Column for 9 March, 2008
“If You are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You. Remember that this nation is Your People.”
In the immortal words of another (and vastly more talented and funny) Cherokee political commentator, Will Rogers, “I belong to no organized political party; I am a Democrat.” It was certainly a wild night, though all things considered it went relatively smoothly, both in Johnson County and in the rest of the State. At my precinct convention, so many people showed up we had to move to the church sanctuary, which quickly filled up. One older gentleman showed me his voter registration card; when I pointed out that he had voted in the Republican Primary so he couldn’t vote in the Democratic Convention, he gave a bewildered look at the people all around him and asked in a disbelieving voice, “You mean all these are Democrats?” Hillary Clinton carried Johnson County, as she did most counties in Texas, other than the large urban areas which went for Barack Obama by big margins (San Antonio being the sole exception). Three million Texans voted in the Democratic Primary; 1.1 million of them attended the caucuses. Maybe, with a little luck, the final results will be known by the time you read this. So far, it looks as though Clinton won the primary vote by a relatively narrow margin, but Obama may have won most of the caucus delegates. Because of the unique structure of the Texas Democratic system, Obama could very well end up with slightly more pledged delegates than Clinton when it’s all said and done. By “winning” three out of four on Tuesday night, Clinton may not have regained the momentum, but she does seem to have checked the growing perception that her campaign was in free-fall. It just goes to show what long-time political observers should know; Clintons always do best in the clinch. The problem she faces is that we are rapidly approaching the point, if it hasn’t already been reached, where it is mathematically impossible for either candidate to win enough pledged delegates to lock-up the nomination before the national convention. The reasons for this are several, including the fact that support for Obama and Clinton has been and remains relatively closely divided; Michigan and Florida’s votes don’t count (at least so far); and Democrats award delegates by proportion instead of winner-take-all like the Republicans. As a result, you have some pretty silly threats coming out of both camps; some Obama supporters threaten to drop out of the party; the Clinton camp hinting darkly of lawsuits. My advice to both is the same; knock off that kind of idiocy and take a deep breath. Look at the situation realistically. First, there are the super-delegates. The super-delegates came about after the disastrous 1980 brawl between then-President Jimmy Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy. Members of Congress didn’t want to anger their constituents by running for delegate for a candidate who might not have carried their district. It’s since been expanded to include members of the Democratic National Committee, State Party chairs and others. The Obama campaign argues that the super-delegates are somehow morally obligated to vote the same way their state went in the primary. This is wrong for at least two reasons; first, Democratic delegates are awarded in proportion to the vote. Just because Obama narrowly won a state doesn’t mean he should get all of that state’s super-delegates. Second, the super-delegates are not supposed to be like pledged delegates. The whole system was set up so that they could vote their conscience. Lastly, I haven’t seen a breakdown yet, but Obama might want to be careful what he wishes for; Clinton carried California with its’ huge block of super-delegates, and Massachusetts which has prominent Obama supporters Senator John Kerry and Governor Deval Patrick (Obama’s campaign co-chair) as super-delegates. Is Obama really saying Kerry and Patrick should have to vote for Clinton? My suspicion is that long before the convention, the super-delegates will start flocking to whichever candidate is leading the delegate count and the national polls, as Congressman John Lewis did recently when he switched from Clinton to Obama. Then there’s the matter of Michigan and Florida, states that voted early in defiance of Party rules and were punished as a result. It’s hard to feel sorry for Michigan; they knew what was going to happen and changed their primary date anyway. Given the fact that Michigan is a battleground state in the fall, though, it will probably be politically expedient to let them have either a re-vote or a caucus so they can be seated. Florida Democrats, on the other hand, were the victims of a move by Republican Governor Charlie Crist and a Republican Legislature to move the election date up ostensibly to help Rudy Giuliani. Because of this, Florida has a much better case for being allowed to seat its’ delegates when the convention starts in Denver. Allowing Michigan and Florida to participate could solve the problem without having the nominee chosen by the super-delegates, a move that would almost certainly be played up in the media as a “back room deal” that could hurt whoever ultimately wins. Hillary Clinton, though, needs to call off her cadre of attack lawyers. Threatening to sue your own party would be a bone-headed move that could cripple the nominee and end her political career on a sour note. The “common wisdom” seems to be that the longer the Democratic nomination fight goes, and the nastier it gets, the better for the Republicans. I don’t agree. For one thing, there is nothing that Barack Obama can say about Hillary Clinton (or vice versa) that the Republicans won’t use in the Fall. Dragging this out now enables the Democratic nominee to describe it as “old news” when John McCain and the Right Wing Howler Monkey Media Chorus try to recycle it. For another thing, every day this contest goes on, John McCain is pushed off the front pages and everyone is paying attention to the Democrats. That can only help, especially as Clinton and Obama will be trying to stake out positions that distinguish them from the currently politically toxic Republicans. Additionally, most polling shows that (at least for now) the overwhelming majority of Democrats would be comfortable with either candidate leading the ticket and that either candidate could beat John McCain. Republicans are whistling past the graveyard in thinking that Clinton would be easier to beat or that a long nomination fight weakens the Democrats. In state after state and primary after primary, Democratic turnout is swamping Republican turnout at record levels. Some thirty Republican members of Congress are retiring and President Bush’s approval rating is an anemic 19%. And you may rest assured that whoever the Democratic nominee is, they will hang George W. Bush around John McCain’s neck like the proverbial albatross.