Won’t Go There

February 15, 2008 1:28 a.m.

In the thick of a campaign it is easy to overrate the importance of an endorsement or a political hit. But it is difficult to overstate the significance of John Lewis’ switch from the Clinton to Obama camps because it is a devastating blow on two or three levels wrapped together in a single person. Lewis’ historic and moral stature in the African-American community and in the modern Democratic party bulks very large. “In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense of spirit,” Lewis told the Times. “Something is happening in America, and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap.” This is a curious statement as he seems to be suggesting that his earlier endorsement of Clinton was based on his own failure to set his sights sufficiently high. What’s more, the willingness of a high-profile politician not simply to endorse one candidate but to switch from one to another (at least in terms of who he believes he’ll vote for as a super delegate) is a powerful sign that a tipping point is at hand.

But the most immediate and significant import is Lewis’s signal that whatever the basis of his original endorsement he is unwilling to join Clinton in carving a path to the nomination through the heart of the Democratic party. The tell in Lewis’s announcement is that he is not technically withdrawing his endorsement from Hillary, at least not yet. He is saying that as a super delegate (which is by virtue of being a member of Congress) he plans to vote for Obama at the convention. On Wednesday the Clinton camp started pushing hard on the idea that a delegate is a delegate and if they need to pack on super delegates to overwhelm Obama’s edge with elected delegates then so be it. A win is a win is a win. I take this as Lewis saying he just won’t sign on for that.

This also points to an argument I tried to make in today’s episode of TPMtv. The Clinton camp’s super delegate gambit is not only audacious. Far more than that it is simply unrealistic. The super delegates who are gettable for Clinton by loyalty, conviction or coercion are already got. And enough’s been seen of both candidates for everyone to be more than acquainted with them. The ones who remain — who make up roughly half the total — are waiting to see who the winner is.

The truth is that there are over 1000 elected delegates remaining to be won. We really don’t know what’s going to happen yet. But if the trend continues and Obama ends the primary season with a clear majority of elected delegates, the idea that those remaining super delegates will break for the candidate who won fewer delegates, raised less money and is polling worse against the Republican nominee simply makes no sense. I’m not saying that’s how it will be. But if Clinton starts winning big primaries in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states, then the whole question is moot.

But this is like the unreality that seems more and more to suffuse the Clinton campaign. I don’t mean the candidate or her policies or the premises of her candidacy. I mean the cocoon of political ridiculousness that has increasingly permeated her campaign apparatus since early January.

You’ve seen my continuous barbs at Mark Penn, Clinton’s ‘chief strategist’. The last couple days have shown very clearly I think that Clinton could do nothing better for her campaign than to throttle this clown and let her get down to the business of making a case to voters for her candidacy. Perhaps good spin is an oxymoron, moral if not linguistic. But good spin is clever and forward-leaning pitches of actual realities, facts. The word in the sense we use it today actually came into being in the early 90s and to a great degree around the ’92 Clinton campaign, which had such mastery in its practice. But this Clinton campaign has been doing it in a weird parody mode. Not sharp ‘spins’ on favorable realities, but aggressive pitches of complete nonsense. So now you have Penn successively saying caucus wins don’t really count, small state wins don’t really count, medium state wins don’t really count, states with large African-American populations don’t really count, all building up to yesterday’s gem: “Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn’t won any of the significant states — outside of Illinois? That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama.”

Clinton is ultimately responsible for putting her political fate in this fool’s hands. But this is a guy who has basically one big political win under his belt and whose record in seriously contested races, particularly Democratic primary races is one of almost constant defeats. Much of Clinton’s current predicament stems from Penn’s disastrous, glass-jaw ‘inevitability’ strategy and the mind-boggling decision not even to contest a slew of states where Obama racked up huge victories and many delegates.

Campaigns are about winning votes not making excuses. There are plenty of delegates still out there for Clinton to win — over a thousand left in the remaining primaries. But her efforts are being stymied by a campaign apparatus rooted in the belief that any new reality can be overturned by pretending it away.

Masthead Masthead
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