Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why superdelegates might desert Clinton

Ron Fournier of the Associated Press has written a damning catalogue of why many superdelegates might be willing to turn away from Hillary Clinton's candidacy. The 796 superdelegates are the Democratic muckety-mucks -- elected officials and party stalwarts -- who have automatic seats at the Party convention. They are not bound by the primary process. Since the margin in elected delegate votes between Clinton and Obama is so small, if neither aces the few remaining primaries, their votes might decide the contest. Since many are old time Party hacks, it is easy to assume they'll back the known quantity, Hillary Clinton -- unless they decide not to.

Please note: not one of Fournier's list of why some Party leaders might want to migrate from Clinton to Obama arises from her being a woman. She's smart, she's qualified, she has an admirable command of the issues of state. It is easy to imagine her as President.

Her potential problems with the super delegates instead arise from her great asset: Bill. She can't get the boost she derives from appreciation for her husband's Presidency and not also carry the burden of some of his the unattractive residue of that era.

What follow are some of the reasons that Fournier puts forward for why superdelegates might abandon Clinton (bold text quotes Fournier) and my reflections on them. Indeed, I carry some animus against Bill Clinton myself, so I've added one of my own.
  • Some are labor leaders still angry that Bill Clinton championed the North American Free Trade Agreement as part of his centrist agenda. Yes -- and NAFTA not only led to the loss of thousands of U.S. industrial jobs, it also killed off Mexican farming that could not compete with U.S. corporate agriculture. Thousands of desperate former peasants now wash our dishes and build our subdivisions. I don't blame these migrating workers for coming where the work is, but we in the U.S. find ourselves unable to formulate a sensible, humane immigration process. Meanwhile hate-filled nativists in the U.S. thrive. This situation is a byproduct of Clinton's "free trade" obsession.
  • Some are social activists who lobbied unsuccessfully to get him to veto welfare reform legislation, a talking point for his 1996 re-election campaign. Yes -- "welfare reform" is a particularly noxious leaving from the previous Clinton era. In order to combat the charge that the government coddled bloodsucking free loaders (always pictured inaccurately as lazy Black women), Bill Clinton signed a punitive Republican measure that tore up the safety net for poor women with kids. Worked fine for Bill: welfare was not an issue in the 1996 campaign. As for the women, who knows? Part of the funding the "reform" cut off was money to research what happened to families in poverty. Those welfare women were simply disappeared with the assistance of a Democratic president.
  • Some are DNC members who saw the party committee weakened under the Clintons ...The 1990s were the heyday of Democratic political candidates who ran campaigns without much need for or attention to the party organization. This was a product of the broadcast TV era; if you could raise enough money in big chunks to buy enough ads, who needed the messy, participatory clutter of committees and demanding cranks? Consultants made a killing and party organs -- the ongoing arena of grassroots, small "d" democracy -- atrophied. Democrats then fell into the Karl Rove/George W wilderness. I can well imagine that many up and coming Party leaders don't want to go back to those sad days.
  • Some are senators who had to defend Clinton for lying to the country about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Think embarrassed squirming. The Republican impeachment was an attack on the democratic system, but Bill Clinton's self-indulgence undermined not only his marriage, but the hopes of millions who elected him. Nobody wants to remember any of that.
  • Here's a reason for a superdelegate to walk that is mine: some superdelegates remember betrayals of LGBT Democrats. Bill Clinton cultivated gay leadership when running for office. His election felt like deliverance in communities ravaged by AIDS: finally there was a president who would talk about the epidemic. Yet within months he caved to the military on the "don't ask; don't tell" policy. Later, he signed on to the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act. Obama can be wishy-washy on gay concerns, but he represents a generation for whom these anti-gay relics of another time are simply not an issue.
  • And some just want something new. They appreciate the fact that Clinton was a successful president and his wife was an able partner, but they never loved the couple as much as they feared them. Novelty isn't everything -- but even superdelegates can want to make a new beginning.
Electoral math -- delegates and states won -- should decide the Democratic contest. But all these human and issue factors will also creep into hundreds of individual superdelegate decisions in the days ahead if neither Obama nor Clinton pulls decisively ahead.


dbt said...

How about some reasons related to her own record?

Her support for AUMF-Iraq, her support for Kyl-Lieberman Iran bluster, her vote for the bankruptcy bill ("I'm glad it didn't pass"... wow, that's some seriously Kerry-esque positioning)....

janinsanfran said...

dbt -- I have lots of my own quarrels with HRC -- I found Fournier's list more interesting in relation to the superdelegates.

I wish bellicose bluster turned off party stalwarts. I am sure it does influence some. But I think Fournier has hit the right list of Clinton criticisms for most superdelegates.

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