Friday, March 21, 2008

Thoughts on the current Democrat Dilemma (Or, Al Gore, my Earl of Warwick? or James Polk?)

Political Punch:
In a sign of just how divisive and ugly the Democratic fight has gotten, only 53% of Clinton voters say they'll vote for Obama should he become the nominee. Nineteen percent say they'll go for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and 13% say they won't vote.

Sixty percent of Obama voters say they'll go for Clinton should she win the nomination, with 20% opting for McCain, and three percent saying they won't vote.
As a historian, I think it would be a lot of fun to watch an actual, honest-to-God political convention where things get debated. The last convention even approaching controversial was the Democrats in '84, increasingly acknowledged as a "brokered" convention. I was 16 and fairly watchful of the news, but I don't remember anything remotely approaching the current brouhaha. I also remember Kennedy's people in '80 challenging the the rule that delegates were bound to support Carter on the first ballot (déja-vu?). But explaining to my students about the Jacksonian birth of party conventions is like explaining Mayan pictographs: It's arcane, very boring, and of almost no use to those of us in the present day.

The Democrats are perilously close to full division. One exit-poll analysis I read several weeks ago (!) indicated that a substantial number of Obama supporters in states carried by Kerry in '04 by less than 6% would stay home on election day if HRC "stole" the nomination. This, according to the authors (whose names, alas, escape me for now), would probably move anywhere between six and twelve blue states to the red, guaranteeing Republican victory.

A few thoughts occur to me. One, if we really want to 'recreate 68', let HRC take the nomination through rules manipulation and superdelegate suasion. Then you might see that terrible April relived, as the streets go up in flames. Let's not go down that road further. I like watching that cool and groovy Nixon commercial as much as the next historian, but still...

Two, one possibility that I have yet to see bandied about (and if I'm the first, by dang, I want the credit!) is a 1860-style redux. What, you don't remember what the Democrats did in 1860??? Obviously you're not one of my students! In 1860 the Democrats divided over slavery (that's the short version and we're sticking to it). The result was that in the Southern states, Vice President John Breckinridge was listed as the official Democratic nominee, while in Northern states, Senator Stephen Douglas held that distinction. Both lost to Abraham Lincoln, former Whig Congressman and Republican nominee.

Now, today's Democrats aren't as hopelessly divided as that. But what if... since different states show different results for McCain vs. Democrat-To-Be-Named-In-August, what if the Democrats decided to run an Obama-based ticket in states where Obama polled better, and HRC in the other states? Since it is unlikely that either one could win an outright majority of the electoral votes, the election could be pushed into the House of Representatives, which would let the national Democratic leadership decide the election while preserving the semblance of populist democracy. No Democrat would have to stay home, down-ticket voting would not suffer, and all would be sweetness and light.

And winged monkeys will appear around Uranus.

The conventional wisdom holds that the supers will decide this contest. But my sense is that the supers, too, are as much the victims here. No matter who gets the nomination, there will be repercussions within the party. Supers will, in the end, cover their own backsides first, and that means making nice with the people who elected them to their local and state offices in the first place. So my gut says that the supers are going to be as divided as the electorate, barring some Divine Guidance From On High.

No,I'm not talking about Bill Richardson. Not even John Edwards. The Voice As-Yet-Unheard is that of Al Gore. With two words ("Hillary Clinton" or "Barack Obama") Al Gore can end the rancor. In that sense, he is the Warwick in our current War of the Trying-To-Come-Out-Smelling-Like-Roses. An endorsement from him and the supers will move en masse to the designated nominee. No one carries as much moral authority as The Man Who Would Have Been (Except For Those Evil Super-Geniuses). Al Gore can end this debate now if he so chose.

--which naturally begs the question, why doesn't he speak? I have no super-secret insights, no cheat-code to get to the end of the quest. But I am reminded of another Democratic convention, this time from 1844, where the frontrunners were nowhere near reaching the nomination and, after many many ballots, someone from the back put forth the name of a Democrat from Tennessee, one James Polk. I congratulate you, sir, on being the Dark Horse. (And I have $50 from 2006 still riding on your getting the nomination --full disclosure)

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