3/9/08 Daily Yomiuri (Japan) 8
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama won; they and their
party lost. Only John McCain won--big time. Here's why.
Clinton lost because her delegate difficulty has intensified, not
eased; her negative attacks have demeaned her, inviting a
counterattack and providing fodder for the Republicans; and she can
"win" only using skulduggery at the Democratic convention that will
alienate the mass of Obama supporters without whose votes she cannot
possibly prevail in the presidential election itself.
It's the delegate math, stupid. After three victories Tuesday,
including a thumping one in Ohio, Clinton only clawed back a net 11
delegates. (This count will worsen for her once the Texas caucus
results come in.) According to Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, to beat
back Obama among pledged delegates, Clinton now needs an average
26-point victory in the remaining 12 primaries and caucuses. His
lead in pledged delegates is 144 (realclearpolitics.com). To
overtake him, therefore, Clinton will need to win 378 of the 611
delegates in the remaining primaries--a Herculean task that will be
made feasible only by a major Obama gaffe or scandal rather than
anything she can do.
Negative attacks do work; people get the politics they deserve.
Clinton won not by projecting her vision but by destroying his
charisma. The strategy will be repeated, sharpened and reciprocated.
The notorious 3 a.m. red phone ad was the decisive moment in the
campaign, sowing sufficient doubts in voters' minds about Obama's
character, experience and readiness to be commander in chief. It was
a more subliminal and sophisticated repackaging of Bill Clinton's
warning that electing Obama--with an exotic name and Muslim middle
name--was a risky roll of the dice. The controversy over the North
American Free Trade Agreement--"wink, wink" to Canadians--and
questionable ties to a real estate dealer in Chicago who went on
criminal trial the day before the primaries added to the unease and
foreboding. At a time of anxiety and uncertainty--personal, national
and global--voters chose to play safe.
Having found her voice in New Hampshire for her first comeback,
Clinton accidentally stumbled into her clinching meta-narrative in
Ohio and Texas for the second dramatic rescue of her near-death
campaign: She is a fighter and will fight relentlessly on behalf of
the majority who have lost out under the current administration.
This gives her a unifying core theme, rallies the base, brings focus
and discipline to the campaign, and keeps her team on message.
While some voters will recoil from the negative attacks, most
tolerate them knowing the eventual nominee will be subjected to
worse by the Republicans. If Obama does not have the toughness to
withstand such attacks and counterpunch, he should exit the
presidential bullpen. Had Obama attacked earlier, he would have
undermined his defining message of hope and healing. Now it will
count as self-defense. Having taunted him as too soft to take on
McCain, she has directly provoked him into a tougher attack on her.
The primary arithmetic still favors him but will not suffice. His
inability to close the deal and win big states is a major weakness.
Obama must focus the searchlight relentlessly on a fatal flaw in
Clinton's campaign that is as bad as his failure to deliver an
electoral coup de grace. While her 20-point advantages vanished or
halved within two weeks of the serious campaigning, there has yet to
be a serious attack on her history, record and credibility so far.
Obama is demanding that the media focus on Clinton's evasive
delaying tactics on releasing tax details and the list of donors to
Bill Clinton's presidential library and other activities. But just
what is Clinton referring to when she makes her claim to have 35
years of experience? Why won't they release White House papers to
back her claims? Some of the absent corroboration is laughable, for
example, the claim that she helped to bring about peace to Northern
Ireland. And how about a direct and targeted comparison of both
candidates--their property dealings and legal problems?
Obama needs to go after
Clinton to puncture her carefully constructed public persona and
remind voters of past scandals and problems. His campaign needs its
own attack ads ridiculing her propensity to play "victim in chief";
raising questions about whether her temperament and demeanor are
presidential given her gushing, hectoring, mocking and complaining
personas; and puncturing her claims to lifelong experience as a
fairy tale. And Obama needs to say emphatically that under no
circumstances will he be a vice-presidential also-ran to rid voters
of the delusion that they can have both. If he doesn't, he risks
But if he does, he also risks gutting the Democratic Party.
Clinton can legitimately claim now to have public backing for
her campaign to carry on, unfavorable electoral arithmetic
notwithstanding. Neither has reason to quit. In the meantime,
racial, ethnic, gender and class divisions will intensify. The
deepening hostility and mutual contempt will prolong an increasingly
bitter civil war among Democrats that could alienate half the voters
from the losing candidate's camp and leave the eventual nominee
mortally wounded. What seemed exciting and was drawing millions of
new and young voters into political engagement is turning into a
protracted guerrilla war. At the start of the campaign, Democrats
were energized by having two great candidates. Around three-quarters
of them said they would be happy with either as the nominee. By now
that figure has been reduced to about 40 percent.
Based on demographics, the likely results in the significant
contests to come will be: Wyoming (March 8, 18 delegates, Obama);
Mississippi (March 11, 40, Obama); Pennsylvania (April 22, 187,
Clinton); West Virginia (May 13, 39, Clinton); North Carolina (May
6, 134, Obama); Oregon (May 20, 65, Obama); and Indiana (May 6, 84,
tie). A de facto stalemate by the end of April-May will mean the
contest is decided on the convention floor in Denver, Colo., in
If strong-arm tactics in the convention lead to super-delegates
overturning Obama's lead in pledged delegates, votes and states, his
outraged supporters will abandon the party in droves. If the
nomination is awarded to Obama without counting the disqualified
Michigan and Florida results, many Clinton supporters and voters
from those states will be sufficiently antagonized to walk away from
The party has permitted a state of confusion to arise that now
looks set to guarantee a powerful sense of grievance among one-half
of Democratic voters. Any party so politically inept and
organizationally incompetent deserves to lose. The Republicans can
neither believe their luck nor contain their glee.
It was 3 a.m. Deep in the Democratic heartland, a crisis began
brewing on Feb. 19, simmered and boiled over on March 4. The party
elders heard the red phone ringing for two weeks. No one answered.
Thakur is a distinguished fellow of the Centre for International
Governance Innovation and professor of political science at the
University of Waterloo.