Monday :: Apr 7, 2008

Dizzy From The Spin

by Turkana

Obama blogger Markos Moulitsas uses his Newsweek gig to repeat what's become boilerplate at his Obamablog:

No matter how you define victory, Barack Obama holds an insurmountable lead in the race to earn the Democratic nomination. He leads in the one metric that matters most: the pledged delegates chosen directly by Democratic voters. But he also leads in the popular vote, the number of states won and money raised. Still, Obama's advantages aren't large enough to allow him an outright victory. He needs the 20 percent of party delegates who aren't bound to a candidate. It's with these superdelegates that Clinton has staked her ephemeral chances.

Clinton's near-lone chance of victory rests with a coup by superdelegate, persuading enough of them to overcome the primary voters' preference.

Of course, almost none of this is factually accurate. Here are some facts...

1) Obama does not hold an insurmountable lead to earn the Democratic nomination. Neither candidate can win enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination, so neither candidate can win without superdelegates. Neither candidate has enough pledged superdelegates to secure the nomination, so either candidate can still do that. That's the simple truth.

2) That the pledged delegates are "the one metric that matters most" is nothing but an opinion. The opinion of an Obama blogger. But as Big Tent Democrat wrote, just last week:

It is one of the most interesting phenomenas of this campaign and the Obama camp deserves great credit for this spin achievement - the turning of the pledged delegate count into the Holy Grail of this campaign. Many now pretend that the pledged delegate count was always treated as the ultimate metric for who would be the nominee. I know this to be false. How? Because ALL of us thought that if Barack Obama won the popular vote in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton's chances for winning the nomination would have been over. At that point, even if she had lost New Hampshire, Clinton would have held a lead in the total delegate count and would have been one delegate behind in the pledged delegate count. But she would have been defeated for the nomination. This campaign, indeed NO campaign, did not start with the pledged delegate count as the Holy Grail of this contest. On the flip, I will review some of the contemporaneous coverage so that we can see how the Obama camp succeeded in its spin.

And Big Tent laid out the timeline of how the Obama camp, aided by the NBC network, spun the pledged delegate count as the ultimate metric. It is, of course, a spin that attempts to define what it is to earn the nomination such that only Obama can do so. And it is, of course, a spin that was spun only when it became apparent that Obama had an insurmountable lead in that one metric. But some might say another metric is even more important. That would be the metric of the popular vote. The will of the people. That's the argument that the Clinton campaign wants to take to the superdelegates. The superdelegates who will ultimately decide a race that neither candidate has insurmountably won. A victory that neither candidate has yet earned. Of course, to make such a case, Hillary Clinton must prevail in the popular vote count, and one of the little secrets that the Obama bloggers don't want you to know about is that she still can. Prevail in the popular vote count. Obama has a large lead, but it is not, in fact, insurmountable. And there's still that little matter of the popular vote in Florida and Michigan. Whatever happens with the delegates- and I've long advocated revotes in both states- the will of the voters of those states cannot be dismissed. Unless, that is, you're looking forward to a President McCain.

3) A victory by superdelegates is not a coup. Such a framing is both factually wrong and deliberately inflammatory. It is more political spin attempting to frame Hillary Clinton's legitimate potential path to victory as illegitimate. But if she does win the popular vote, and uses those numbers and the momentum that would have provided them, to convince enough superdelegates to award her the nomination, her victory would, indeed, be legitimate. It would be legitimate not only because she would have a valid claim to the will of the people, but also because any victory by superdelegates is legitimate. If, for example, Clinton wins the popular vote by a solid and irrefutable margin, and the superdelegates still give the nomination to Barack Obama, his victory would be legitimate because any victory by superdelegates is legitimate. Some people don't want to understand this. Some people do understand it, but don't want you to understand it. But there are literally no rules forcing superdelegates to vote one way or another. They can literally make their decisions by flipping coins. It's that absurd. But the entire process is absurd. I've been saying that, for a variety of reasons, since before the first vote was cast at the first caucus. How absurd is the system? As Sean Wilentz writes in Salon:

The continuing contest for the Democratic presidential nomination has become a frenzy of debates and proclamations about democracy. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has been particularly vociferous in claiming that its candidate stands for a transformative, participatory new politics. It has vaunted Obama's narrow lead in the overall popular vote in the primaries to date, as well as in the count of elected delegates, as the definitive will of the party's rank and file. If, while heeding the party's rules, the Democratic superdelegates overturn those majorities, Obama's supporters claim, they will have displayed a cynical contempt for democracy that would tear the party apart.

These arguments might be compelling if Obama's leads were not so reliant on certain eccentricities in the current Democratic nominating process, as well as on some blatantly anti-democratic maneuvers by the Obama campaign. Obama's advantage hinges on a system that, whatever the actual intentions behind it, seems custom-made to hobble Democratic chances in the fall. It depends on ignoring one of the central principles of American electoral politics, one that will be operative on a state-by-state basis this November, which is that the winner takes all. If the Democrats ran their nominating process the way we run our general elections, Sen. Hillary Clinton would have a commanding lead in the delegate count, one that will only grow more commanding after the next round of primaries, and all questions about which of the two Democratic contenders is more electable would be moot.

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats in primary states choose their nominee on the basis of a convoluted system of proportional distribution of delegates that varies from state to state and that obtains in neither congressional nor presidential elections. It is this eccentric system that has given Obama his lead in the delegate count. If the Democrats heeded the "winner takes all" democracy that prevails in American politics, and that determines the president, Clinton would be comfortably in front. In a popular-vote winner-take-all system, Clinton would now have 1,743 pledged delegates to Obama's 1,257. If she splits the 10 remaining contests with Obama, as seems plausible, with Clinton taking Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Puerto Rico, and Obama winning North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana, Oregon and Guam, she'd pick up another 364 pledged delegates. She'd have 2,107 before a single superdelegate was wooed. You need 2,024 to be the Democratic nominee. Game over. No more blogospheric ranting about Clinton "stealing" the nomination by kidnapping superdelegates or cutting deals at a brokered convention.

In other words, "the pledged delegates chosen directly by Democratic voters" have been allocated completely arbitrarily. They reflect nothing other than the eccentric rules of the Democratic nominating process. They do not represent the will of the people as well as does the popular vote. But the rules are the rules. They are not fair and they are not democratic. But they are what they are. And Barack Obama has worked them well, and taken a solid lead in pledged delegates. Good for him! But his lead in pledged delegates is in no way an insurmountable lead in what will ultimately decide the race- the superdelegate count; and it is in no way reflective of an insurmountable lead in another metric that can legitimately be claimed as being the truly most important metric- the popular vote. And if Hillary Clinton ends up ahead in the popular vote, she will have a credible democratic argument to take to the superdelegates that she has earned the Democratic nomination. That doesn't mean her argument will prevail, but it does mean that if it does prevail, it will have done so fairly, honestly, and democratically.

Obama bloggers want to scare Clinton supporters and Clinton donors. They want to create an aura of inevitability for Obama such that any Clinton victory will be seen as a theft. This makes Clinton look petty and dishonest, and her supporters, at best, delusional. But facts are stubborn things, and the facts are that such a framing is simply inaccurate. And these same Obama bloggers then claim that it is Clinton and her supporters who are dividing the Party! And they wonder why Clinton supporters are so angry. They wonder why people who do not support Clinton but simply care about honesty are so angry!

Hillary Clinton can still legitimately earn the nomination. It will not be easy for her to do it. But it is not close to being impossible.

Turkana :: 10:03 AM :: Comments (115) :: Digg It!