The Green Papers Commentary

Barack Obama takes the Democratic nomination
while Hillary Clinton weighs her future

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff

In the end, it was all so anticlimactic.

Numbers of "superdelegates" going over to Senator Obama kept increasing incrementally throughout the two days immediately following Senator Clinton's having won Puerto Rico and, the day before that (and actually having even more of an impact upon the Democrats' presidential nomination battle), the at least partial- and, perhaps, even merely temporary- resolution of the dispute involving the seating of Democratic National Convention delegations from Florida and Michigan... especially on the day of the Montana and South Dakota Presidential Primaries themselves!

By the time Senator Clinton was seen as having won in South Dakota (something of a "last salvo" across Obama's "bow"), it was already pretty much all over and the "shouting" one (figuratively) heard about the Land was not only the cheering of those who most strongly supported Obama's nomination for President but also the loud wailing and lamentation of Clinton's own supporters as the reality began to so strongly dawn on them that there was no longer anything Mrs. Clinton could now do to stop what was suddenly so inevitable.

Obama's winning in Montana was what made the evening so anticlimactic because it appeared he had already wrapped up his Party's Big Prize without even needing a single vote in 'Big Sky Country', although his winning what was, if only based on poll closing time, the very last Presidential Primary of this presidential election cycle provided a nice little "bow" to be placed atop the "ribbon" on his having enough delegates committed to him so as to allow him to publicly claim his Party's nomination during a rally in St. Paul, Minnesota (in the very same venue where Obama's new principal rival for the Presidency, Senator John McCain, will be accepting his Party's nomination in but three months).

It was actually all very numerological: on the 3d day of June, Barack Obama clinched a presidential nomination that no one really thought he could win until, back on the 3d day of January, he had come in first in the Iowa Caucuses... but his work is certainly not over as, on the 3d day of September next (should the usual schedule during the "normal" 4-day National Convention holds true), McCain will be formally nominated for the same High Office by the Republicans. Whatever sparring- or, at least (potentially) "Town Hall" type gatherings-become-debates- might occur between the two nominees-presumptive before then, it will only be once McCain has officially been nominated (a week after Obama himself will be in Denver) that the General Election contest will truly be joined in earnest.

As for Obama's now-former principal rival for the Nation's Highest Office (as, obviously, first one has to be nominated before one can then try and actually win the White House in the General Election), Senator Hillary Clinton: she will now have to figure out what to do next in relation to the man who is now the presumptive presidential nominee of her Party.

As Obama spoke in St. Paul, my mind immediately flashed back to another June day in St. Paul 24 years ago, when former Vice President Walter F. "Fritz" Mondale held a press conference in that very same city to announce that he, too, had enough National Convention delegates to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mondale's circumstances, however, were altogether different:

Some three months earlier, while then-Senator Gary Hart of Colorado was hard-pressing Mondale in the earliest Primaries back in 1984 (in particular, Hart had bested Mondale in New Hampshire's First-in-the-Nation Primaries at the end of February), the former Vice President snapped- in what can only be described as the quintessential "fit of pique"- that, despite Hart's successes, he- Walter Mondale- still fully expected to be holding a press conference in St. Paul the day after the last Presidential Primary in which he would be claiming having clinched the nomination.

Thus, Mondale's press conference that June day in 1984- one which he had to hold, whether he had actually clinched the nomination or not!

In fact, to this day, many historians of Presidential Elections opine that Mondale might not necessarily have had enough delegates to have actually clinched by then: certainly Senator Hart himself was quite skeptical, telling reporters- at a press conference of his own that very same day- "Welcome to Overtime!" However, it really didn't match matter whether or not the math completely added up, for- back in '84- there was a third contender still, if only technically by the end, in the Democratic presidential nomination race- a Black man: the Reverend Jesse Jackson; Gary Hart was far enough behind Mondale, and the odds that Hart and Jackson could ever come together in order to pool their delegates in an attempt to deny Mondale victory on the First Ballot were slim indeed (and- oh, yeah!- there was this 'something new' the Democrats were using that year called the "superdelegate"), that there was little doubt, come the end of that year's Primary/Caucus "season", that- whether the math made sense or no- Mondale would, in fact, be the presidential nominee.

As for Senator Hart, he would become painted- in at least some quarters of the Political Punditry- as, more or less, something of a "whiner" as he continued to insist that, no, Mondale had not really won yet.

Hillary Clinton now has to decide whether or not she wishes to be the "Gary Hart" of 2008.

Her own speech on the evening of the final day of Presidential Primaries, at Baruch College in New York City, held many hints of a willingness to help Senator Obama unite the Party behind him, yet much of what she said still reflected the defiance that had come to characterize much of her campaign rhetoric ever since she found herself- one has to assume most unexpectedly, at least at first- always coming from behind. She took a potshot at the mainstream media (which many among her supporters feel had been unfair to the New York Senator and former First Lady throughout the Primary/Caucus "season") and even made a reference to how many pundits said the race was over back on the very day after Iowa's Caucuses (a claim I found altogether curious, since I myself don't remember any political analyst who has had even minimal credibility saying or writing such a thing back on 4, or 5, or even 6 January [though, just in case, I took a quick look at my own Commentary of 6 January just now to make sure *I* hadn't claimed such a thing!-- I had not (in fact, the subtitle of that piece specifically referenced "what we are only beginning to learn" as a result of what had happened in Iowa re: both Major Parties, indicating that *I* certainly didn't think either presidential nomination had been at all settled going into New Hampshire)])...


So now the obvious question begs of an answer: can the Democratic Party US now unite around Barack Obama?

Short answer: Yes... at least generally.

Yes, 'tis true that many Democratic Party insiders more favoring Clinton's nomination over Obama's- as well as many Clinton campaign operatives- have argued that the nomination contest itself (perhaps exacerbated by the un-Solomonic "split the baby down the middle" decision by the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee on Florida and Michigan [especially Michigan which was, in a sense, a "double cutting in half"]) has made it quite difficult to reunite the Party around their new nominee-presumptive.

There is, however, the following political dictum:

Political insiders do not unify Parties, the rank-and-file of the Party does.

And most of the rank-and-file within today's Democratic Party will, once the wounds of this nomination battle have finally healed (there being plenty of time for them to so heal between now and the National Convention in Denver [the '08 Democrats, by the way, should be most grateful that their Convention is not coming along as early in the Summer as John Kerry's- or, for that matter, George McGovern's- had!]), come around to support their Party's apparent presidential nominee.


Because, in the main, this nomination fight on the Democratic side was much more a clash of personalities and not at all a real clash of ideologies. This nomination battle was, therefore, far different from one in which, say, a pro-Iraq War Democrat (say, someone having the viewpoint of Independent Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who has supported McCain's bid for the Presidency) was squaring off against a hotly anti-Iraq War rival throughout most of the nominating process.

In many respects, it more resembled the sparring, in the Presidential Primaries 40 years ago, between the two leading anti-Vietnam War contenders for that year's Democratic presidential nomination- Senators Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy; and the key difference between 1968 and 2008 (besides the fact that there were far fewer Presidential Primaries back then, thus most of the delegates were being chosen in procedures that most benefited the Democratic "regulars" who remained loyal to President Lyndon Johnson [despite the incumbent's having withdrawn his candidacy for re-election], hence RFK and McCarthy had to square off in Primaries in their own fight for the hearts and minds of the anti-war wing of the Party) is that the anti-war wing of '68 never ever gained enough National Convention delegates to wrest control from those who would eventually nominate LBJ's Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, even had said wing been united behind one man or the other (here discounting, of course, the tragic assassination of Bobby Kennedy prior to the Convention itself).

In this case- that is, 2008- you had two viable presidential contenders ending up, very early in the Primary/Caucus process (one in which, unlike back in 1968, Presidential Primaries predominated), being the last two still standing and then forced to duke it out until one gained the majority, if only because neither could- to use Senator Clinton's own words- "close the deal" until the very end. What caused this complication was the fact that each contender represented a different, but long-held, Democratic Party dream of being the first Major Party to nominate a woman for the Presidency and being the first Major Party to nominate an African-American for the Presidency. It was as if the average Democrat were being presented with two of his or her favorite desserts but could, after that particular dinner, choose only one and delayed a final choice from the dessert menu until the last possible moment!

In other words, no matter who ultimately won the nomination, one of these dreams would remain a dream deferred.

But what, one might legitimately ask, about all those people in- for instance- Kentucky and West Virginia who voted for Senator Clinton in their States' respective Primaries and, upon being "exit polled", stated emphatically that they would not vote for Obama come November (some of them even saying that they would not vote for him, not only because of his policies, but because of the mere fact that he is Black!)?

Well.. most of these are lost to the Democrats in any event.

Indeed, the essential flaw in Senator Clinton's argument to the "superdelegates" she still- at least up till the evening of 3 June itself- hoped she could persuade to endorse her so that her hopes for the nomination could yet remain alive, that she could win States such as these because she could win the majority of Primary voters in those States, is in the reality that many of those who would not vote for Obama in November (whether or not his race might have anything more to do with it than his political views per se) would also not vote for Clinton herself come the General Election (whether or not her gender be a factor in such a decision). Given a choice between Clinton and Obama, voters such as these, yes, preferred Clinton; but, given a choice between Clinton and McCain, they would more likely prefer McCain to her no less than they will now more likely prefer McCain over Obama.

No... if I were the Obama campaign, I would worry far more about the White voter who so enthusiastically tells pollsters that Obama's race will have absolutely no effect on his vote this Fall and then votes against Obama in the privacy of the voting booth precisely because Obama is Black than the anti-Obama voters of Kentucky and West Virginia- and, for that matter, other States in otherwise (dare I use this term?) "Red State" America (all due apologies to Senator Obama: I know he doesn't at all like the 'Red States vs. Blue States' concept- truth be told, neither do I [then again, I also don't happen to like the concept of Conservative vs. Liberal- in general, yes; but especially when applied to judicial decisions] but it provides me with a convenient shorthand which better allows me to here make my point)- who have so vehemently stated for whom they would not vote in five months time.

Instead, though, I fully expect the average Democrat- wherever he or she might reside- to, absent something totally unforeseen between now and 4 November, eventually come around to vote for the Democratic nominee and the average Republican- likewise regardless of residence, not also to mention ideology- to support the Republican presidential candidate; the relatively few "strays" from their "home Party" either way will not alone determine the outcome. As usual, the real battle will be over the Center, rather than either Right or Left, and- as an essential part of this larger contest- over those moderate, truly Independent voters not fully committed to either Major Party (that notorious band of inveterate "ticket-splitter"s) who almost always end up being the "balance of decision" in a relatively close American Presidential Election.

Thus, Senator McCain, in his own 3 June speech outside of New Orleans, was right to refer to Senator Obama as "a formidable opponent". As for the Democrats, let me here remind them that John McCain- a genuine military hero and one of the better stories to come out of the domestically divisive war that the Vietnam Conflict was- is, likewise, formidable.

It's been a long five months of nominating process up till this point... another long five months of electioneering yet awaits!


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