Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Clinton Hits Rock Bottom in Speech After Indiana Primary

[A] persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary

- Merriam-Webster's definition 2(b) of "delusion"

At about 10:30 p.m. last night, Barack Obama had trounced Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, and Clinton held a narrow four-point lead in Indiana -- with the Obama stronghold of Lake County yet to report. But Clinton took to the podium in front of her supporters and said that by Obama's definition, Indiana was the tie-breaker, and that she had won, so, "
it's full-speed on to the White House."

What, has she decided to take a tourist's tour of the presidential mansion? Because short of being invited to visit by George W. Bush before January 2009, or by Obama or John McCain after January 2009, that's the only way Clinton is getting inside.

I don't think it's a stretch to call Clinton's speech last night delusional. After all, she is faced with "indisputable evidence," after last night's results, that she doesn't have a clear path to the nomination, and yet she maintains (at least publicly) a "
persistent false psychotic belief" about her chances. Okay, I'm no shrink, so I can't promise that her position is psychotic, but it is patently false.

In fact, I hope that Clinton is delusional. The alternative is that she knows that the party would be ripped apart if the superdelegates give her the nomination, alienating Democratic voters, especially those brought to the political process by Obama, and greatly injuring the party's chances of winning in November. If she's not delusional, and she is seeking the nomination even though she knows it will have disastrous results, then she is dishonest and will do anything to win, just like her detractors claim. And I don't want to believe that. After all, last July, when she was still the unquestioned front-runner, I wrote that Clinton was unelectable. But in my analysis, I was very sympathetic to her, calling myself an admirer of hers and arguing that the negative views held of her by so many Americans were unfair and unfounded.

But her head-scratching speech last night left me in utter disbelief. Clinton gave a victory speech, even though the results signaled that she was all but done. Even before last night's primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, the math didn't add up for her. It was virtually impossible for her to catch Obama in pledged delegates, and thus it was highly unlikely the superdelegates would rip the nomination from Obama's grasp for fear of dividing the party for the general election. And, in the days leading up to the primaries, a strong trickle of superdelegates made their way into the Obama camp, while none managed to make the journey to the Clinton side.

To make a convincing argument that she should be given the nomination, Clinton needed a "game changer" yesterday. She had to show that Obama's campaign was dying, hers was surging, and that momentum was clearly on her side. Coming off a nine-point win in Pennsylvania and her earlier solid win in Ohio, Clinton had to be competitive in North Carolina (a state in which Obama's early large lead in the polls had eroded) and win convincingly in Indiana. Neither happened. Obama soundly defeated Clinton in North Carolina by 14 points and came within 25,000 votes of winning in Indiana, too.

That means that Obama increased his already commanding delegate lead. As of this writing, of the 115 pledged delegates to be awarded in North Carolina, 108 had been determined, with 62 going to Obama and only 46 landing in Clinton's column. In Indiana, since the race was so tight, Clinton's net gain will be one delegate. So, according to CNN, the total pledged delegates tally now stands at 1588 to 1419 in favor of Obama. He has also narrowed her once-commanding lead in superdelegates to a mere 13, 267 to 254. With only 217 pledged delegates left to be awarded, and with the Democrats' system of proportional allocation, that means that Obama has gone from being virtually assured of winning the pledged delegate race to absolutely coming out on top, most likely clinching on May 20 when Kentucky and Oregon hold their primaries.

Short of a major slip-up, it seems nearly impossible for Obama not to be the Democratic nominee. Including superdelegates who have already made their allegiances known, Obama is only 183 delegates away from victory, with 491 delegates still to be awarded (274 superdelegates to go with the 217 to be had in primaries). So even if Clinton wins 60 percent of the remaining elected delegates, she would need to secure 178 of the remaining 274 superdelegates to tip the scale her way. That's almost two-thirds. It's not going to happen.

Put another way, it seems the only way that Obama can lose the nomination is if he goes on television and announces that his running mate will be Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

But last night, Clinton and her supporters said she is on her way to the White House. Which is why I come back again and again to the word "delusional." Her actions would be entertaining, if they weren't so damaging to the party, preventing Obama from organizing his general election campaign and letting the media finally turn its attention to the seemingly daily wacky statements made by McCain, not to mention his voting record of walking in lock-step with Bush.

To me, Clinton's speech last night hit rock bottom when she again referenced her support of a three-month repeal of the federal gas tax that had been originally offered by McCain. Her use of the gas-tax holiday as a central issue in her Indiana and North Carolina campaigns crystallized everything Clinton's detractors accuse her of being. The repeal, along with her proposal to make up for the lost revenue by instituting a tax on oil companies, had no chance of being passed by Congress and signed by Bush, who, if he was any closer to Big Oil, would have an ExxonMobil employee ID card in his wallet. Even more importantly, more than 200 economists (including four Nobel laureates) came out to say that the tax holiday was a bad idea, since it would primarily benefit the oil companies and likely wouldn't lower the price of gas for consumers. And, as Obama repeatedly pointed out, even if the repeal worked and gas got cheaper, the savings would be minimal to consumers.

Of course, none of this even addresses the larger question of global warming, and how higher gas prices and lower consumption are actually positive steps in addressing climate change, nor does it take into account the failing infrastructure of the nation's highways (repairs are funded via the gas tax, something noted by the 200 economists) and the need for the government to support development of alternative energy sources.

So why did Clinton push so hard for a bill that wouldn't do what it was advertised to do and had no chance of being signed into law? For the political benefits, of course. It was a dishonest and sleazy come-on to voters, pretending to give them something while making it look like her opponent didn't want to give them anything. It was calculated and soulless, the very qualities that many Americans already associate with Clinton.

As far as I am concerned, Clinton lost all sympathy and any claim to the nomination when she campaigned on the gas-tax repeal. So it is only fitting that in her post-primaries speech last night, in which she painted a picture of the race that had no passing resemblance to reality, she again invoked the holiday.

Her supporters might even be worse. On CNN last night, Lanny Davis whined like a fourth grader denied a second cookie at lunch. He made inane points that defied basic election knowledge (like, for example, that Clinton should be the nominee because she won big states like New York, Massachusetts and California, conveniently forgetting that a ticket of Eliot Spitzer and the corpse of Adlai Stevenson would carry those three states for the Democrats), and cried that the votes in Florida and Michigan had to be recognized, even though they violated DNC rules by holding them so early, because Obama did not allow a mail-in re-vote in June (conveniently forgetting that neither candidate campaigned in those states, and Obama's name was not even on the ballot in Michigan). Davis was so shrill and out of touch, I would imagine many undecided voters watching his temper tantrums must have said to themselves, "I don't want to support that guy's candidate."

I found it especially entertaining that Clinton used Obama's tie-breaker quote against him, since she can be pilloried for her past statements, especially regarding how to pick the nominee. Clinton has shifted her view on the metrics of the race so often, you need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the changes. Keith Olbermann put together a funny and dead-on guide to the constantly evolving arguments of convenience offered by Clinton and her supporters
over the course of the campaign. You can watch it here.

I cannot get inside of Clinton's head, but it sure does seem to me that her actions and words reflect a view that she honestly believes that she -- and only she -- can beat McCain in November and save the country from the mess wrought by eight years of George W. Bush. Until she figures out that she is not a modern-day messiah, the Democrats will have some thorny issues to contend with.

How long does Clinton stick with her delusions? Until the convention? The Democrats can't afford to begin the race against John McCain on September 1. I could almost laugh at how out of touch Clinton was in her speech last night. But if she carries on much longer, the entertainment value will disappear quickly and be replaced by the sinking feeling that the Democrats are blowing another winnable election.

The party has to do whatever it can to wrap this up by the end of this month. Many commentators believe that when Obama clinches the pledged delegate race on May 20, the superdelegates will flood to him, essentially giving him the nomination. Let's hope so.