The race for the Democratic nomination has reached a critical intersection. Hillary Clinton suffered a body blow with her failure to win big in Indiana.
But with the rock star candidate hobbled by the preacher and bomber, it's hard to imagine that Barack Obama won't be looking more like an aging one hit wonder come fall against John McCain.
So what's different now that Indiana and North Carolina have had their say? Not all that much. Whether it's Reverend Wright or concerns over his considerable lack of qualifications for the job, he has become a candidate who mostly wins states with unusually large black populations, or red states where there are few blacks. On the other hand, in Indiana it was a nail-biter, so Hillary didn't come up with the story changer that would have cut the legs out from under Barack. It's keep on keeping on time for this process.
In the string of the final six contests, Hillary's storyline could get a boost. With the exception of Oregon, she has a good shot at winning all of the upcoming contests. Her plans are unchanged -- she's going all the way to the convention.
If only the party knew enough to be proud of her. Through the grueling ordeal of personal attacks, money problems and disdain from the media, Hillary has handled the frustration of going from the ordained candidate to the discarded with remarkable agility. You may not like her, but it sure is tough not to admire her fortitude -- this woman keeps her eye on the horizon. Plus, she seems impossible to defeat.
And guess what? These are all good things.
If she, instead of Obama, were the fantasy candidate, Hollywood would already have a script in development on Hillary's campaign and life: The Greatest American (Woman) it might be called. (Barry Gibb would write the soundtrack, Streisand and Diddy would sing, Denzel would play Barack while Alec Baldwin would play Bill Clinton, and it would be as doomed a project as is the Obama candidacy, so they'd be loving it.) But this is a story that Democrats don't like, so no one's going to option the script.
While Hillary's performance this year can be likened to watching a 15 round heavy weight title fight with all its grueling punishment and plot changes, the relationship between voters and Barack seems to evolve more like a love affair, with all the overtones of irrationality and emotion the analogy suggests.
When Obama walks in the room the first time, heads turn, hearts beat faster, the lust-o-meter hits the upper limits. Yes we need judgment; Yes we need Hope, Yes We Can!
Over the short term, he wears well. He's smart, he's fair, he's decent, and it sure seems as if he's honest. A pretty special guy. It looks, remarkably, like Barack is the real deal.
Then we start to meet his friends, family and business associates, and we get a creepy vibe. Those aren't people I'd surround myself with, we say to ourselves. The guy makes lots of excuses, says he understands how we feel, but he just can't walk away from those bad kids he grew up with politically.
The glow of perfection devolves, as surely it must, when Obama faces the test of time. Intelligence starts to read as arrogance, eloquence gives way to stammering and words too carefully chosen, and the true life story, we learn, doesn't quite match the sales pitch. A sinking feeling sets in, one that says this was an attraction driven by the irrational exuberance of lust instead of true love.
That's how the Democratic nomination is playing out, with the two candidates on opposite trajectories -- Hillary getting better with time, Barack looking worse. Who'd have thunk it?
Take a look at the Pew Research Poll from last week. The national trends are shocking. In March, Barack was tied with Hillary among white voters who are Democrats or lean that way. Now he is down sixteen!
With working class whites, the gap is more devastating. Hillary's ten point advantage from March is now at forty! These trends continued in Tuesday's vote. This is no joke -- it represents an electability crisis.
Barack has become a niche candidate. If you're black, rich or went to an Ivy League school, then you're definitely in his camp. College professors love him. College kids love him. People who wax nostalgic for the good old days of blowing up buildings would swear off ammonium nitrate forever to see him win. And there are many who miss the explosive sixties, just not enough of them to make Barack into a viable general election candidate.
But with other groups that we're told are key Obama constituencies, the numbers are also sobering. Barack's six point lead among those making more than $50,000 per year has become a five point deficit. The college educated, a critical base of support, only favor him by five.
Every signal says the party would be better off with Hillary, and the natural move would be to embrace her and abandon Barack. After all, the process still allows a shift. Why should Barack get the nomination just because the Reverend Wright story didn't unfold until late in the primary season?
The choice between Barack and Hillary is a scary one for Democrats, but it would be easy if they just trusted the process. It's somewhat confusing why they've allowed themselves to be trapped in this box of needing to have Obama be the winner. Is it because of the cash that Barack has showered upon superdelegates?
Allowing Democracy to follow its course wouldn't be so difficult. First, explain to everyone that this is a normal part of the nominating process -- sometimes, at the end of it all, the primaries fail to yield a winner. Happily, though, there's a failsafe built in to resolve the situation -- we go to round two. In round two, the party leaders (superdelegates) get to vote. They are not asked to rubber stamp the leading candidate, otherwise they'd be of no value and their unique status would never have been created. Their job is to use their wisdom and experience and concern for the interests of the party to steer the best candidate to the nomination. To suggest otherwise is silliness.
Were Democrats to cease the hand wringing over the role of superdelegates and market them to the country as something wonderful, people's perceptions would likely follow along just fine.
The inability of Democrats to embrace Hillary and have a shot at beating John McCain reflects a failure to learn one of the great lessons of Barack 101. Explain things to folks in a clear and reasoned manner, and they'll probably go along with you out of appreciation for the respect you've shown them, if not as an acknowledgment of the power of your argument.
What we will see next from Democrats is not wisdom, however, but a rush to failure. At a time when superdelegates should start flipping to Hillary, we'll continue to see them announcing for Barack at moments orchestrated by his campaign.
They're heading the wrong way because Clintons make Democrats feel dirty, because Barack is their fantasy, and because they're scared about losing all the new voters they've been signing up, whom they consider to be the future of the party.
Here's the question that Democrats must answer: Is the party's commitment to Barack Obama more important than this election? If his hold on them is strong enough, they'll give him the nomination and throw the election. If not, they'll send him back to the bench to wait for next time, and give the nomination to the only Democrat in the race with the chance to be president -- and the first woman president in U.S. history, at that.
That may not warm the hearts of liberals like a good long toke on the great bong of Barack, but they've got to admit, it's far better than spending the next six months trying to explain why working class folk should embrace the party of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.