05 December 2007

Resistance is futile

The current issue of The American Prospect flopped in my mailbox last week with the question on everyone's lips, "Has Hillary Locked it Up?" The question itself is partially self-fulfilling, since projecting an aura of inevitability has been part of the plan from the start (and one which the Republicans have been happy to indulge, but I'll get to that.)

There is some hope, and from an unlikely source.

Two polls released from Iowa last week show Obama in the lead for the first time. In a moment of possible reflexive panic, the Washington Post ran a ridiculous front page story about Obama's non-existent secret life as a Muslim cobbled almost entirely from harebrained right-wing innuendo. I'm no fan of our primary system and it's structural arrangement to deliver the most conservative Democrat possible, but I may need a Faustian exception in this case. Clinton, of course, continues to have a large lead in national polls, but there is a possible explanation, if you buy it, which says Iowa voters have had much more exposure to the candidates and spent much deeper meditation on making their selection, a process that will ramp up around the nation as the primary season proceeds. Here's a case where I hope something to be true that I don't actually believe myself.

But, around the web I sense a growing acceptance of the inevitability narrative, and, as another long war between the DLC Sensible Liberals and the progressives begin, the rationalizations are starting to spring forth. One of the most persistent, not to mention ludicrous, has the GOP being all a-feared of a Clinton candidacy, which is why her name is reflexively invoked by Republican candidates during debates as the default nominee. As some of us have been saying for over a year now, nothing could be further from the truth. This is borne out in another recent poll showing Edwards and Obama prevailing in hypothetical matchups over all five major Republican candidates, and Clinton losing to all five. These polls shouldn't be taken too seriously at this point, naturally, but they do suggest the public sees a distinction between the Democrats that they don't among the GOP.

And that they don't like Clinton, which the Republicans well know, and thus their inability to recognize any other Democrat running. As I hinted earlier, this also has the byproduct of reinforcing the inevitability doctrine the Clinton campaign has soaked itself in. If even the Republicans believe she has it locked up, then what use is there to resist?*

There's also undoubtedly a lot of anti-Clinton sentiment inside the Democratic Party and the loosely-associated left but. in accordance with the long lamented tale of left-liberal politics, that sentiment can't find a candidate to settle with. I suspect if you polled Edwards and Obama supporters, very few of them would list Clinton as a second choice. But all that means is that Clinton would lose in an idealized instant-runoff ballot. In the system we have, though, she's likely to walk away with 35 percent and the nomination. Say this for the centrists: Bayh, Vilsack and Warner all bailed early. They know how to take care of their own.

There is the possibility that one of the two challengers--most likely Edwards now--will post an unexpectedly dismal showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire and withdraw. The chances of this are slim for two reasons. First, with the newly compressed primary schedule neither is likely to fall behind far enough and fast enough to be compelled into quitting. Secondly, because such a move would be interpreted as being exactly what I outlined above; throwing the election away from Clinton to the other of the two. And that won't be tolerated by the press or the keepers of intra-Party harmony.

*Another popular rationalization is the Revenge Factor, which suggests sticking the Republicans with the "dreadful" Clintons is the perfect way to get even for years of abuse and misrule. It's important to keep in mind here that what the Right fears and what it thinks you should fear so it can benefit politically are often quite different things, and that Ole Bill isn't derisively called a great Republican president for nothing.