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February 19, 2008

Obama "Tide"

Roy Meachum

A Wisconsin February once cost me a tire chain. Going north of Milwaukee to Green Bay, the links broke and thumped repeatedly against the car until I managed to pull off the road. Forecasters predict the same wintry mess for today's voting.

There was no presidential primary that year. The smoke-filled back-room still prevailed. Primaries existed. But later they took second place to what are now called "super-delegates."

Having tried small-d democracy, the Democratic powers-that-be were not at all happy to wind up with Jimmy Carter as candidate. To make matters worse, the erstwhile Georgia governor won.

Standing beside a camera crew, I was amazed when the new president inaugurated his stay in Washington by actually walking down Pennsylvania Avenue. Whatever the Secret Service warnings, he got away with it.

Mr. Carter's four years at the nation's helm gifted his fellow Democrats with super-delegates who keep alive the smoke-filled back-room tradition. Make no mistake, if that custom still prevailed, GOP hopeful John McCain would, in November, be facing Hillary Rodham Clinton. There is no doubt!

On the other hand, the bosses would probably reluctantly pick a woman; they'd be too leery that she would alienate other women while not getting enough men to even out. Why take a chance?

Mrs. Clinton is obviously different; she comes with a guarantee from her husband and an overall record of not shaking political boats. No man could represent the national party machine better.

When the Democratic numbers dwindled down to the final duo, Bill Clinton and his cohorts managed to keep in his wife's column the old regulars who faced no rivals. The splintering off comes painfully, at best.

Barack Obama's sole weapon is racking up the popular vote; in the earlier confrontations he's favored by thousands more than Mrs. Clinton. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that he could strengthen his cause in today's voting, whatever the weather.

The Illinois senator's faithful tend to turn out more than those who favor the “gentle lady” from New York. Figuring that Mr. Obama's strong majority will hold when all the primaries are done, then how could anyone reckon he would lose the nomination? Not in the party still bellyaching over Al Gore's loss in 2000.

The ex-vice president had more votes than George W. Bush, but Florida's delegates put the present president in office. They made the difference in the Electoral College, created to ensure "wiser heads" would prevail over the "mob" – another way of saying uncontrolled public opinion. They would provide control.

Apologists for the muffling restraints imposed on "the voice of the people" can cite the differences in education and experience between 18th century classes. Today's chief Democrats are hard-pressed to invoke a similar argument to justify their super-delegates. Besides, they would like the rest of us to believe such snobbery is strictly a Republican vice.

Going against the old-line "regular" leaders is the rise of defections within their own ranks. Already congressional super-delegates have served notice they will not go against the voting in their districts, which gave Mr. Obama a remarkable plurality early in the year.

Then there are those who refuse to take either side, hoping they will be able to broker a deal between the candidates soon; certainly before Mr. McCain and his campaign crew wreak havoc all summer.

However those efforts turn out, no one can seriously believe the Obama enthusiasts will philosophically accept his ousting and turn enthusiastically to promote her campaign. Never happen!

Today's Wisconsin (and Hawaii) polling would have to deliver a crushing Clinton mandate and go on to clean up every Ohio and Texas vote in sight. She must skunk him in Pennsylvania and every other state remaining. Since Democrats award delegates on the basis of votes cast for each candidate in each congressional district, what are the odds?

In other words, to reverse the Illinois senator's wins this winter would, in short, take something comparable to both the Clintons walking on Lake Michigan waters while daughter Chelsea stands on their shoulders and waves an Arkansas flag.

And what do they do about the opposing candidate's rushing momentum?

Barack Obama's position at this writing falls into the glow of the words that Shakespeare put in Julius Caesar's mouth: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at its flood, leads on to fortune."

Lest any reader ascribe invocation of the quote to a head grown ridiculously fat and smug, I should also remind that I know Caesar died with many gaping wounds on that Ides of March.

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