The punditocracy and the press corps are simply salivating at the prospect of Democratic primaries lasting into the spring. The stuff of voyeurism is palpable -- insults, cattle futures profits, tax returns, real estate deals. It's politi-porn at its best.
So far, it looks like the candidates are willing to play along, or at least are unable to resist doing so. The allegation by Hillary Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, that Barack Obama is "imitating Ken Starr" is just the sort of crack that whips the "let you and him fight" instinct into a frothing frenzy. Obama adviser Samantha Power's unfortunate "monster" description of Clinton didn't settle anything, but only led to Clinton Campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe sending out a fundraising email within moments of Power's subsequent departure.
McAuliffe and the direct-mail team felt the need to remind the recipients that, "Just one day after Senator Obama promised to begin attacking Hillary, a senior Obama advisor has called her a 'monster.' That's right -- a 'monster. At the same time, Senator Obama's aides have begun rehashing the old negative attacks of the 90's against Hillary. This is not the politics of hope -- it's the usual attack style politics that we have seen time and time again." And, BTW, click to contribute because "A contribution now will show the Obama campaign that there is a price to this kind of attack politics."
It's hard for the combatants to tamp down the instinct to attack. In the middle of a campaign, the urge of the candidates and their staffs to go one-on-one with charges and counter charges is hard to resist. On the emotional level, they are in perpetual combat mode. It's hard to have good feelings about a candidate who is spending millions of dollars to defeat your candidate. On the tactical level, they might think that if going negative helps, then going more negative helps more. This campaign has gone on for a long time, and the more tight the race, the more taut the nerves.
I'm not one of those calling for the campaign to stop or even for a forced truce. A little timeout would be nice, so that candidates and their staffs had a little down time to relax, recharge and refocus. The emphasis should be on that last element.
My state's primary has passed and so my vote has been cast. I didn't feel particularly strongly about either Clinton or Obama. (For the record, I supported someone who didn't even run, although it would have been interesting for him to display a Nobel Prize, Oscar and Emmy at campaign appearances.)
The two big developments that have occurred since my state's primary are that there are now two Democrats left standing and that there is now only one Republican. If I were voting now, I'd be looking for the candidate who is the toughest not against the other Democrat, but the toughest against John McCain. Let all that creative invective and aggression from the Clinton and Obama camps be redirected toward the record of the Bush administration and to McCain, where it rightfully belongs.
Imagine Obama and Clinton (and their unruly surrogates) not spending valuable energy slamming each other, but instead competing to keep the McCain and Bush records in the news. Such a scenario might not be as entertaining to the jaded scribes at ringside, but the crowd will be on its feet cheering with joy at the contest, not sighing in anguish.