March 05, 2008

Two election notes

1. It's going to come down to the convention

I've had a feeling this was going to be the case since before Super Tuesday, but now enough states have voted to see just how tight the race is. CNN has a delegate count applet that lets you fiddle with the delegate pledges. I started by giving Clinton 55% of all the delegates in each of the states whose votes have not yet been counted. (Ohio, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Texas haven't been entered into the set of fixed counts yet.) I chose 55% as a healthy and statistically significant (large enough to drown out the noise from sudden minor emergencies, people forgetting to vote, the polling machine craps out, that sort of thing) but still not overwhelming victory.

Clinton ends up with 1,899 pledged delegates; Obama with 1,898. That leaves Clinton the front-runner by a hair, and 126 delegates short of the number required to secure the nomination.

Now swing the 55% victories the other direction. Clinton ends up with 1,800, Obama with 1,997. Again, the front-runner is still short -- although in this case only by 28 delegates.

There have been plenty of victories with larger margins than this, of course. So Pam is simply wrong when she says `the math doesn’t favor any possibility of a Clinton win on the delegate side in the remaining contests'. First, it's far from mathematically impossible for either candidate to win. And, second, while it is unlikely that Clinton will secure a sufficiently large number of overwhelming victories, it's about as unlikely that Obama will secure a sufficiently large number of overwhelming victories.

I'm tempted to say: The primaries in the remaining states will just make the intraparty fighting more acrimonious and drain resources that would be better used squashing McCain like the pandering warmonger he is. Democrats should call off the remaining primaries, just cool off until the convention, and let the superdelegates decide who the nominee will be, since they're going to be doing it anyways.

I'm going to say: The primary in Indiana (exactly two months from today, if I remember correctly) is just going to continue this stalemate. So I don't feel obligated to choose between two slightly-left-of-center candidates whose campaigning has left me pretty disgusted. I'll either vote for Edwards (he's been getting a handful of percentage points in primaries over the past month, so I'm guessing he'll still be on the ballot) or Kucinich (ditto, without the handful of percentage points) or not at all.

2. I wish John Edwards hadn't dropped out

And not just because I genuinely wanted him president. Before Edwards dropped out, the media were (unfairly) focussed on Obama and Clinton, but there was little antagonism between them or their partisans. Clinton (and Edwards) partisans criticised Obama for the gap in his health care plan, Obama (and Edwards) partisans criticised Clinton for not renouncing her vote for the invasion of Iraq, and so on. Occasionally some issues of racism or sexism came up (some reactions to Clinton getting a little misty-eyed right around the New Hampshire primary were, to put it mildly, weird), but things were civil.

Then Edwards dropped out, we had Super Tuesday, and an all-out Democratic civil war errupted. Blogs I normally have the utmost respect for have degenerated, and do little more than repeat the disingenuous (and often racist or sexist) spitballs generated by the campaigns and right-wing lunatics. Rational discussion -- whether over the small but critical policy differences, the quality of campaign strategies, or the significance of racist or sexist comments -- has become virtually impossible.

I don't think Edwards leaving the field caused this to happen. Eight years of Bush has made Democrats jumpy and, quite naturally, they project the qualities of their ideal presidential candidate onto one name or another, even despite evidence to the contrary. (Aside: The NewsHour has been interviewing potential voters from highly contested states once or twice a week since before Super Tuesday. At first I watched these segments with interest. After a few of them, though, I realised that everyone involved was simply repeating the talking points handed down by their campaign, and many of the interviewees demonstrated spectacular factual ignorance. For example, there was one woman in Ohio who supported Obama because, she said, his health care plan covered more people than Clinton's. Another woman in Ohio claimed that, if Obama had been in the Senate five years ago, he would have voted to invade Iraq. I still watch these segments occasionally, but mostly they're just depressing.) The media ... well, are simply insane, and have badly fucked up this phase of the campaign in innumerable ways for over a year. And suggesting that you'll stoop to less-than-honest technical manoeuvres to secure the nomination (Florida and Michigan from the Clinton side; effectively eliminating superdelegates from the Obama side) that prompt accusations of `changing the rules in the middle of the game!' haven't helped.

What Edwards could have done, even if he was consistently getting only 10% or so of the votes in each state, is play mediator. There's no major public figure willing to honestly call out both Obama and Clinton when they or their campaigns pull inappropriate shit. There's no-one who can say `Obama's domestic policies have some serious problems and Clinton's foreign policies have some serious problems' and be taken seriously by everyone. Or that the media's sudden realisation that they've been giving Obama a free pass doesn't mean it's time to suck up to Clinton instead. And, most importantly, Edwards could have told people to calm down. Democrats can do a lot of good things in this country if, and only if, they learn the difference between constructive internal criticism and a circular firing squad.

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