At last: the Fall of the House of Clinton

Just as in the Edgar Allan Poe story, the great project hatched by Bill and Hillary is crumbling to dust

Never count a Clinton out. Not even when he – or, in this case, she – is sealed in a tomb. Bill came back from scandals that would have felled a less resilient politician. And now we have Hillary, refusing to accept a political death plain to all except her, yet commanding a grudging admiration for her defiance, even among her foes.

But there is a broader aspect to this high political drama, a sense that not merely a campaign but also a political lineage is approaching its end. In Edgar Allan Poe's macabre masterpiece The Fall of the House of Usher, set in a decaying castle, Roderick Usher's sister Madeline has been buried alive, consigned to the living dead. In the final moments of the tale she reappears to die, and the castle crumbles, vanishing for ever. As Clinton's inevitable defeat at the hands of Barack Obama draws closer, we are witnessing its political, albeit less gothic, equivalent – the Fall of the House of Clinton.

In terms of the campaign, the picture could hardly be bleaker. True, she is likely to win Tuesday's primary in West Virginia by what Obama himself admits will be "a big margin", proving that she still has a large constituency among the white, rural and blue-collar voters who predominate in this gritty, impoverished section of the Appalachians.

But the wider maths brook no argument. The candidate herself admitted she needed a "game-changer" from last week's votes in North Carolina and Indiana. Instead Obama recovered from his rockiest spell of the campaign to obliterate her in the former and almost win the latter, widening his advantage in pledged delegates in the process. Last Tuesday was a game-changer – only not in the way Clinton intended. West Virginia and the five remaining primaries, in three of which Obama is favoured, have been rendered all but superfluous.

The trend among super-delegates is, if anything, grimmer. Barely three months ago, before "Super Tuesday", she led by 60 or more among these 795 party elders whose votes will settle the contest. Today Obama has cut the gap to single figures or less. Counting super-delegates is an inexact science, but one source (ABC News) now even has him ahead.

Whatever the precise numbers, the pattern is clear. A trickle of super-delegates towards Obama has turned into a steady flow since Indiana and North Carolina. Friday alone brought seven new endorsements, including a congressman who previously supported Clinton, but changed sides.

Of the 795, little more than a third have yet to make up their mind. As matters stand, Obama is roughly 150 delegates short of the 2,025 needed to nominate at the Denver convention. He has even scheduled a "victory" celebration to coincide with the Kentucky and Oregon primaries on 20 May, when he reckons he will have secured an absolute majority of pledged delegates, based on the likely results there and in West Virginia, and the rigidly proportional allocation of delegates.

But this is more than just other political defeat. In their 2007 biography Her Way, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta claim that even before their marriage, Bill and Hillary devised a 20-year plan that would see them reshaping the Democratic party and Bill ascending to the presidency. No sooner was that mission accomplished in 1993, the authors write, than "the project" was extended. Eight years of Bill in the White House would be followed by eight years of Hillary.

The evidence assembled by Gerth and Van Natta, two reporters for The New York Times who had long been on the Hillary case, is tenuous in the extreme. But the "project" theory has a psychological ring of truth. As candidate and president, Bill Clinton did indeed remake the Democratic party in a more moderate image. The strategy was akin to the Blair/Brown "New Labour" project in Britain, a move towards the centre that was the only option if Democrats were to contend in an era of conservative and Republican dominance.

As senator for New York, with an unmistakable eye on the White House almost from the moment she arrived on Capitol Hill in 2001, Clinton continued on that course. She took great care to burnish her credentials as a hard-nosed national security expert. Nowhere was this concern clearer than in her vote in favour of the Iraq war in October 2002. Today that vote – and her refusal to admit it was a mistake – may have doomed her to defeat by Obama.

For the Iraq debacle has hastened a sea change in American politics, of which Obama is the beneficiary and the embodiment. A generational and ideological shift is taking place, in which the country is moving to the left. No longer are Democrats a threatened species, forced to trim and compromise to stay electable. Intellectually bankrupt US conservatism has run into the buffers. On almost every big issue, from foreign policy to the economy, from health care to education, Democratic ideas prevail.

At 60, Clinton is 14 years older than Obama, in political terms a generation. He is the upstart. She belongs to the establishment, ready to reinvent herself as many times as necessary to win the day. Hillary the inevitable has mutated into Hillary the experienced into Hillary the beer-swilling people's gal, ready to indulge in a crowd-pleasing gimmick like a summer-long suspension of the federal petrol tax. Except that for once the crowds were not pleased. Voters saw the arrant nonsense for what it was and last week they said so. More subtly, they also said that the Clintons were the past.

For 15 years, half of them spent in the White House, half in well-heeled exile on Capitol Hill and on the international speaking circuit, the Clintons have dominated the Democratic party. Some in its upper echelons resented them. But they had the machine and the money. Now they have been bested by the Obama machine, with its ability to galvanise younger voters, and by Obama's money, raised via the internet in quantities that dwarfed the efforts of the old-style Clinton fundraising barons.

If defeat does come, an old guard is on the way out – from Terry McAuliffe, keeper of the Clinton flame from 2001 to 2005 as Democratic party chairman, and now chairman of Hillary Clinton for President, to a Clinton foreign policy establishment featuring the likes of Madeleine Albright, Wes Clark and Richard Holbrooke. Democratic heavyweights are moving into the Obama camp. The Clintons will always retain a considerable base in the party but no longer, surely, the pre-eminent one.

So what now, as the supreme prize seems destined to elude her? Maybe she'll be content with the vice-presidency. Others say that she will not run for elective office again once her senate term ends in 2012. Still others see her as future Senate majority leader. It would be no mean position in a likely era of Democratic supremacy in Congress – but not quite the project the House of Clinton had in mind.

Confident Clinton

January: the candidate was in robust form as she welcomed the media on board 'Hill Force One' en route to Nevada mark

First hurdle

January: defeat in Iowa wasn't helped by being seen with the 'old guard' including Madeleine Albright and Wesley Clark

Tears save the day

January: Clinton later admitted that a public display of emotion won her the New Hampshire primary

Back in the game

March: Hillary and Chelsea Clinton celebrate as a win in Ohio put the wind in the campaign's sails. Chelsea had become a regular fixture during her mother's efforts to win the candidacy, focusing on capturing the younger vote joshua gunter/ap

Playing the populist

May: Clinton tries to show she's one of the gals at a campaign stop at a Dairy Queen ice-cream parlour robyn beck/ afp/getty images

The end is nigh

May: Clinton managed a narrow win in Indiana, but she needed a knockout victory to keep even a glimmer of hope alive

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own