In Fairness to Hillary

May 8, 2008

The question, my fellow election watchers, is not, “Why won’t Hillary do the honorable thing and quit?” but “Why won’t Democrats do the honorable thing and quit trying to force her to?”

Did Democrats make Ted Kennedy quit when he fought Jimmy Carter through the Democratic convention in 1980 in an effort to dislodge pledged delegates though Carter had already secured a majority? That was far worse than anything Hillary is doing.

Until one of the candidates secures the magic number of delegates (a majority) — and that number is a moving target, given the limbo status of Florida and Michigan — there is no nominee. A plurality won’t cut it.

Nor is the candidate with the most pledged delegates automatically entitled to the nod of the superdelegates or even most of them. The superdelegates are free agents, who may choose either candidate for any reason.

The superdelegate system was designed to give the superdelegates maximum prerogative, which only makes sense because the party bosses established it to ensure their own control over the nomination process. The whole idea was to give them the power to substitute their judgment for the will of the people if, in their political omniscience, they determine the people’s choice to be not prudent.

Well, Democrats made their own bed. Just because they’ve encountered a recalcitrant candidate who will not march to their orders, they can’t suddenly change the rules in the middle of the election — a lesson they should have learned in Florida in 2000 — and force the superdelegates to follow the pledged delegates. Free means free. The candidates may lobby for the supers’ votes just as if, collectively, the supers were the last state.

Why should Hillary be deprived of her right to campaign in this one last “state,” especially considering the dramatic changes that have occurred since the primary season began?

Indeed Hillary can make a compelling case that the superdelegate system was made to order precisely for the predicament in which Democrats now find themselves. The leading candidate in both popular vote and pledged delegates (putting aside the knotty issues surrounding Michigan and Florida), might be an entirely different person than voters in earlier primary states assumed.

Under the system they created, shouldn’t Democrats be encouraging Hillary to give it her best shot to win over the supers? If she is correct that Obama is unelectable, she could theoretically persuade a very large percentage of them to vote for her — enough to get her to the magic number. If it were not possible, the whole super-system of providing a safety valve against the initially popular but ultimately unelectable candidate would be a farce.

But a number of factors are complicating the situation. Most party bosses and the media remain in the tank for Obama and are incapable of objectively assessing his electability. They are in hot pursuit of those ethereal hopes and dreams about which he prefers to speak and from which he resents being “distracted.”

There’s also some ambiguity about Obama’s declining electability, considering the North Carolina and Indiana primary results. But for the Obama-slanted demographics in North Carolina and Operation Chaos in Indiana, who knows what would have happened in those states?

But the main complication — obviously — is race. If the supers were to exercise their right to veto Obama as unelectable, they would be inviting an exodus of black voters that many fear could make the entire Democratic Party unelectable for the foreseeable future.

Regardless, Hillary still has every right to make her case to the supers, and she has strong arguments. Not only has the Obama candidacy proved itself to be a very risky proposition; Hillary has proved her mettle through this hotly contested ordeal.

Though I’m still as adamantly opposed to the Clintons politically as I’ve ever been, you have to give the devil her due. She began as the entitlement candidate — kind of the Democrats’ version of Bob Dole. But during the campaign, she was knocked all the way down to the curb yet pulled herself back up by her own bootstraps to be in contention again.

Against all odds, the infatuation of the media, the swooning of intoxicated Obama groupies, and the perpetual motion machine that is her annoying, gaffe-prone husband, she is still hanging in there. Her resiliency — despite all her flaws — is formidable, even if it springs from her lifelong obsession to acquire power.

Most party bosses and the media know Obama is seriously damaged and that it could get worse. But they’re not about to abandon their phantom hope in his messiahship, especially not in favor of that saint turned demon hellbent on torpedoing their dreams. For that, they loathe her — almost as much as they do the commander in chief of Operation Chaos.