'?"

Late in the evening, as "New York, New York" was cranking from the speakers to get the drinking crowd up, I ran into a very drunk, bleary-eyed former South Philadelphia congressman. He had been out of office after a lot of miserable missteps, not the least of which was an allegation that he had punched and bloodied a woman in a DC elevator after a night of heavy boozing.

This guy was swaying and swaggering and he looked like a worn out tough, a punk. I gamely brought out my mic, and asked him how the heck his candidate would pull things out in a district that was clearly going to go for the other Democrat.

"What ever it takes!" he shouted. I asked him what that meant. "WHATEVER it takes!" he yelled again with emphasis.

He wasn't talking democracy or gumption. He was talking about the elbow-in-the-ribs, eye-jabbing form of street politics that gets results No Matter What.

Which brings me to Hillary's primary victory in Pennsylvania. She won by an impressive 10% over Barack Obama.

As the The New York Times put it:

On the eve of this crucial primary, Mrs. Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11. A Clinton television ad — torn right from Karl Rove’s playbook — evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” the narrator intoned.

If that was supposed to bolster Mrs. Clinton’s argument that she is the better prepared to be president in a dangerous world, she sent the opposite message on Tuesday morning by declaring in an interview on ABC News that if Iran attacked Israel while she were president: “We would be able to totally obliterate them.”

By staying on the attack and not engaging Mr. Obama on the substance of issues like terrorism, the economy and how to organize an orderly exit from Iraq, Mrs. Clinton does more than just turn off voters who don’t like negative campaigning. She undercuts the rationale for her candidacy that led this page and others to support her: that she is more qualified, right now, to be president than Mr. Obama.

Whatever it takes. Well, that's one way to win.


  • I just gotta say the writing you've got here is stellar. I feel like I should immediately wash my clothes to get the cigar/cigarette smoke out!

    By Blogger John, at 5:09 AM  

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