Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama Wins... What Now, Clinton?

Well, last night Barack Obama got the endorsement of nearly 70 superdelegates, bringing him a net gain in excess of fifty votes at the Democratic convention in Denver... leaving aside the delegates he won in South Dakota and Montana.

Now not only is Obama over the halfway point under the current rules (which, as of Saturday, sat Michigan's proposed 69-59 Clinton-Obama delegate split with half a vote each, and Florida's delegates as voted ditto), but he's only about fifty delegates shy of taking a majority of delegates even by Clinton math- the 2,208 delegates which Bill Clinton has been preaching the past month or so.

More to the point, even if every single superdelegate still not endorsing went to Clinton, she cannot surpass Obama. Hillary Clinton has, once and for all, lost the nomination fight.

Unfortunately, judging by her speech last night and by her actions earlier in the day, Hillary has not given up the fight.

Now, let's bear in mind that Hillary Clinton, by all odds and expectations prior to January, should have won this election. This process- especially with Obama's relative weakness over the past two months as he tried to switch to a general election campaign- was not so much won by him as thrown away by the Clintons. Both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News have given reasons for this which I agree with in part. My personal summation of the Clinton failures:

1. Mark Penn. This election has demonstrated that having Mark Penn as your political campaign's senior advisor is like having Barney Fife as head of security at your company. Penn abused his fellow workers, bounced the campaign from one message to another like a four-handed man playing ping-pong solitaire, and made grievous strategic errors (like believing the Democratic delegate race was winner-take-all). Once the Clintons fired Penn their campaign finally straightened out and ran well... but by that time it was entirely too late, because...

2. Failure to contest states. Obama was able to win Super Tuesday's delegate count because he actively contested every one of those states except Oklahoma (where he came in third behind a man who had dropped out of the race). The Clintons, however, focused their attentions on the big states- New York, New Jersey, California- and generally ignored the smaller states. They went on to challenge only Virginia and Wisconsin out of the eleven contests between Super Tuesday and Ohio-Texas-Rhode Island-Vermont Tuesday, allowing Obama to run up the pledged delegate lead. After that point all Obama had to do was split the remaining delegates 50/50, and that's just about all he did. Obama won because the Clintons yielded ground to him they shouldn't have.

3. Race-baiting. Yes, Bill Clinton, that notable loose cannon, started it, but Hillary Clinton continued it, always appealing to "hard-working white voters." The decision was made early on- possibly even before Bill Clinton started belittling Obama as being just another ethnic candidate with limited appeal- to abandon the black vote to Obama in exchange for a boost in support from racist whites. Not only did this decision cost them entire states, but it gave Obama a much more unified bloc of voters than Clinton could claim in any other demographic- which, in turn, gave Obama more delegates.

4. The message. Hillary Clinton campaigned as the experienced candidate, the long-time Washington insider, and the inevitable nominee- essentially, as Bloomberg and other sources point out, the 2000 George W. Bush strategy. Only with the departure of Mark Penn did these messages get chucked out the window in favor of the populism and, let's be honest, naked demagoguery that the Clintons do best.

Which leads to the final, and most fundamental, reason Hillary lost the nomination:

5. Bill Clinton. Bill brought Mark Penn into the race. Bill took charge of the South Carolina fight. Bill Clinton, on the campaign stump, spoke as if he was running for his own third term. Most important, by claiming experience as First Lady during Bill's Presidency, Hillary also perforce took the blame for the many errors and scandals of that era. In the end Bill was relegated to rural speaking, where he could appeal to the only demographic that still approved of him: white, rural, poor, uneducated people over 50. Bill Clinton was little short of a disaster for his wife's campaign; the best thing she could have done was keep him out speaking in other nations for his foundation, well away from politics.

More to the point, although many Democratic voters have fond memories of the Clinton years, most Democratic officials do not. Bill Clinton presided over a long-term crippling of his own party- in no small part due to his insistence on abandoning states entirely if they could not be won for the Democratic presidential ticket. The term "Clintonism" brings to mind lying, corruption, irresponsibility, slash-and-burn politics, and betrayal- nothing positive. As Chuck Todd points out:

Think about this fact. Since February 5, [Hillary] secured fewer than 40 superdelegate endorsements... 40! No matter what the polls said or what her margins of victory were in Ohio or Pennsylvania or West Virginia, the party leaders would not allow themselves to be swayed away from Obama. Perhaps the Clinton hold on the party was gone a lot sooner than some of us in the media realized. These folks were simply looking for an excuse to dump the Clintons. The inability to prevent Howard Dean from taking over the DNC or the Dems taking back Congress without the leadership of the Clintons may have been more significant in telling the story of how the Democrats kicked their Clinton habit. This may be Barack Obama's party now. But this ceased being the Clintons' party a long time ago. However, we only noticed this now.

So now we know why Hillary lost.

But now the question is: why hasn't Hillary admitted she has lost?

Let's look at the speech she gave last night, just after South Dakota was called for her. She claimed she got the most popular votes; she made repeated accusations, veiled but present, that Obama would be an illegitimate nominee; she left her fate up to her supporters, who at the time were chanting, "Denver! Denver! Denver!" She deliberately does not recognize Obama as having won the nomination; she explicitly does not concede the nomination fight.

Yet, before and after the speech, she has made it plain that she would accept the vice-presidential spot under Obama, should it be offered.

This is an obvious setup for an extortion ploy: give me what I want, or I will ensure that you lose in November.

And what does Hillary want?

First and foremost, the VP slot. She wants to be next in line should something happen to Obama, and she wants to be the apparent successor in 2012 or 2016.

This alone, however, will not be sufficient. I foresee she will make other demands in private and public:

* The lead role in the Denver convention. She wants to be the star of the convention- over and above Obama. The least she'll accept here is the presentation of a co-presidency, with she and Obama holding equal power.

* Her healthcare plan, with individual mandates, to become part of Obama's platform.

* Clinton supporters to dominate Obama's cabinet.

* Use of the Obama donor network to pay off Clinton's campaign debts and to repay the money she's loaned herself.

And, she will argue, if she does not get all of these things, she'll continue the fight to Denver or possibly beyond, sabotaging Democratic chances in November and throwing the Presidency to McCain.

If Obama gives in, the result will be worse than Cheney; Hillary Clinton will, in all respects but title, be the President. This is, of course, unacceptable, not merely because it's a Clinton asking it, but because no presidential candidate can give in to such naked extortion and appear strong at the same time. If Obama gives Clinton what she wants- indeed, in my opinion if he gives her ANYTHING- he will indeed appear to be appeasing her, as his Republican opponents claim he seeks to appease terrorist regimes.

Hillary has apparently made a decision to get everything she can for herself, and to hell with the Democratic Party. Now, in the next few days, we get to see who blinks first- does Obama give in to Clinton blackmail, or does the Democratic Party finally, at long, long last, tell its two problem children to take a hike?

No comments: