We’re at the mercy of a narcissistic and irresponsible press. Matt Bai’s blog post in the New York Times being "Exhibit A":
No one expects Mrs. Clinton to stand down and let Mr. Obama make his case unchallenged. She could, however, send a clear message to the cogs in the machinery she’s built that there is a line she will not cross. She could tell her Nevada allies that the job of the Democratic Party she grew up in is to make it easier for people to caucus, not harder. She could tell Robert Johnson that he needs to apologize, the same way she forced Bill Shaheen, her New Hampshire co-chairman, to resign last month. She can make it plain to all those people trying to get jobs in the next Clinton Administration that there is way to win—a rough and combative way, even—that nonetheless won’t destroy all the good that the Clintons, at least for a lot of Democrats, have come to represent.
By loading all the responsibility onto one candidate, as if the other had no place in it, it just heightens the antagonistic environment and makes the problem worse. Does Bai call for Jesse Jackson Jr. to step down, or even mention that this isn’t a one-way battle? No. He’s smugly content to pour gasoline over an already volatile situation then stand back and watch it burn.
Journalists like Bai inflame these things to the detriment of the political environment and the Democratic party without any consideration of the cost involved. I realize destroying any kind of coalition that could win against the Republicans next November is an acceptable price for some people, but some of us actually do care what happens to the country going forward.
Both Clinton and Obama have issued statements calling for an end to the pie fight, which is a good thing. The responsible thing to do is to refuse to let people like Bai egg them on. We’ll see if it’s all rhetoric or if their actions back it up. But barring an Edwards resurgence, I frankly don’t see how we win the next election without both Clinton and Obama on the ticket in some order. If the antagonism we see online is any evidence, coming together again as a party without it is going to be awfully difficult.
If no decisive victor emerges before the convention, the superdelegates could force both Clinton and Obama onto a ticket. While I’m sure neither would be happy with that situation, it may be the best thing for the party as a whole. It certainly would be an unbeatable and historic combination, ushering in an era where we can hopefully begin to talk about these things. And after the damage that their mutual mud slinging contest has done to any kind of future coalition, the onus may be on them to suck it up for the good of the country.
Because it doesn’t look like our high-minded press will content itself with anything less than scorched earth.
Update: Pam Spaulding, who has been writing about this situation better than almost anyone, nails it (via email):
I am sorry to say that I’ve seen this coming for months now, and none of it is surprising, other than it completely follows the race-baiting playbook I imagined of lobbing the bomb out there, running for cover, and coming up with painfully bad denials, being "misunderstood", poor choice of phrases, etc. It’s the by-product of not speaking frankly about race and some deluding themselves that if they say that this is the "post-racial" era often enough, the problems beneath the surface go away and it renders any deeper discussion of it untouchable or viewed as stoking the fire. The consultant class in both parties are so hooked on these base tactics that they simply can’t give them up.