Sunday, March 9, 2008

Dazed and Confused

I am terribly confused by the current state of the Democratic nomination process. I am disheartened by the fact that we've got a six-week slog to Pennsylvania, and that there seem to be at least two certainties in this period of general uncertainty: (1) Barack and Hillary will likely try to rip each other apart and (2) nothing will likely change after Pennsylvania. On the latter point, Barack seems likely to have a significant lead in the pledged delegate race even if Hillary wins decisively. And I can't articulate a logic for either of them to get out. Indeed, I would say the opposite--there is none. Why should she leave the race if she seems to have the momentum and has won a lot of big, important swing states that a Dem must carry to win the general and is behind by a relatively small margin? Even though she can't make it up, she is close enough to plausibly say they are essentially tied. And he has even less of a reason to leave, if he (as seems all but certain) will still be leading in pledged delegates. What is the rationale for quitting and conceding a race where you've won (1) the most states, (2) the most delegates and (3) (perhaps), the highest number of popular votes?

One thing that we seem to have learned is that Hillary has a base of committed supporters who seem unlikely to switch allegiance to Barack in the nomination process in large numbers. I think we already knew that about Barack's supporters (as the infamous David Brooks has described it, Barack's supporters are passionate and and many of them are not just supporters but believe he must be nominated and must win). While I don't know that I go that far in the Barack/Hillary battle (although I do go that far for whoever is the Democratic nominee, as I think another 4 years of Republican (at least Bush-style) leadership may put solving the world's environmental issues, in particular global warming, beyond reach for all time), I am one who believes that because there is a dedicated base of Hillary-haters in this country, that she will unite the opposition in a way that will be difficult to overcome.

But then back to point #1: in order to win, I think each of the Hillary and Barack camps feel the need to sharpen the distinctions between the two. I am not generally squeamish about a tougher campaign, but it works against Barack because that is one of the prime underlying rationales of his candidacy and its appeal: that he is a different kind of politician. But I despair that the likely result of the next 6 weeks (and beyond) is more fodder for the mounting Republican attack machine which will come with guns-ablazing against whomever--it matters not to them.

It also bugs me, as an aside, that Hillary includes in her laundry list of wins (and this is her, in her stump speeches, not just her campaign or other surrogates) Michigan and Florida. Florida is at least arguable, but including Michigan is completely disingenuous--no campaigning, and she was the only name on the ballot. (Didn't we used to criticize the USSR for "elections" where there were only Communist party candidates?) Every interviewer should question her on that in every interview until she stops. She has legitimate claims to victories, and, as Barack has said, to argue that her policies are superior to hers. But not to argue she won the Michigan primary where no-one else (most notably Barack) campaigned or was on the ballot. A whopping 40% took the trouble to come out and vote "uncommitted".

Also, although I can admire for sheer political chutzpah Hillary and Bill's notion that in a race in which you are behind, your solution is, we'll take the #1 spot and give you the veep nod, I'd also say it is possible to admire chutzpah (e.g., Lee Atwater and Karl Rove) and admit is is "brilliant" (or at least damningly effective) politics, while being disgusted by it.

I don't see any alternative but do-overs in Florida and Michigan. The argument in Michigan that we must "respect the voters" demands this--although not in the way most mean it. I hear that argument as a rationale that we must respect the votes cast in January. But what about those who would have wanted to vote for Barack (or others who were in the race at the time, Edwards most notably) but didn't have the opportunity? How is that showing "respect" for the voters of Michigan? 'Sorry, but you had one alternative, and since you took the trouble to come out, we're going to "honor" it.' That's just not right, no matter whom you support.