Obama-Clintons Feud Could Decide Election

Commentary By Howard Fineman MSNBC WASHINGTON - Does Barack Obama think he needs the Clintons’ help this fall? And do the Clintons really want to give it to him? The answer to both questions seems to be a resounding “no.” And this could very well be the reason why a slam-dunk Obama victory in November becomes a down-to-the wire race against John McCain. Obama says he wants to use his natural diplomatic skills to bring peace to the planet. But if he expects to be given a crack at it, he must first use those skills inside his own party. At least that’s the way I thought politics worked — you go the extra mile to unify and delight your own folks. Then again, the Obama campaign is rewriting the rules of politics for a new generation. Maybe that’s why he’s not especially eager to earn extra credit with the Clintons. Sure, Bill and Hill can act like spoiled children. And they certainly played rough during the primaries. But Mr. Clinton was a popular two-term Democratic president who led in comparatively prosperous and peaceful times. As for Mrs. Clinton? Well, she got more (registered) Democratic votes in the primaries than Obama. So, shouldn’t he be extending a hand in their direction? But that’s not to say the burden rests solely on the presumptive nominee. Obama’s candidacy embodies the spirit of racial equality that the Clintons have held dear since the 1960s. Sure Obama is cold. Sure, he can be more calculating than he appears. But doesn’t the history-making nature of his campaign matter more than hurt feelings? You’d think everyone would try to get along, or at least fake it. But right now, the situation is pretty dismal. The former president doesn’t know what, if any, role he will play at the Democratic National Convention. And while Hillary has agreed not to have her name placed in nomination, that concession has yet to yield a definitive answer on what, exactly, her role will be in Denver. Though Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, tells me that they’re still working on the schedule, and to expect an announcement soon. Obama and Bill Clinton have spoken at length exactly once, and that was over the phone. No wonder Bill is pouting. And no wonder he’s refused to say whether Obama is “ready” to be president. "You can argue that nobody is ready to be president," he told ABC News. It was the political equivalent of taking your ball and going home. I have covered the former president for 17 years, both in person and from afar, and I have rarely seen him seething with so much anger. Then, there's money, which always creates friction. In a private meeting in Washington last week with her top fundraisers, Hillary declared that she had kept her end of the dollar-for-dollar agreement with Obama, raising $500,000 for his campaign. But she complained that Obama had only raised $380,000 to help retire her debt. “She was upset and quite frank about putting her cards on the table,” said one of two sources who told me about the meeting. “People were surprised she was so candid.” But Burton tells me that his camp has indeed raised half-a-million for Hillary — it just took longer than she may have liked. But this is less about arithmetic and more about attitude — and the Clintonistas still don’t like the 'tude. On Tuesday, I was on the phone with one of Hillary Clinton’s leading fundraisers, a woman who agreed to speak with me only if I promised not to name names. She was on vacation along the coast of New England, and was telling me that she and her wealthy, well-connected Hillary-loving friends remain mystified and annoyed. “It’s not that we’re being dismissed,” she said. “The Obama people are perfectly happy to have our support. But their attitude seems to be, ‘we can win without you.’ And I guess that’s why none of us is going from rah-rah Hillary to rah-rah Obama.” One disgruntled seaside bundler does not a crisis make. Still, there ought to be some way to make her happy, and it’s probably in the best interest of the Obama campaign to find it. I say “probably,” because his camp’s theory is that too much butt-kissing of older generation power brokers will ruin his message, which is that he represents something wholly new and refreshingly uncompromised. But between them, Bill and Hill have gathered a lot of voters in their time, and that should still count for something.

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