Columns » John Brummett

Can Hillary’s prophecy be fulfilled?


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There is gamesmanship aplenty in the Democratic presidential race, including a clever message from the newly troubled Hillary Clinton campaign. It goes like this:

Most likely, neither Clinton nor Barack Obama actually can get to the victory threshold in delegates. That's true, at least, without the addition of super-delegates, meaning the hundreds of elected officials and national committee members who get to be delegates automatically and can go either way.

That portends something not experienced in modern times, which is to say a brokered convention. It suggests chaos and schism, perhaps even disaster, for a party that otherwise ought to be sitting pretty.

So for the good of the party, one of the presidential candidates must stand down before the convention.

One version of the message goes so far as to say that, for serenity and unity, the one deferring should put personal animus aside and serve as the running mate.

It stands to reason, or so this message goes, that Obama should stand down. He's younger and will have another day.

For that matter, his long-term presidential prospects would be enhanced by relatively obscure celebrity as vice president rather than service in the Senate, where he'd be forced to cast votes that could cause him political problems.

That's the pitch. And here's the cleverness: Clinton actually might achieve a finessed self-fulfilling prophecy.

That could happen if a few thousand vacillating Democrats in states yet to vote picked up on this semi-subliminal notion that they need not make this agonizing choice. The outcome might be swung Hillary's way by voters absorbing this idea that they could spare the party this crisis and have both these candidates by letting Hillary go first.

Might Hillary stand down instead for the good of the party? That's a good one.

First, she's still the better bet to end up with more delegates. Working-class whites and Latinos favor her as solidly as blacks and upscale whites favor him, and working-class whites ought to deliver Ohio and Pennsylvania to her while Latinos ought to deliver Texas.

Second, deferring to interests other than their own has never been a particular concern of the Clintons.

I remember the morning in 1988 after Bill Clinton gave that ponderous and ridiculed speech for Michael Dukakis at the Democratic convention. Hillary was already spinning. If the charge was that Bill made a boring speech, she said, then that was a charge that could be made tenfold against Dukakis. That is to say she threw the party's presidential nominee under the bus.

It was Hillary who retrieved the Republican toe-sucker, Dick Morris, to show Bill how to “triangulate” his independent way.

Obama spreads a message of his own: If one candidate leads in earned delegates, meaning those garnered by regular people's votes in the various states, then the super-delegates should not undercut the people's will.

What Obama is not saying, because he doesn't have to say it or want to say it, is this: If the black candidate has the most earned delegates via the voters, surely the Democratic Party wouldn't want its super-delegates to revive those sad days of yore when white people kept black people down.

There's one little snag to Obama's argument. A reporter asked him the other day whether Ted Kennedy, a super-delegate who has endorsed Obama, ought now to switch to Clinton because Massachusetts' voters went by a large margin for Clinton. Obama sputtered.

That Massachusetts win is Hillary's most impressive political accomplishment. It appears the women of Massachusetts decided that the local men — Kennedy, John Kerry — were piling on the woman.

There's this other notion, also fed by Hillary's campaign, that if a male makes a considered choice for the male instead of the female in this one race, then it's gender mistreatment.

But Hillary is not all of womankind. She's one woman, and, at that, one mildly less accomplished in the U.S. Senate than, say, Blanche Lincoln.

If a lone female candidacy was synonymous with the cause of all womankind, then we'd all be anti-woman for not making Elizabeth Dole president when we had the chance.


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