Two months ago, as I type this piece, Hillary Clinton's campaign was still reeling from her third-place showing in the Iowa Caucuses (coupled with Barack Obama's "win" there); in fact, it was on the 7th of January that she had her now-famous emotion-filled "moment" at the Cafe Espresso in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The next day, she won in New Hampshire (albeit not by very much-- a very good foreshadowing, as it turns out, of how the Democratic presidential nomination race would actually transpire, as the surviving contenders would consistently play the 'Push me- Pull you' game of "I'll win, but you'll still get lots of delegates", thanks to the Democrats' system of always distributing pledged delegates proportionally).
One month ago, as I type this piece, the dust was still settling from 'Super Duper' Tuesday on the Democratic side and, while Hillary Clinton was still seen as the contender to beat in order to win the nomination, Barack Obama had more than well held his own to stay in the fight and, instead of all those 20-something Primaries and Caucuses that day determining a clear favorite for the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nomination (even if the nomination had yet to be mathematically clinched), we had a race for the Prize going on.
Then came "Barack Obama's month" (in some ways, at least, eerily reminiscent of "John McCain's month" on the Republican side- no, not this year, but eight years ago, when McCain so strongly challenged then-Texas Governor George W. Bush, doing so hard enough to create at least some uncertainty as to whether Bush, so clearly the otherwise likely GOP nominee in 2000, could actually win his Party's nomination: but McCain never had the streak of Primary and Caucus victories in a row that Obama had! [and, in retrospect, while McCain generally had a good February 2000, that was also very the same month in which he "tripped up" in South Carolina, an event that allowed "reality" to have set in by early March, allowing 'Dub-ya' to, rather easily, go on to the nomination and, of course [though not at all so easily!], the Presidency).
But now, here we are, looking over the political detritus left over from 'Super Tuesday II' and it seems as if nothing at all had really happened, on the Democratic side, in the preceding four weeks!
Nearly a year ago now, I wrote the following, in a Commentary of mine, that while it appears the conventional wisdom amongst political pundits is that having so many National Convention delegates already pledged to given contenders for a Party's presidential nomination so early in the game will mean that the contest for each Party's nomination will, for all intents and purposes, be "all over but for the shouting" by Thursday morning 7 February when, so these pundits opine, each Major Party's nominee-presumptive will be holding their own separate press conferences appealing to Party unity...
but *I* beg to differ!
While that scenario, in both Major Parties, is, indeed, rather probable: it is also nearly as likely that two (or, perhaps, even more) presidential contenders in at least one (if not both) Major Parties will emerge, each- as we move toward the end of that first full week in February- still well short of "clinching" their Party's nomination via having, already, a majority of the pledged National Convention delegates (or being so very close thereto), and each still close to one another in terms of pledged delegates while having rather few delegates (via an ever-sparser number of remaining Primaries and/or Caucuses) to fight over all the way to their respective National Conventions (which, it should be noted, are- it so happens- going to be held rather "late" next year, as compared to the "usual" dates for National Conventions historically).
Thus, I then further noted that, should the above scenario actually take place (as it, indeed, has seemed to on the Democratic Party's side of things), the smoke would then clear after this new "Super Duper Tuesday" next Winter and we might well be seeing but the start of a 6 1/2 month-long "junkyard dog fight" for a presidential nomination and the relatively few delegates left to be pledged will thereafter be the limited amount of "meat" left on a rather desirable "bone".
And so, here in early March, as regards the Democratic presidential nomination race, the sun is already setting, the gates on the "junkyard" are about to be closed and locked and the "dogs" inside will, thereby, be left to their own devices for the ensuing night.
No matter Barack Obama's currently holding onto his pledged delegate lead over Hillary Clinton, despite her 3 out of 4 wins this past Tuesday: she's baa-ack! But Wyoming's Caucuses this weekend and Mississippi's Primary next Tuesday are alone not going to sort out the ultimate outcome of this contest. We are now, as I opined we would be earlier this week, in the early days of what is- more or less- a sabbatical (literally, a period of a week of weeks) in the Democratic presidential nomination campaign leading us into the Pennsylvania Primary on Tuesday 22 April which becomes, by default, the next significant "piece of meat" on that "bone" over which the "junkyard dogs" must fight.
The obvious question is "Why?"--
and the obvious answer is: John McCain, who has now sewn up his position as the person who will be the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
Senator McCain is the one GOP presidential contender, out of all who ran for that Party's nomination, who can most likely peel moderates and independents away from the grasp of the Democrats come this November. This is why I was rather amused by all the consternation amongst many conservative politicians, pundits and talk show hosts about how McCain wasn't conservative enough to inherit the mantle of some amorphous, not-completely-definable mass called "the Reagan coalition": even now, in the wake of McCain's becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, these same "usual suspects" are "hoping" that McCain can put together again this "Reagan coalition" which, or so they consistently like to point out, "was a key to recent Republican electoral successes"-- and, yes, they're correct!-- but only if we're holding the 1984, or 1988, Presidential Election this year. However, I now look up at the calendar tacked to the wall and looming right above the computer screen into which I am now staring as I type these very words and, or so it appears, it is actually 2008.
Fear not, ye in the world of conservative Republican punditry! For you are not at all alone in your Foolhardiness: after all, your opponents, the liberal Democrats, have lost their fair share of national elections thinking that, somehow, the "New Deal coalition" of the 1930s could be translated, whole cloth without alterations, into similar political victory a generation, or even two generations, later. The failure of those who look back too often for all the keys to the future is that they so often forget just how many times the Earth has revolved upon its axis since the "days of Glory" to which they now, yet once more, hearken.
No, Senator McCain is- and always was (even when his campaign looked "dead in the water" a mere half a year back)- the best hope for Republicans in an election that is, despite the outcry of said conservative punditry, the Democrats' to lose. There is a highly unpopular Republican President in the White House (unpopular even among many Republicans!) and, while the Iraq War has- if only for the time being- simmered down somewhat (though it can never be completely out of mind, of course) as topmost issue of the day, a stumbling Economy- along with the concomitant concerns of ordinary Americans, Republican as well as Democrat, conservative as well as liberal- has now come to the fore as an issue dogging the Bush Administration (forcing that Administration into the rather unconservative position of raiding the public Treasury in order to engage in some "robbing Peter to pay Paul", frankly insignificant, redistribution of funds to the general populace; calling it "the People's money anyway" doesn't change the fact that Economic Stimulus smacks of something out of the world of Walter Heller, President Kennedy's chief economic adviser: they sure ain't makin' Barry Goldwater's conservative Republicans any more! [;-)]).
Point is: a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican- one who would be the darling of the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs, et al. of the world- would not have been able to "escape from Ideology" enough to win the Presidency this time round (unless, of course, the Democratic presidential nominee were also just as, if not more, unable to do so). But Senator McCain is maverick enough (without being too maverick) and independent-minded enough to, at least potentially, do just that! And the only good news for those who insist on Principle alone is that, when they do die by such Principle, the Principle itself does not necessarily have to die with them [;-)].
But Principle itself cannot govern a large Federal Union such as the United States of America, nor can it lead it: after all, a conservative Christian President would still have to be the President of America's homosexuals, like it or not; a liberal enviromentalist President would still have to "faithfully execute" laws under which large energy corporations- and the banks that financially fuel them- operate, despite his or her deepest convictions. In order to win the Presidency, then, it is- as is the case in Chess- mostly, if not all, about controlling the center of the board between Opening and Endgame; in order to, having so won, thereafter govern, a President has to convince those who otherwise would not agree with him or her that this is the best governmental policy that can be implemented to deal with the given situation at hand. Talk show host Sean Hannity's claim that we are what he calls a "center-right" country is only partially correct: no, Mr. Hannity, we are a "centrist" country- neither Right nor Left; it is just that the "center" wobbles right or left of the midline in national election after national election. You can classify the constituent States of this American Union (plus the District of Columbia, which also has the privilege of voting in Presidential Elections) as "center-right" or "center-left"- or even "Right" or "Left"- and, while these, too, change over time, their respective tops generally spin noticeably slower than that at the Nationwide level. Because of this, a principled "hard-core" conservative President will have a rather hard time convincing even moderates to go along with much of his political program should he remain nothing but "principled"; on the other hand, a possibly President McCain (if his congressional career- in both chambers- be any even halfway decent indicator) would be far more likely to succeed in reaching out to those who, on most issues other than the one at hand, might so strongly disagree with him.
Conservatives (especially those within the punditry who have had a difficult time reconciling themselves to John McCain being their Party's nominee) like to cite Ronald Reagan as the very conservative who "never deviated from principle" in order to win two terms by landslides each time and generally govern effectively throughout (to the end that he left office with the highest popularity rating of any President since they have been tracking such things). "Never deviated from principle"??!! Take a good look at the 1980 and 1984 Republican platform and tell me just how much of it was actually implemented! For instance, isn't it wonderful, ye conservatives, that there is no longer a Federal Secretary of Education?-- oh-- wait a minute-- two decades after Reagan left office, there still is-- sorry-- my mistake! [;-)] And, by the way, what are Reagan conservatives to really make of a conservative Republican President George W. Bush having utilized that very Department of Education to advance his "No Child Left Behind" program?
And, of course, ever since Abortion has, long ago, become illegal nationwide... oh... yeah... that's right [;-)]
Yes, indeed- as Mr. Dylan himself once told all of us- "the times they are a-changin'" and woe unto those who fail to so realize this!
No, instead, Ronald Reagan and his closest circle of advisors and supporters very well understood that about which I wrote a mere few paragraphs back. Reagan grasped for just about as much "conservative principle" as he could get out of a Republican Senate and a Democratic House of Representatives during his first two years or so in office but, going into the 1984 Presidential Election, the "Great Communicator" very well knew just which side of his political bread was actually the better buttered (put another way, he well knew just which parts of his "Reagan coalition" he had to "stroke" more than other parts in order to gain a second term). Reagan won re-election precisely because he successfully seized the "center of the board" from Walter Mondale (and, thereby, was able to portray Mondale as. more or less, the "second coming" of George McGovern [as much as the Jimmy Carter Reagan had defeated four years before] and, judging from a cursory comparison of the Electoral Vote maps of 1972 and 1984-- hmmm: the Democratic presidential candidate winning only one State besides D.C.-- that portrait seems to have actually worked!)-- it was, of course, no accident that, for instance, controversial Secretary of the Interior James Watt was "on the outs" a year before the 1984 November election and there was no lack of political calculation when President Reagan took his rather high-strung (in terms of insistence on strict conservative principle, that is) Management and Budget Director, David Stockman, to the proverbial "woodshed".
I would have to presume (again, based on McCain's own political history) that Senator McCain and his campaign very well understand the exact same thing!
McCain as GOP presidential nominee, meanwhile, now has the Democratic Party US in a veritable snit! For the question is no longer merely "who is the best presidential nominee the Democrats can put forth for the purposes of advancing the Party's own agenda?" (This is something a Party can only do well when victory in the General Election is at least a decent "given"). The bigger question now is: who can best beat John McCain? Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? The first woman to be nominated for the Presidency by a Major Party or the first African-American to do so? The former First Lady who evokes positive images of Bill Clinton's Presidency amongst those Democrats still as misty-eyed in their own nostalgia for those times as much of conservative punditry is for the Reagan era or the Senator from the Land of Lincoln who shares Lincoln's physique but also JFK's oxymoronic 'common touch' erudition? the candidate who "when they came at her with a 2 by 4, will hit them back with a 4 by 8" (to quote what Clinton's New York colleague, Senator Chuck Schumer, said about her at a campaign rally) or the candidate who, despite being Black, can yet appeal to whites in Middle America precisely because his own mother was one of them?
Putting all these questions into a simple (and, hopefully, not too oversimplified) form: just which surviving Democratic presidential contender can offset McCain's potential advantages among those who are not hard-core pro-Republican but, at the same time, are not at all so strongly committed to voting for the Democratic national ticket either come Tuesday 4 November this year?
Rank and file Democrats seem not yet all that really sure (as neither seem to be the "superdelegates"), thus the "split decisions" we've been seeing on the Democratic side for two months now--
and so the Democratic presidential nomination contest will go on for at least another nearly seven weeks!
As I wrote, at the end of that very same 2 April 2007 Commentary from which I quoted myself earlier in this piece:
[A]t least it will be most interesting...
though largely in the sense of that allegedly Chinese curse "May you live in the most interesting of times"!