The Dartmouth Observer

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Can the Democratic party afford a Clinton victory?

Pragmatism is the philosophical calling card of most Clinton supporters. Citing her “35 years of experience in politics” her fans claims that her style and tactics will allow her to pass sweeping progressive legislation over the defiance of Republican Senators who, we can say with confidence, will dig their heels in against a Clinton White house. These same pragmatists downplay Clinton’s inability to work with her own party in the early years of the Clinton administration to pass universal healthcare. She has, they say, “learned her lesson” and the evidence they cite are her statements in the Democratic primary debates pledging undying support for Barack Obama where he to be the Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party

Yet can anyone who saw Clinton’s pyrrhic victories in Texas and Ohio believe that anything has changed since the healthcare fights of the early 90s? The exit polls indicate that Clinton's margins of victory were assured by a series of negative campaign ads, the now infamous red phone ad, and legitimate mistakes by the Obama campaign regarding the mini-scandal re: NAFTA and the Canadian government. It took nearly three months of negative campaigning combined with false congeniality during debates for Clinton to maneuver a kernel of fear into an electorate suffused with hope for “change.” Yet if she does not capture the party's nomination (why she must not below) she not only deligitimizes her requisite support for Barack as typical Clinton doublespeak, she has handed the Republicans a playbook on Obama when only a few weeks earlier right wing strategists were ringing their hands wondering how they would go negative against "hope" and "change."

And to what end? With a sudden increase in super delegates and a likely victory in the Texas delegate count, Barack Obama maintains a nearly insurmountable lead in both the combined and pledged delegate tallys. Upcoming Obama victories in Wyoming and Mississippi assure, that lead will continue to grow until Pennsylvania where Clinton may be able to win by another ten points. But because fewer and fewer Democratic voters are up for grabs it seems impossible for Clinton to enter the August Convention with a lead in pledged delegates. Clinton supporters please stop citing Bill Clinton's clinching of the nomination in June of '92, we all know this is a vastly different contest. In 2008, the Clinton pragmatists are going to have to engage in the kind of political self reflection that seems impossible for their candidate, and ask themselves. How can Clinton broker a superdelegate victory at the convention without exploding the Democratic party’s existing coalition and sacrificing the party’s chances of taking the white house?

New Voters: The failures of the Bush Administration and the ease with which those failures can be linked to the economic tidings of most Americans has energized a set of voters to take notice of the electoral process who otherwise would not. New voters are a complex coalition all their own, and while most vote for Obama, not all do. However, what does unify them is a sense that politics is naturally "unfair" and "corrupted." Whether these charges are true they provide intellectual justification for voter apathy and give these voters an "easy out" when politics proves just how corrupt it is. The problem for the Democrats is a superdelegate decided nomination is just the out these voters need and the electoal map is such that it does not matter how energized people in Ohio, New York and PA are about the Democratic party, the Republicans are electoral college incumbents in too many states to take for granted.

Southern Swing States: If the democrats are going to pull places like Mississippi, Virginia and Missouri they are going to need an active and energized African American base. And in a world where Hillary Clinton wins the nomination via pledged delegates, you probably could count on them. But in a world where the nomination is decided by superdelegates in the wake of a primary season where African Americans participated in record numbers you risk alienating huge chunks of that constituency. Though Clinton supporters can’t seem to fathom it, the last two Presidential elections have begun a serious narrative in the African American community about political disfranchisement in Florida and Ohio and the futlity of participation in the electoral process. If the Democratic party engages in a leftwing version of the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore (which is how the media will portray such a decision, Chris Matthews began that narrative last night) African Americans will, quite simply, not show up.

Women: Clinton's only hope. If Clinton is awarded the win by superdelegates (in a decidedly unfeminist way as it would not be democratic) her only prayer is to ratchet up the pressure on women to support her. However she has a bit of a problem. Her majorities among women in the Democratc primary are slim compared to Obama's majorities among African Americans. Conservative women take it as a point of pride to not like her as her version of empowerment has little to do with their lives. Ironically, Clinton will most likely capture the youth white women vote in November and if she can turn that vote out, she has a chance. It's a much smaller coalition and, as always, relies upon Republicans not showing up for John McCain for her to be victorious. Either way one thing is clear. The last few days before the 2nd super Tuesday reveal that when asked whether she wants the Democrats to win more than she wants to be President, Clinton responded in a way unsurprising to her detractors.