Is the Extended Contest Jeopardizing a Democratic Mandate?
It’s probably not a good idea to disagree with Dorothy, ’cause she’s usually right about these political things. Nor is it wise to question the Great and Powerful Oz, from who I regularly seek insight and wisdom. I can buy most of what they’re saying. But I’m struggling with this notion that the Democrats are better off over all because of the continuing bitterly contested primary season.
I’m not arguing against holding the remaining primaries per se; every state should have its say. I also agree Democrats are using the extended primaries to improve voter lists, fund raising, and party organization, improving Democratic prospects in general. And there’s no doubt that under normal conditions, this should be a terrific year for Democrats. But these positives seem to miss a critical point.
The argument being made is that this is such an ideal year for Democrats — the voters hate Bush, all the issues are supposedly aligned, and there are lots of new Democratic voters — that Clinton and Obama can have a bruising elimination process and still beat McCain in November. Perhaps so. But even if one discounts the risks of losing (which I don’t), just winning is not enough.
The country needs a convincing repudiation of the Bush/Cheney regime, its distorted conservative philosophy, and its corrupt theories for destroying public confidence in governance. The Republicans have earned a thrashing, yet on ABC’s This Week, George Will argued that with Mitch McConnell and 45 Republican Senators, they could obstruct any Democratic agenda. If Democrats hope to accomplish anything different, they need to win BIG. Really BIG.
To reverse the disasters of the last eight years, let alone push through a strong progressive agenda, Democrats need working control of the Senate. And to get that, they’ll need a blowout at the Presidential level with strong coattails: they’ll need a unified, determined party led by a President with a convincing mandate.
So someone needs to think through how supporters of Hillary Clinton can get over their disappointment and become reconciled to an Obama candidacy, should he become the nominee. What do you say to those supporters, and who needs to say it? How hard does that essential task become if the bitterness of this fight intensifies for several more months, and she loses?
Conversely, I have not heard a plausible scenario explaining how supporters of Barack Obama can get over their disappointment and become reconciled to a Clinton candidacy, should she become the nominee. The message many of them are hearing is that despite all they’d done, they can’t have the prize, that 21st century America is not willing to elect an "Afro-American" to be President, even if he’s "only half black."
How will those supporters react after watching a black man apparently win but then have the nomination taken away because he was smeared by John McCain’s Republican party and a cooperative media running overtly racist ads that equate being black with being unpatriotic, anti-white and violent? And what if they conclude this was implicitly encouraged by almost daily stories and/or op-eds in (e.g.) the nation’s leading papers and television media, while subtle dog whistles came from their own party’s leaders?
Folks on all sides need to stop focusing on denials and excuses and start thinking about how all this is being perceived by the supporting groups. And the picture is getting ugly.
Today’s polls show McCain holding his own against either Democrat, but the argument is that this will change once the Democratic nominee can refocus attention on McCain in November. Even if that risky gamble pays off, I don’t see any way for this contest to continue on its present path without seriously jeopardizing any chance for a blowout-mandate. And I see a real risk that in cobbling together a coalition of the non-frustrated to win a narrow victory, we will lose one or more groups that have traditionally been the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.
Video: Buffalo Springfield, "For What It’s Worth", from the Viet Nam era.