The Obama Watch

Three Democrats and a Funeral

Hillary and The Establishment move in: When will MoveOn catch on?

By 11.25.08

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Hillary Clinton's name was everywhere. But where was she?

In fact, this past Friday before Thanksgiving, when her name was on every cable news channel bannered as America's soon-to-be announced next Secretary of State, the real Hillary was hiding in plain sight in the center of the known universe.

Here. Here as in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (You knew Harrisburg was the center of the known universe, right?)

No, I'm not kidding. And if you're into the reading of political tea leaves (and if you belong to MoveOn.org you perhaps should be), there was, quite possibly, something to learn.

Senator Clinton was a stone's throw or so from my writing desk for a reason as once admirable as it was telling. Several days ago, Pennsylvania's much loved Lieutenant Governor, 78-year-old Catherine Baker Knoll, succumbed to a brief, brutal bout with cancer. She was the first woman to hold the post, serving under governor and fellow Democrat Ed Rendell. More to the point, the Lieutenant Governor was a deeply regular and very Establishment Democrat. She spent decades fighting her way up the political ladder to the number two spot in state government without betraying a whisper of McGovernism or what we might call today MoveOn.org-ism. She was nothing if not the uncontroversial, kindly, charming, motherly and later grandmotherly retail politician par excellence. As the Republican State Senate President (and, through a quirk in the state constitution, now her successor) noted in his eulogy, Knoll would get visibly disturbed at partisan fights on the State Senate floor while she was presiding, which she almost always was. Knoll had worked her way from bottom to almost the very top taking all the slings and arrows of politics in stride while winning the considerable bipartisan affection of both her fellow professional politicians and average citizens alike.

In truth, however, there are probably any number of politicians in the other 49 states who could probably match her devotion to her state and her constituents. The question is why did Senator Clinton, swept up in the drama of her impending shift from the Senate to the State Department, take the considerable time to come to Harrisburg to spend nationally unnoticed time front and center eulogizing, with two other Democrats, Catherine Baker Knoll?

Dick Morris may have a different, perhaps more cynical view. But let's put cynicism aside. In the very hard fought Pennsylvania Democratic primary between President-elect Obama and his soon-to-be Secretary of State, Knoll was a huge supporter and asset to Clinton's victory here. If you had ever been even a passing stranger to Knoll you had made a friend, and Knoll made sure her friends were Hillary's friends.

But one had only to watch the locally televised funeral tableau taking place under the vividly picturesque dome of the state capitol to understand something else. Watching the three Democrats selected by the Knoll family to eulogize their mother and grandmother, it was a something else that should raise some eyebrows in the precincts of the MoveOn crowd in the dawning of the Obama era.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING as a viable radical left in Pennsylvania politics. Democrats of power and serious influence in this state have always been some version of Catherine Baker Knoll. There are no rabid MoveOn-ites or McGovernites to be found in state office on the Democratic side of the aisle. The only Pennsylvania Democrat to come close to this description was the third Democrat speaking at the funeral after Governor Rendell and Clinton -- Congressman John Murtha. And the dirty little secret in Pennsylvania about Jack Murtha, if not understood in the national media, is that the anti-war zealot that prances across the Washington media stage is viewed by many here as just a cranky old guard guy who demands recognition or he'll stomp on you. Murtha wasn't given the time of day by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and so, quite predictably, he threw a fit and took to the opposite side of the war issue. In a quite typical huff. Mr. Murtha, as he likes to be revered, was not respected. So the administration would be punished. Had this war been run by a President Clinton (either Bill or Hillary) and Murtha soothingly stroked every step of the way, he would have cheerily said not a word as they invaded not only Iraq but Iran as well. As long as everyone knows to bend the knee -- and keep those Johnstown dollars flowing from the federal treasury -- well then, no problem. With Murtha its always about the tribute, not the substance.

Which means the mere sight of the three Democratic speakers at the Catherine Baker Knoll funeral should send shivers through the MoveOn believers.

Important position by important position -- State, Treasury, Justice, Commerce, Homeland Security, the White House chief of staff -- the picks to run the Obama administration are decidedly not going to create an Obama Revolution to bookend the Reagan Revolution. Whether it's Hillary defending the policies of Bill, or the Treasury pick who served three presidents including two Bushes, the people being chosen are nothing less than an administration of Catherine Baker Knolls -- regulars who are regulars to the end. Nice or not so nice. Charming -- or not. Smart or not especially so. But revolutionize American government? Turn it upside down? Are you kidding? This is the Establishment. Big Time.

When the glow of victory wears off, when the inaugural parade marches into history, the image that will eventually stick with all the panting, increasingly angry left-wing bloggers, the MoveOn and Daily Kos types, will be not unlike the pictures that were seen here in Harrisburg the other day. Regular Democrats assembled, this time around the Cabinet Room instead of a funeral bier. With not a single daring thought between them, all clustering together to listen yet again to Hillary Clinton and her Knoll-like associates say the very same things Establishment Democrats always say and have been saying since at least 1932. A little class warfare rhetoric here, a little toughness JFK-style over there when actually dealing with the foreign bad guys.

Things that, funny enough, now that he's President-elect, Barack Obama himself seems to be saying.

The real question ahead is: How long it will take MoveOn to catch on?

And then move on.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.