8/14/2008

The Clinton Convention Conundrum

Like a festering wound, Hillary Clinton continues to make news that complicates Barack Obama's convention plans. After a few weeks of wrangling and negotiating, Clinton and Obama finally reached a deal that would allow Clinton's name to be placed into nomination at the convention to ensure that "all 35 million people who participated in this historic primary election are respected and heard."

The significance of this deal is that it should provide Clinton's supporters an opportunity to reach a sense of closure. Hearing delegates proudly proclaim their support for Hillary Clinton at the convention in front of millions of viewers would indeed be a historical moment that would demonstrate an act of good faith on behalf of Obama and a forging of unity on the Democrats' highest stage.

Obama's hand was clearly forced by Clinton, as he most certainly wants the Clinton saga to be put to rest. So he accommodated Clinton to help the party move on. The sooner he brings the Obama vs. Clinton storyline to a conclusion, the more time he has to consolidate his base and ensure that the rivalry storyline stays out of the headlines. Unity is important, and Clinton's campaign should be commended. However, one has to wonder just how far Obama is willing to bend to satisfy a group of voters that he may ultimately never win over. Does this undermine his strength and resolve?

This begs the question of why Obama even owes her anything to begin with. Yes, she won 18 million votes. But some of these votes were from Republicans who were engaging in mischief, such as Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos." And many more of these votes likely came from voters who have since transitioned from Clinton to Obama simply because they accept him as their party's nominee. And others still may have voted for her and since regretted doing so because they were turned off by her antics. So even though Clinton may remain popular, perhaps her support is overestimated.

There are several scenarios that could result from this convention deal:

1. Clinton receives fewer delegate votes than she expects during the roll call vote and there is a decided lack of energy surrounding the moment, thus substantially weakening her and damaging her 2012 plans. One of the risks to Clinton is having her supporters be seen as making empty threats.

2. Clinton receives token support, thanks the voters for their dedication, and calls upon them to rally behind Obama. Her supporters grudgingly accept Obama as the nominee, everyone moves on, and talk of dissension and division gets buried. This is the scenario Obama is rightfully expecting to happen.

3. Clinton's supporters become vocal and make a scene at the convention. This would be met by boos from the larger Obama contingent, be plastered all over the airwaves, and lead to headlines of division among Democrats. This would undermine Obama, play right into Clinton's private wishes, and send John McCain into a state of jubilation.

Yes, there are undoubtedly ulterior motives at work. "Catharsis" and "unity" are not what really matters to Clinton, who is shrewdly playing both sides of the fence. Her goal is to win by losing, though neither she nor her supporters will ever say that in public. Clinton will be a good soldier and say all the right things about Obama and how she supports his campaign. This should placate Obama, who would very much like for her and her supporters to get in line behind him so everyone can move on. However, the static between them is palpable and her deeds speak far louder than any unequivocal endorsement she may make. She clearly has the power to silence the PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) wing of the Democratic Party, but she is allowing their demands to persist by feigning helplessness.

Clinton is secretly rooting for John McCain this November. She wants Obama to be humiliated so that she can run again in 2012 and capitalize on Democrats' buyer's remorse. However, this would assume that Democrats absolve Clinton of any responsibility for Obama's 2008 defeat and that they are willing to give the Clintons yet another chance. Should Obama lose, it will be difficult for another Democrat in 2012 to run on "change" again because even if voters want it, they will remember Obama's failed campaign and likely gravitate to a candidate who knows how to fight. Advantage Clinton.

And for Barack Obama, he is running the very real risk of having the loser of the primaries become the main story of his convention. Clinton's supporters' antics are threatening to push Obama off center stage and also relegate his actual running mate to a mere afterthought. That makes him look weak, not presidential. And it would greatly neutralize the bounce he will receive after the convention. John McCain could always take away Obama's bounce by announcing his running mate immediately after the convention, so it is imperative that Obama take full advantage of what is supposed to be his week. That is why he must definitively defuse this situation at the convention because there's not much time left anymore.

Clinton's supporters claim they want her name placed into nomination at the convention for the sake of "catharsis." However, Obama is not obligated to provide this for them. Hillary Clinton ran this campaign and Hillary Clinton lost this campaign. She did not lose because of racism, sexism, disenfranchising voters in Florida and Michigan, media bias, John Edwards, arcane caucus rules, or the inequitable primary calendar. She lost because she made too many mistakes, ran on the wrong message, and did not right her ship until it was too late.

Barack Obama has been more than accommodating since the primary season ended and has worked hard to earn their support. He has asked his fundraisers to help retire her debt, he has scheduled joint campaign appearances with her, and he held his tongue when Bill Clinton could not definitively say he was ready to be president. Obama is probably biting his tongue as these convention plans go forward, but he should ensure that this latest gesture of acquiescence puts the final bookend on the Clinton campaign. Any further nagging or demands from Hillary Clinton or her supporters should prompt Obama to call them out with an ultimatum--either hold your nose and support me or stop whining and vote for McCain. It's really that simple.

Barack Obama is the nominee of the Democratic Party. He needs to realize this, and Clinton's supporters need to accept this. It's his party, he needs to assert control over it, and her supporters should respect this. If Obama wants to be able to fully engage the Republicans, who will come at him relentlessly after Labor Day, he will need to have these other distractions out of the way, and permanently.

5 comment(s):

S.W. Anderson said...

I feel less certain than you seem to about Clinton's motives. However, the case you make is very sensible and persuasive.

This bit of pageantry to attain catharsis for HRC and her loyalists risks the criticism that if she wasn't a she, and a Clinton to boot, this exercise almost certainly wouldn't be on the convention agenda. I doubt HRC and her supporters have a very convincing response for that.

Should Obama lose this election without having made some major misstep — and without clear evidence of vote rigging or other election-stealing on the Republicans' part — the fallout will be devastating and the aftereffects are likely to damage the Democratic Party for a long time.

Whether the loss would be attributed to Clinton remains to be seen. But even if it wasn't, I don't see her or any Democrat benefiting.

Providing he doesn't lose because of a major mistake or some scandalous and true revelation, Obama should go right back after it in 2012. If that means another knock-down, drag-out brawl with Clinton, so be it.

There has been a bad trend in recent decades that Democratic candidates who don't make it either don't try again or wait an extremely long time before they do.

What was it, 1988 when Biden, Kerry and Gephardt first ran for president?

John Kennedy made a run in 1956 that failed before he won the nomination and then, barely, the election in 1960. I'm pretty sure that's the last time a nonincumbent Democrat has gone after it two cycles in a row.

I've wondered if Democrats would've been better off this year had John Kerry run again. I think if he had, and ran a campaign free of some of the mistakes that weakened his 2004 run, he could have been a very strong contender, one with a lot of appeal to voters feeling buyer's remorse about how things turned out because Bush and his corrupt band of lowlifes in high office got their votes last time.

And yes, I admit I could very well be the only one in the country who has had this thought.

Brett said...

Anthony, I like the Democratic Party, but this frankly disgusts me. You don't see the Republican losers, be they Giuliani, Romney, or Huckabee whining about the fact that they lost and that the voices of their supporters "aren't being heard" (even though they probably have even more to complain about than the PUMA folks, since the tripartite listed above effectively divided the staunch conservatives enough for McCain to win).

Democrats are just too bloody accommodationistic at times, something I think we've inherited from 1968 and subsequent events, where snubbing a vocal interest group led to very bad public rioting at a Democratic Convention. Democrats responded by becoming inclusive, trying to get everyone "heard", and it's haunted us ever since.

Personally, I think he should just ignore the PUMA people. I suspect that the actual fraction that will vote for McCain is slim; most Clinton followers actually care that a Democrat wins, period, and they aren't going to let mindless cult-like loyalty to get in the way of that in the voting booth.

Anthony Palmer said...

Brett,

You make a good point about Republicans not whining like the PUMAs are, but I would disagree with you because of one group: evangelical Christians. If McCain chooses a pro-choice running mate like Tom Ridge, I suspect there would be a riot at the convention because the Republicans pride themselves on an order of succession. McCain would probably only serve one term, so that would mean Ridge would be next in line for the top job in 2012.

But I agree with your larger point. Identity politics may have helped the Democrats score big with certain segments of the electorate, but they may also cause the party to lose its third straight presidential election.

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SWA,

I think Democrats only get one shot because they have been so unsuccessful as of late at winning the presidency that they are looking for someone who can win on the first try. It's as if experience running a national campaign doesn't matter so much. Gore and Kerry both could win in 2008, but they've been branded as retreads and losers. Buyer's remorse is an easy thing to capitalize on, so I don't see why they are so afraid. Either Gore or Kerry would take the inexperience, exoticism, false Muslim rumors, and celebrity candidate weapons off the table. And if voters had a choice between a third Bush term and a third Clinton term (with Gore), the choice should be obvious.

I think of all the Democratic candidates in the race this year (aside from Kucinich and Gravel), Obama has the greatest chance of blowing this election.

Brett said...

Re-treads have just gotten really hard for Democrats, since the New Media more or less chews them up and spits them out when they make a run (like it did with Gore and Kerry, the latter particularly).

In a way, this would be another bad thing for the PUMAs. Considering how re-treads in the Democratic Party have failed as of late, why do they think Hillary in 2012 would have such a good chance against an incumbent John McCain?

S.W. Anderson said...

Brett wrote, ". . .why do they think Hillary in 2012 would have such a good chance against an incumbent John McCain?"

Excellent question.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.