Democrats and Independents are voting in record numbers. It is almost as if the pain of having the 2000 election stolen by the US Supreme Court’s decision, and the 2004 election polluted by questionable returns in Ohio, has jolted at least some voters into action. They are sitting up and taking notice of the endless war in Iraq, the corroding American economy, and the ever-widening gap between the nation’s haves and have nots.
The Republicans this week have chosen their nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona. McCain has fought his way out of a political black hole. He has bested candidates who would have been more palatable to right-wing nut jobs such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, who set the Republican tone and tenor. While McCain’s style may be decent, his anti-choice philosophy, and pledge to appoint conservative judges as reactionary as those named by President Bush underscores his true intentions. If his unqualified support for the Iraq War does not convince undecided voters that McCain is the candidate of the status quo, then perhaps his scheduled endorsement by Bush in the White House Rose Garden will underscore the fact that he is more of the same.
The Phoenix has stated on record that either Senator Hillary Clinton of New York or Senator Barack Obama of Illinois would make a vastly superior president. This paper has also stated that Obama’s message of hope, his commitment to change, and his early opposition to the war make him the best candidate to break the Republicans’ grip on the White House while maintaining Democratic majorities in Congress.
With two appealing contenders, it is not surprising that Democrats are still locked in a tight contest. Given Clinton’s clear wins in Ohio and Rhode Island, and her narrow victory in Texas, it is certain that the Democratic race will continue for nearly seven more weeks, until the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. The likelihood is that it will rage on for three more months — until the last ballot is cast in the last primary, in Puerto Rico on June 7.
The interminable nature of this primary season is not as unusual as it might seem. Previous primary seasons have lasted as long — or longer. What is different, and what does add to the anxiety among Democrats, as well as anti-Bush and anti-Republican Independents, is the ascendance of the new-media news cycle, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cable news, blogs, and Internet-based reporting magnify developments (significant and insignificant) and intensify the already-taught political emotions of a populace racked by eight years of rotten rule. Just as there was no Prozac to take the edge off the Bush years, there is now no easy remedy to sooth the jittery nerves of the Democrats. Get ready for three more months of white-knuckle drama and tough, if not dirty, campaigning.
There will be time in the weeks to come to consider the awkward and ill-conceived role of the so-called superdelegates. If existing voting trends continue — and there is no reason to expect that they will not — the superdelegates will break any deadlock at the August convention in Denver. Harder to resolve will be what to do about Florida and Michigan, states whose results all Democratic candidates once agreed would not be counted because they scheduled primaries that violated the Party’s guidelines. It is impossible to escape the reality that a longer and more divisive campaign is — at a minimum — a short-term boon to McCain and Republicans at large. It looks as if the Democrats’ long-term prospects are being tempered by their near-term structural problems.
In the recent round of electioneering, there is little doubt that Obama got away with more than Clinton when it came to dissembling about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) so loathed by unions and blue-collar workers. But for all Obama’s trimming and double dealing on the issue, or because of it, Ohio voters overwhelmingly went for Clinton. Even more troubling than Obama’s NAFTA sharp practice is the seeming lack of vigor he employed when denouncing Nation of Islam icon Louis Farrakhan, an anti-Semite who inexplicably enjoys support in Obama’s home church.
Unsatisfying and unfair though it may be, Obama — and McCain — enjoys a better relationship with the national press than does Clinton. That, in a large part, is because Clinton, back in the days when her candidacy seemed unstoppable, treated the press as if journalists were, well, jerks. That was all of a piece with her strong-armed style aimed at commandeering the party’s insiders and convincing voters that she was inevitable.
Clinton’s impressive comeback has many of her supporters touting her experience and toughness as her bedrock virtues. Both are considerable. But voters in the upcoming primaries would do well to remember that Clinton’s style of hardball spawned Travelgate, which wounded her husband’s presidency before it could take flight. Her tough stance on Whitewater allowed the national press to develop an issue that could have been contained before it morphed into the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Her ham-fisted management of the Clinton health-care initiative lead to this important issue being sidelined for almost 10 years. And her vote for Bush’s Iraq War gave that adventure a patina of bipartisan respectability. There is no doubt that Clinton is tough. But to what end?