OK...it's 2:51am PST and my whole family is awake...my wife and my two children. We are recently back from China where we adopted our second child, a son, and we all have a mighty case of jet lag. At this point I fear we may never get back on any normal schedule.
While in China for the last two weeks I tried to follow the latest election news via the internets, hoping to find some signs that us Democrats would begin to come together in unity as the long and tortured primary wound down. Unfortunately for all of us, I didn't find any, haven't seen any signs of it in the few days I have been home, and fear we may not see any meaningful unity until it's too late.
I don't know, maybe it's the sleep depravation talking but here's what I see.
From my perspective the race has been over since February when Obama essentially racked up the delegate lead he now has. It was apparent then to the astute political observer that Clinton had no clear path to the nomination at that point. The outcome of elections in Texas, Ohio, and later Pennsylvania, far from being important or impressive Clinton victories only cemented an Obama lead in pledged delegates (and popular votes) that will lead eventually to his nomination. A few in the pundant class pointed this out with some regularity (Chuck Todd at MSNBC) but few then, as now even, were willing to declare the race over.
The route of the traditional runner-up in primaries is to withdraw when it becomes clear that they can't win. As in the case of John Edwards, this normally happens rather early on in the contest. Clinton, however, has chosen to stay in despite the clear lack of a way to surpass Obama in any meaningful metric. I liked the way that Rachel Maddow (a favorite of mine) has called the Clinton political strategy "post rational."
( >>I would download the Maddow show podcast when in China and listen to her shows on my ipod as I rocked my new son to sleep.<< )
Clinton has only continued to amass an impressive number of delegates, votes, and victories by staying in the race well past the time when normal, rational presidential hopefuls withdraw. As Clinton has continued her quixotic quest for the party's nomination she has increasingly divided Democrats, made it difficult for Obama to gain traction with core Democratic constituencies, and weakened Obama in the general election fight.
Clinton's good standing in recent polls and her impressive victories in WV and KTY only come, really, because no one is competing with her (again, a Chuck Todd analysis I am barrowing here). Obama has taken to waging a more general election campaign and given Clinton a free ride not only by 1) not contesting primaries strongly in certain states but also by 2) treating her debatable comments and assertions with kid gloves. In other words, Clinton's strength is, IMHO, something of a mirage.
I guess the point of this diary, and my musings here at 3:49am now -- having stoped and started this diary a hundred times to deal with fussy and cranky family members -- is that Clinton has not returned the favor. No, instead, she has taken an unfair advantage in all this and pressed her case even harder, knowing I am sure all along that she had only the slimmest of slim chances to prevail.
I was shocked to see the videos of Clinton protestors at the RBC on May 31...the chants of "Denver" and the promises to vote for McCain. Such things are disturbing to someone who wants to win badly in the fall. And the level of vitriol directed towards Obama one finds in diaries and comments at places like MYDD is just staggering and not at all helpful. Rational discourse and honest disagreements simply don't appear possible any longer and I see no signs of its abatement.
But this disaffection is clearly (in my mind) the consequence of Clinton staying in a primary fight past the expiration date of her candidacy. The result is that the continued campaign falsely raises the expectations of her supporters. What's more, the arguments Clinton makes for staying in the race increasingly rely on an underdog-us-versus-the-world mentality, and rationalizing the certain defeat as an injustice and not the result of the normal political back-and-forth of any and every election battle. Taking such positions makes finding party unity all the more difficult.
The charges of sexism, raised by everyone in the Clinton campaign from Hillary on down, only reinforce such perceptions of deeply held grievance and lack of fairness in way the election has played out. It's a political tactic sure to generate passionate support but it comes with a great cost: the wrenching difficulty of finding unity when the campaign is over. Hillary supporters who feel she that she has not been fairly beaten by a superior political opponent and operation (or just beaten by the normal back and forth of any campaign) but instead beaten by a deeply prejudiced system that unfairly and unjustly manipulated the system in Obama's favor will make it exceedingly difficult for many of her supporters to come over to Obama.
And yet, even as the final primaries loom and the Clinton campaign faces more and more certain defeat you find that she is not willing to abandon the fight. It is post-rational madness.
I was struck by this blurb over at TPM about Hillary's approach to the final days of the primaries.
>Even if catching Obama in the delegate count is out of reach, there's no reason (from her point of view) for her not to press on and pad out her delegate numbers as best she can, both to make the loss look closer and to increase her own leverage to whatever degree she can.<
What strikes me from the above comment is the section: "...there's no reason (from her point of view) for her not to press on and pad our her delegate numbers as best she can..." I fail to see the logic in that sentiment. For a really long time now there has been no rational reason for her to stay in the race. She has long ago proven that she is a formidable candidate, that a woman can be president, that she would make a solid VP, that she is in a great position for 2012 if McCain wins. All that was clearly evident after Indiana and North Carolina and staying in the race longer has done nothing to bolster these arguments and will do nothing to bolster these arguments.
The thing that I can't fathom is that Hillary is not just an incredibly bright person; she is an amazingly astute politician...and part of a pair with Bill Clinton, of especially keen political minds who understand the nature power and politics.
It's clear she is ammassing political power and capital though for what possible end? Since the nomination is and has been out of her reach for some time (and I continue to believe she must know this and has known this also for some time) then for what possible reasons has she stayed in it?
Some of course will not accept my core premise: that she has known she can't win it for some time. I dismiss this out-of-hand and am uninterested in arguing with those about the possible scenarios for such an unlikely victory. She's too smart not to have gotten it. So why stay in and sow the seeds of party disunity and dysfunction? Why rile up her supporters with charges of sexism (by the media, by Obama)? Why press the case with Michigan and Florida in the most stark language of injustice and civil rights when everyone knew the outcome would not be in her favor?
To be sure some of her die-hard supporters will say she stays in "because she believes it!!!" But I also reject this out-of-hand. I think she is too smart and too crafty and has taken too many contradictory positions on such matters to be seen as a kind of modern day Joan of Arc. I see her high-minded arguments as pure poltiical expediency...and I mean that in a good way. I wouldn't mind the rhetoric and the contradictions if they came at a point in the race when one could expect a result that would deliver her the nomination. But that ship sailed long ago.
...And let's pause for a moment to note the irony here...that Obama, who has been consistently depicted as an empty suit, as politically naive and lacking the ability to play the hard-ball politics necessary to beat either the Republican or Clinton machines, has clearly outmaneuvered Hillary on almost every issue.
Having pressed her case beyond the point of reason and sown the seeds of party dysfunction and disunity the burden is now squarely on her to build unity and do what she can to deliver her supporters to Obama. Will she do it? And if so, as everyone in the chattering class seems to believe, then why hasn't she done it already? What is the point of fighting a clearly defined losing political battle all the way to the bitter, bitter end? What is left to prove? Finally, what does Clinton want?
OK...final note here...everyone in my family finally went back to bed. It's now 5:24am though and I am up for good it seems wired on several cups of java but with a pounding headache. Oy vey!