Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2008 / 14 Adar I 5768
Clinton faces two unpleasant alternatives at this critical moment in her campaign
By Dick Polman
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Now that her dreams of a Democratic coronation have been dashed, Hillary Rodham Clinton is left with only two options: Lose gracefully, or win ugly.
It's hard to envision the former. Losing gracefully is not in the Clinton DNA. So let's consider the latter, and the collateral damage that may ensue.
Realistically, the only way she can win the nomination is by flexing some old-school muscle, thereby infuriating millions of grass-roots Democrats who have long assumed that the stench of backroom deal-making had dissipated decades ago.
She is now trailing Barack Obama in the delegate count - a circumstance she and her aides never imagined would happen at this point in the calendar - and she won't erase that deficit unless she somehow pulls off landslide victories in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, expunging Obama's star power in the bargain. I'd sooner bet on Paris Hilton's winning an Oscar.
So her only option is to defeat Obama in the smoke-free rooms and risk plunging the Democratic Party into civil war.
Even her allies are glum about the prospect of winning at a strife-torn national convention, with thousands of young Obama fans screaming betrayal in the streets, with Obama delegates claiming that they had been disenfranchised in a power play every bit as odious as the Supreme Court's decision to award the 2000 election to George W. Bush.
Democrats don't want to talk about this openly, lest they give the media fresh ammunition for a "Democrats in disarray" story line, but those with long memories feel the fear. The last time they staged a disastrous convention - in 1980, when Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy battled it out in an ugly floor fight, with Kennedy trying to change the delegate rules at the eleventh hour - intramural bitterness lingered well into autumn, ticked-off liberals stayed home, and Ronald Reagan cruised to an easy victory.
This convention could be worse. Carter, at least, was the president in 1980, he had the upper hand, and his people organized the event. Imagine what the August convention in Denver will be like if there is no presumptive nominee to organize it. Somebody has to choose the speakers and vet the party message. What happens if two candidates come to Denver, staffs in tow, each wanting to run the show?
Maybe it won't come to that. Maybe Obama will win a breakthrough victory in Texas, Ohio or Pennsylvania, and convince fence-sitting superdelegates that his delegate lead is irreversible, and that his national lead in the popular vote (which currently stands at 50 to 46 percent) is safe. I wouldn't rule out this possibility, particularly since Obama has begun to poach on Clinton's demographic groups, winning over seniors and working-class voters in the most recent primaries.
But if she digs in and dogs his every step, staying a close second in the delegate count well into spring, then we'll have to ponder the superdelegates - and how they were intended as a counterweight to participatory democracy.
The party's leaders created them a quarter-century ago, because they thought the nomination process had become too democratic. They thought primary voters had too much power in choosing a nominee, so, in the spirit of checks and balances, they created some adult supervision. Or, in the words of former Democratic strategist Susan Estrich, they decided to empower the "white guys with cigars." They decreed that governors, members of Congress, mayors, national party members, various labor activists, and other inside players would have automatic delegate status, and that they need not feel bound by any primary results, in their states or anywhere else.
These people may well be called upon to put Clinton or Obama over the top. Clinton's strategy - and her people say this openly - is to draw on past loyalties and convince superdelegates that she deserves the nod on the basis of her experience and alleged electability, even if she trails Obama in pledged delegates and popular votes. Her public relations problem is obvious. The value of her nomination would be diminished if she attained it in defiance of the popular will.
She has another win-ugly option. She can crusade to have the Florida and Michigan delegates seated at the convention. This is real backroom stuff, so bear with me.
Those delegates are not supposed to be seated; the national party punished Florida and Michigan for staging their primaries in January, in violation of party rules. The primaries were meaningless, and Obama didn't bother to stump in either state. He even got his name removed from the Michigan ballot. Clinton did campaign, however, and finished first in the balloting. So now she wants to change rules after the fact and count those delegates in her column. This means that unless a deal is struck to have Michigan and Florida vote all over again, with both candidates campaigning on an equal footing (not likely), Clinton will try to change the delegate rules in the party's Credentials Committee.
Clinton would hardly be the first pol to fight for power in this manner; it's often an unpalatable process, akin to the making of sausage. I'm old enough to recall the stunt Hubert Humphrey pulled in 1972, when he lost the California primary, decided that he didn't like the "winner take all" delegate rules, and tried to change those rules after the fact so he could pick up delegates in proportion to his vote tally. In retaliation, the gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson labeled him "a treacherous, gutless ward heeler."
Clinton is similarly risking charges of treachery if she tries to erase Obama's edge with parliamentary maneuvers, and I wonder whether wavering superdelegates would tilt her way if she did so. Notwithstanding her ties to these insiders, it's also true - and often overlooked - that many are not blinded by love for the Clintons. Some are liberals who disliked Bill's centrist policies; others recall the campaign-finance scandal of 1996 and the Lewinsky scandal of 1998; others blame the Clintons for the conservative revolution that seized both congressional chambers. In short, many have been looking for a viable alternative candidate who would give them a valid reason to vote against Restoration.
But none of this is likely to deter Hillary Clinton, who undoubtedly subscribes to her husband's credo about the need to fight "until the last dog dies." The risk is that she could sour millions of grassroots voters, and the party's White House prospects could die in the process.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Dick Polman is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
01/24/08: If Hillary takes down black guy who embodies the black American dream, she will break the Democratic coalition