Political Hay

A Pyrrhic Victory for Hillary

Will the Democrats diss their black voters?

By 3.17.08

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Try this thought experiment. Senator Barack Obama makes it through the final Democratic primary in Puerto Rico with (a) a majority of "pledged" delegates, not including Super Delegates, and (b) a majority of the popular vote.

For purposes of this exercise, you may even assume that Senator Obama's margins over Senator Hillary Clinton, in both categories, are exceedingly narrow. Assume also that he has not fully resolved, or put behind him, his problems with his Chicago pastor's extremist statements from the pulpit.

Given the above scenario, a highly plausible one, will the Democratic Party, through the instrumentality of their Super Delegates, its ostensible leaders, diss black American voters, the most loyal of Democratic constituencies for over forty years? In other words, will it deny Senator Obama the nomination in the face of his electoral and popular success in the primary elections?

Will the party elders do a very un-Democratic thing and hand over the nomination to a candidate who did not win a majority of either delegates or the popular vote, fair and square, according to the rules of the game then controlling? Discuss.

AS INCREDIBLE AS this scenario may seem, this is precisely the proposition that Senator Clinton is proposing to the party of Jefferson and Jackson. (Given the sketchy records both of these great Americans on matters of race and slavery, maybe there is more irony here than one might realize.)

Call it the Divine Right of Clintons. Or maybe it is a Clintonian version of the Jedi mind trick. But no matter how you view this proposition, the thought of the Democratic Party overturning the first, historic presidential nomination of an African American at its Denver convention is truly stupefying.

Slavery has been described as America's Original Sin, bringing with it generations of racial discord. It distorted the original Constitution, which was only purged of this toxin by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the Civil War. The civil rights movement of the 1960s moved the nation closer to the goal of equality under the law. Now Senator Obama has become the embodiment of the nation's belated triumph over past injustice. This is a powerful reality that is recognized even by those who will not vote for him in the general election.

Senator Clinton's campaign claims that she is entitled to the nomination because she has won big states like California, Texas, Ohio and, maybe, Pennsylvania. This argument ignores two facts. First, if the Democrats have to worry about California and Pennsylvania -- or even Michigan -- in the general election, they ought to pack it in right now, especially with an authentic independent like Senator John McCain running as the Republican candidate. Nothing can save them. Granted Ohio is in play. Yet, the GOP is in very bad shape there due to an amazing run of political and personal scandals. And the Buckeye economy is not going to get any better between now and November, which still works to the advantage of any Democratic nominee.

Second, the presidential election is still decided by the Electoral College, which robs large vote margins in big or small states of their significance. You just need to win. You do not need to pile up the votes.

SHOULD THE SUPER DELEGATES swing decisively to Senator Clinton, thereby giving her the nomination, would this be a Pyrrhic victory for her? Would the legions of black Americans, who have loyally supported the Democratic Party since at least the election of Jack Kennedy, sit still for this twist in the electoral process? It is never smart to bet against the Clintons in any election, but Senator Obama's increasing percentage of support from the black American electorate really "ups the ante" for the Democrats.

There is now overwhelming enthusiasm for Barack Obama among black Democrats throughout the country. From their perspective Obama is winning it fair and square.

If the Super Delegates lay hands upon Hillary Clinton, in the face of Obama majorities of pledged delegates and popular vote, it is unimaginable that African-American Democrats would recognize such a ukase as legitimate either politically or morally. It would demoralize and alienate the African-American electorate in November, a political catastrophe for the Democratic Party.

Since the Supreme Court awarded the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000, the sanctity of the popular vote has become a rallying cry for Democrats. It may be hard, if not impossible, to retreat from that position in the context of Barack Obama's claim on his party's nomination.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.