Monday, June 2, 2008

Final Dress

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Puerto Rico, picking up votes in a lot of demographics that would have in the past gone to Barack Obama. And she continues to make her case for her dimming chances for the nomination.

In a telephone interview with The Washington Post after her victory by a 2 to 1 ratio over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), Clinton stressed that she will press forward through the final contests of the primary season on Tuesday, brushed aside the idea that she was searching for an exit strategy, and said she will continue to weigh both her immediate- and longer-term options in the race.

Asked whether she will challenge a Democratic National Committee ruling on Saturday awarding Obama some disputed Michigan delegates even though his name did not appear on the state’s ballot, Clinton said she had not yet decided. In her victory speech Sunday afternoon, Clinton again claimed triumph in the overall popular vote in the primaries and held out hope that she would still see a reversal of fortune.

At the risk of sounding incredibly naive, I have no problem whatsoever with Sen. Clinton’s intention to pursue the nomination, and I think that in the long run — no pun intended — what we’ve been through since December has actually been good for both the Democratic Party and our political system in general. We do not have a neat and tidy system, but I don’t think it was designed that way. The Constitution is remarkably silent on the process of choosing candidates for office; all it does is set the minimum age and citizenship requirements and gives us a rather cumbersome and circuitous Electoral College. There’s no mention of political parties, of primary elections, of delegate allocations at conventions, or all of the other things that have occupied us since the cold days of the Iowa caucuses. Instead, the Founding Fathers placed their trust in the people coming up with methods at the state and local levels that best suited their needs. And if nothing else, the last six months have provided us with valuable lessons in nuts-and-bolts politics… and in every sense of the word “nuts” to some degree. (Not to mention “bolt” as well, as in former candidates endorsing others and candidates distancing themselves from unsavory characters.)

The system also relies heavily on human nature and the maddening ability we have for short-term memory loss. Just to remind you: who was the leading GOP candidate on December 2, 2007? Was it John McCain, or was it Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, or Rudy Guiliani? (It’s been so long since I’ve written about Rudy that Spell Check popped up with a red wiggler to remind me to check the name.) In his column on that Sunday, Frank Rich didn’t even mention the Senator from Arizona in his musings about the November match-up.

In the next couple of days, the Democratic nomination process will have reached an end… if not the end. At long last the primaries will be over when they’re supposed to be, and unlike those of the last ten or so election cycles, they will have all mattered, not just the ones that got held before Lent. Americans of both political parties will have had ample — some say gluttonous — opportunities to hear the candidates’ stands on the issues, when they weren’t distracted by numerous “look at the kitty!” moments such as flag pins, gauche historical references, and the general stupidities of sexism, racism, ageism, and whatever else it takes to keep Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and the entire cast of Fox News fluttering around like hummingbirds on crack.

It’s not been a perfect process by any means, but in theatre there’s a tradition that if you have a final dress rehearsal full of errors, missed cues, technical glitches, hissy fits by the actors, temper flares by the stage managers and the crew, and the panic that you’re never going to be ready for opening night, everything will go smoothly on opening night. Well, if this weekend’s events and the past six months were considered rehearsal period, we’re in for a smash run when the curtain actually goes up on in front of the paying audience. Break a leg.