Early bickering is bad news for candidates

A lot can happen in 11 months. The last 11 months have witnessed the collapse of decade-long Republican legislative control. The next 11 months promise increasingly contentious debate over Iraq (and maybe Iran).

Why 11 months? Well, to remind Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, there are 11 months until the first votes are cast in the primaries for the 2008 presidential election. Eleven months, folks. Eleven months to drag Bill Clinton’s name through the dirt again. Eleven months to debate which drugs Obama did or did not use. Eleven months to sling mud and be negative and do anything to win the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary — remembering, of course, that the party’s nomination could remain up for grabs after New Hampshire.

February 2007 is a good time for candidates to develop solid positions on issues, develop creative policy-based solutions to pressing problems, pre-empt scandals and avoid a Gary Hart-style meltdown. February 2007 is a terrible time for the two Democratic front-runners to get involved in a rhetorical war over whose big donors said unkind things about whom. February 2007 is a terrible time to start caricaturing the candidate who could be your running mate in a year and a half. Why isn’t this common sense?

The Clinton campaign is accusing an Obama donor, David Geffen, of making “personal attacks” against Hillary. As far as I can tell, these “personal attacks” are the sort of comments that Clinton cynics in the media and the public sphere have made for a while: she’s too divisive, she’s a member of the “Clinton royal family,” her Iraq policy is fuzzy. Of course, most members of the media and the public sphere don’t bring $1.3 million to Clinton’s principal rival in a single night, as David Geffen recently did. And most members of the media and public sphere aren’t former Clinton donors who have slept in the Lincoln bedroom, as David Geffen did twice during the (Bill) Clinton years.

The Obama camp didn’t need to escalate the conflict by vowing “not to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters,” and then doing exactly that by pointing out the “irony” of the Clinton-Geffen schism. Can we expect this for the next 11 months? Almost a year of he-said she-said between two candidates who once seemed interested in running clean, optimistic campaigns?

Barack and Hillary have more important things to talk about. As sitting senators with little or no executive experience, each needs to find a way to establish serious leadership credentials. Each needs to demonstrate an ability to create and pursue constructive policy on health care, taxes and Iraq. And each needs to remember that, as sitting senators in a Democratic legislative majority, petty campaign infighting could easily derail important legislative initiatives over the next 11 months.

Democratic intra-party squabbling won’t aid anyone’s electoral or legislative ambitions. This Obama-Clinton feud should end now, with apologies from each side and admonishments to major Hollywood donors to kindly be quiet so Barack and Hillary can help run the country. Now is a good time for Obama and Clinton to talk about Iraq, to talk about the minimum wage, to talk about health care and tax breaks. There are too many important legislative projects, too many problems in Iraq, too many pressing issues facing this country for leading Democrats to become embroiled in meaningless squabble. Barack and Hillary have the next 11 months to play meaningless political games. If this ridiculous feud is any indication, they may already be tired of policy. And that’s not good news for anyone, except maybe the Republican nominee.

Xan White is a sophomore in Calhoun College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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