I keep wanting to write a primer for those readers who don’t pay attention to U.S. politics, or maybe just keep an eye on it but skim the details.
The problem is, I usually start in Philadelphia in 1787, with casual conversations in Ben Franklin’s back yard over madeira (think Kool-Aid with booze). It gets longish.
So here’s the short version: Next Wednesday will be an important day.
The Republicans have a nominee. The Democrats have had an amazing, close race for the nomination between two historic candidates, but the Tuesday night election coverage is about to stop.
And what’s interesting (to me) is that we know pretty much what will happen, with one exception.
On Saturday, the Rules Committee will decide what to do with the delegates of Florida and Michigan, who had the temerity to move their primary contests up to January, in hopes of being influential (irony: This year, they should have stayed put. It might have made a huge difference). The Democratic National Committee said, “Fine, go ahead, vote all you like, we won’t pay attention to you. Nah nah. We’re not listening…” and the candidates pledged not to campaign there at all. John Edwards and Barack Obama even got their names taken off the ballot in Michigan. Clinton did not.
So, the committee will reinstate the delegates at half-strength (essentially making Florida more like Wisconsin and Michigan sorta Rhode Island).
On Sunday, Puerto Rico will vote for a nominee and Clinton will win, decisively but maybe not as huge as she likes. This is an esteem builder for Puerto Rico; they can’t vote in the general (i.e., real) election in November, but they like to play anyway.
On Tuesday, Montana and South Dakota will go into the win column for Obama, and the primary season is over. Obama will have won the nomination by virtue of getting a majority of the pledged delegates and the “super” delegates (mostly elected Democratic officials who get to vote and really, really don’t want to). Tuesday night or Wednesday, Obama will unofficially accept the nomination and praise Sen. Clinton, pledge to win in November, say some pointed but polite things about John McCain, and take a long nap.
And Hillary Clinton will have a decision to make.
So watch this carefully. It will be HUGE.
I like Hillary Clinton. I think she’s misbehaved during this season, but in a “politics as usual/winning is everything” sort of way. Some snark, some evasion, some really dumb statements. But nothing nasty, and I still like her and think she would have made a good President. And I can see her making a stirring, gracious concession speech, one that will be talked about for days.
Unfortunately, I can also see her doing something else. I can see her refusing to concede because Florida and Michigan have been gypped, she will say. All of those poor voters who took the time to vote and voted, as it turns out, mostly but not overwhelmingly, for her, are being disenfranchised, and until they get full delegates and voting rights at the convention the race isn’t over, not by a long shot. She’ll fight for them, all the way to the convention, taking it to the mat (or floor) if need be.
This would be bogus, of course. Mrs. Clinton is on record as supporting the decision to nullify Michigan and Florida, back when she was the heavy favorite. Again, this is just hardball politics.
But the Democrats have a history in years when there’s been wrangling and conflict at the conventions. That history is, basically, that they lose in the fall.
So watch for Wednesday. I have no doubt that Sen. Clinton sincerely believes that she is the best candidate, would have the best chance, and would be the best President. If she concedes, it will surprise a lot of people who think she’s ruthless, unconcerned with nothing but her own ambition, willing to take down her party’s chances in November for an almost nonexistent chance at reversing Obama’s victory, or at least ensuring his defeat and herself another shot in 2012. There are lots of people like this, and I look forward to them being surprised.
What I don’t look forward to is seeing them proved right. But that’s what to watch for, anyway. We’ll know in five days. Take that to the bank.
UPDATE: If you’re really, really interested in the whole Michigan/Florida thing, here’s a pretty good summary and explanation.