Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No salvation at the buzzer

With the endgame clearly in sight, whether she admits it or not, Hillary Clinton is on the verge of her last (or at least her penultimate) hurrah. If the voting goes as expected on Tuesday, Clinton will handily win the West Virginia Democratic primary, defeating Barack Obama by 20 percentage points she’ll try to make sound like 200, and will declare yet another watershed moment in a campaign crowded with them. And it will be a victory that will change little or nothing in the cold, inflexible math of the primary season.

It’s trash-talk time. You’ve seen it before: when there’s a minute left in a game that’s a rout, a huge and insurmountable double-digit lead for Team A. Which doesn’t stop Team B from capitalizing on a lapse of attention and scoring one more time — and coming with attitude, acting like Everything Just Changed.

That’s the way it is with Hillary Clinton right now. Clinton is set to prevail in West Virginia and in Kentucky (on May 20), laying further claim to the white ethnic blue-collar voters who embraced her in Ohio and Pennsylvania (and more marginally in Indiana) and brandishing that consolidated claim before superdelegates as a rationale for herself as a better Democratic nominee than Obama.

Her perceived leverage, expressed loud & proud lately, has been predicated on the idea that, simply put, Clinton can win the rural, white blue-collar states that Obama can’t win.

For weeks now, we’ve been subject to various Chicken Little scenarios, warned by Clinton time and again that Obama can’t win! Obama can’t win! I’m the better candidate! I’m the better campaigner! For weeks now, since Ohio and Pennsylvania, and less passionately after Indiana, Clinton has jammed the e-mail inboxes of superdelegates with this argument, shouting it from the rooftops to no avail. And for good reason.

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Clinton’s rationale seems to call into question what it is Democratic voters are loyal to. Her underlying assumption (one she’d never admit to in public) is that the voters are so enamored of her role in the Democratic Party that they would ignore their own histories as Democrats, their own emotional investment in the party, in order to insure her future status in it.

The implicit threat in her argument is that the voters dedicated to her in the primary season would somehow morph into Republicans and vote for John McCain if Clinton was denied the nomination. If Obama won the nomination, she seemed to say, the sky would fall, Obama would lose the blue-collar states and the election to McCain — ruination would stalk the land.

The whole primary season has been subject to that kind of insane hyperbole; it’s led to polls and blogs reflecting ugly voter sentiments: If Obama wins I’ll vote for McCain or stay home; if Clinton steals this from Obama, I’ll vote for McCain or sleep late on Election Day.

What’s been missing is the gravity of common sense, and that’ll come back when those reliable Democrats realize they’re reliable Democrats for a reason. Assuming that they’re reasonably true believers to start with, most of those Democratic voters aren’t likely to become turncoats and cast their ballots for the Republicans.

With the differences between one party and another so clearly delineated in this turbulent sixth year of war, and especially since Clinton has already pledged more than once to work hard for whoever the Democratic nominee is, thinking Dems can’t be expected to act in November on a fit of polled pique they had in April or May.

Which means Clinton’s alleged advantage over Obama in those vital, blue-collar states is really no Clinton advantage at all. The Democrats in those states? They’ll show in the fall. Why? Because they’re Democrats for a reason, and this is the most awakening, most necessary, most consequential election we’ve had in years — maybe in our lifetimes. Hell yes, they’ll show.

Sorry Hillary: To assume those loyal Democrats will abandon the ticket because you’re not on it is both a mistake on your part, and an insult of those voters who believe in the Democratic party, not just one outsize personality within the Democratic party.

Obama has lately gone into dry-powder mode, making a spirited campaign appearance on Monday in West Virginia but generally conceding this one to Hillary.

Few worries: Expect no enormous changes at the last minute. Team A knows where this is going. So does Team B.

So do we.
Image credit: Chicken Little © 1943 Walt Disney Pictures.

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