Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hillary to pack it in?

Reports are that Hillary Clinton is going to suspend her campaign after the polls close this evening in Montana and South Dakota.

This Jeff Greenfield piece from this afternoon, looking back on the Clinton-Obama clash, declares that Hillary got caught in a time warp. I agree, but I would describe the time warp quite differently. To Greenfield, it has to do with convention fights: since 1984, the political class has figured out that convention fights are to be avoided at all costs. That's why the superdels are refusing to swing Hillary's way during her late charge. Defying the pledged delegate math would guarantee the dreaded primetime free-for-all in Denver.

Well, sure. But: To me the point is less that we would have a floor fight at the convention, than that the aggrieved party would be the Netroots. Sorry, I don't like that word, but substitute the word of your liking for the youngish Web-wired Democratic enthusiasts whose dollars have propelled Obama and whose spirit and attitude animate his campaign. The race evolved into one where Clinton represented the pre-Netroots era (fat cat donors, old media, hawkishness for its own sake) while Obama represents the Netroots era (lots of small donors, hip to new media, multilateralism). The Netroots is where the greatest energy is. It's arguable which side is the better bet for a win in 2008, maybe it's a toss-up, but the Netroots side holds a chance at a political transformation to last a decade or more.

So: No Pissing Off the Netroots.

I may have to eat these words, but my hope is that in the end, the long Democratic campaign will not have damaged Obama, but may turn out to have helped him. He and Hillary have been at center stage all spring, both have shown impressive mettle, even chutzpah, and John McCain (maybe due to lack of ready cash) has been a bit on the sidelines. The national conversation has been about the Democrats; they will have an opportunity to define the election; the fundamentals are much in their favor.

I could well be wrong; Clinton's wins in big states like OH and PA showed Obama's vulnerability. (Give Clinton credit, she really did put on a late charge, and in a circa-1984 environment, the momentum shift would have mattered.) And the protests at the Rules Committee meeting on Saturday (where the Florida-Michigan half-vote compromise was passed) were disturbing, and listening to NPR's Diane Rehm Show on Monday morning confirmed, despite my incredulity, that there are in fact people who compare the Florida-Michigan deal to the 3/5ths compromise of the antebellum era, and who swear they will defect to McCain over the shafting Senator Clinton got.

My view of the Florida-Michigan fight is reflected here. Clinton's position was absurd. The essential problem is that Clinton and her camp did not behave honorably. There was a handshake deal among all the candidates over how to handle Florida and Michigan. When it became advantageous to welsh on the deal, the Clintons welshed. Next time lawyers and contracts will have to be involved on the front end. This is the dark side of the Baby Huey in-it-to-win-it ethos that the Clintons have.

Hillary partisans threatening to defect to McCain? I think we have to run that risk. Balance that against the adrenaline shot the GOP would get if they were running against Hillary, plus the risk of the Netroots and African-Americans sitting it out in November.

See Josh Marshall about Bill Clinton and his time warp. Also, Michelle Cottle sympathizes with the denizens of Hillaryland this evening.

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