Politics

The War Among the Democrats

With four months to go until the Democratic National Convention in Denver Colorado August 24-28, what is now clear is that the two warring camps in the party mean to fight out the nomination to the floor itself and at least the first ballot.  This is a full scale civil war in the Democratic Party.  Both camps identify four major fronts where the combat will be sophisticated, ruthless and round-the-clock.

 The first major battlefront is cash.  The Obama campaign is clearly dominant, raising a dumbfounding $235 million overall, with $42 million on hand and more each hour.  I received four requests for $25 in the first half day after Pennsylvania was declared.

Accordingly the Obama campaign now makes the sharp attack that the Clinton campaign is in debt and cannot get to the convention at the burn rate of up to $1 million per day.  The Clinton campaign reacted sharply.  Phil Singer of the Clinton campaign was keen to text message Politico.com on Tuesday night of Pennsylvania, "As of 1130 PM tonight, we are nearly at $2.5 million since PA was called for HRC…."  By the next day it was up to $10 million on the website, and the Clintons were opening offices and dispatching field teams to North Carolina. The Clintons cannot match the Obama cash machine, but the Clinton campaign can finance the journey to Denver.  Counting on either side to run short of cash is like waiting for Lee or Grant to run out of bullets.

The second battlefront is the media.   The Obamas have the overwhelming advantage in field artillery.  Mr. Obama and campaign guru David Axelrod have enjoyed enviable support of not only major Democratic newspapers, magazines and websites in New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, but also of two of the three major TV news cables, MSNBC and CNN.   Pundits such as Hendrik Hertzberg, Tom Shales, and David Carr may have exaggerated their unhappiness at the ABC TV Pennsylvania primary debate — "degradation," "despicable," disgusting" — however the effect of the collective adulation for the Obamas radiates to the overseas enterprises, where it is can be imported to American media as world opinion.

The Financial Times editorial recently found Mr. Obama to be a "spell-binding orator," with a "relaxed demeanor" and "coolness" and “authenticity."  At the same time the U.K Guardian published an opinion piece from Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University in Boston that observed that Mrs. Clinton "will fight like a crazed weasel."  The Republican voices on the airwaves are treated as pests or baiters; and if Fox presents an unusual Obama fact, it is tagged as Swift-boating.  

After Pennsylvania there appears a start at more competition for the controlling narrative.  Mrs. Clinton’s voices assert that Mr. Obama’s support has steadily declined since February with the critical white male vote, union household vote and modest-income vote and that too many of Mr. Obama’s victories are in boutique red states.   Much is made of Mr. Obama’s unforced errors, such as the "bitter" remark in San Francisco, and of Mr. Obama’s inability or unwillingness to articulate the breadth of his at least two decade relationships with the disliked former Weatherman Bill Ayers and the unpopular Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Trinity Church.  

The Clintons now make the media challenge that Mr. Obama must be able to win the red state of Indiana in order to be viable for the general election. The Obamas now fire back that Mrs. Clinton must win the red state of North Carolina to show she is worthy of the superdelegates.  Also, the Clintons on TV are pushing back hard against alleged misogynistic remarks by Obama supporters such as the sharp-tongued Keith Olberman.  The Reverend Wright’s sudden emergence with Bill Moyers on PBS last week worried Obama watchers such as Bill Gergen on CNN: "Barrack Obama needed to get back on message and have the Wright story die away."

The third front is the delegation fight in Michigan and Florida. The clear advantage here is to the Clintons, since Mrs. Clinton won both contests handily without campaigning, and it was Mr. Obama who chose to remove his name from the Michigan ballot.   Late in 2007, the DNC declared Michigan’s 128 and Florida’s 211 delegates ineligible because the states chose to hold primaries too early for party taste.  Senior Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal flatly remarks that the Clintons will not cooperate with the disenfranchisement of the voters of Florida and Michigan.   

The latest in Michigan is that the state party has gone ahead to choose delegates that may be seated in Denver.  Mrs. Clinton now enjoys a lead in pledged Michigan delegates, yet these results are prey to unexplained adjustment by the state committee.  So far, the Obama campaign has not demonstrated eagerness for a resolution; and even the keen observers at Demconwatch.blogspot.com are puzzled.  

In Florida, where Mr. Obama was on the ballot, Mrs. Clinton won the election by seventeen points.  Chairman Howard Dean recently visited Florida to soothe but not to resolve the confusion.   Former Senator Bill Nelson, a Clinton superdelegate, declared that if Mrs. Clinton won Pennsylvania by a strong margin, which she did, then the fight over the Florida delegation will go to the convention.   Mr. Nelson may have mentioned "blood on the floor," and there is a fresh push by Florida voters to force the DNC to decide now.   

At Denver, before the floor fight, the one hundred and eighty-six members on the Rules Committee and the one hundred and eighty-six members on the Credentials Committee will get a chance to argue over the seating; and each member of these committee can expect to be treated as a piece of a treasure map.  The DNC rules permit almost any solution.  

Can Mr. Obama reach the 2025 delegate majority without Michigan and Florida?   Can Mrs. Clinton wrest a several dozen delegate advantage by seating Michigan and Florida?  Will the committees risk being overturned on the floor if they do not enfranchise the delegations?  And what to make of the accurate arithmetic that adding the popular vote of Florida and Michigan to the totals so far for both candidates, and excluding four small caucus meetings, means that right now Mrs. Clinton has a 100,000 vote advantage over Mr. Obama?  

And how do the superdelegates decide which candidate to favor without knowing of the fate of the superdelegates of Michigan and Florida?  The DNC has now set a meeting in Washington on May 31 for the Rules Committee to begin the skirmishing at close range.  Dr. Dean recently provided a hopeful prediction that, after the final primary on June 3,  the superdelegates will weigh in with a determinative choice for Obama or Clinton by the end of June, adding, "Politics is a herd mentality."  

Challenging Dr. Dean’s dream is an unresolved remark by his colleague Donna Brazille the day after SuperTuesday, Feb 6, when she told CNN, "If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party. I feel very strongly about this. … There’s no reason why we should decide this election. I feel very strongly."

The fourth battlefront is the female vote, and this is the most volatile and hard to measure of the four.  The advantage should be to Mrs. Clinton, because she consistently wins the female vote 2-1. This front is better understood as the battle between the "I Am Woman" heavy divisions that rally to the Clintons versus the pro-Obama special operations forces such as celebrity activist Jodie Evan’s Code Pink and celebrity activist  Arianna Huffington’s "Huffington Post."  

The chosen battlefield is Denver; the threat is a wireless, YouTube, blogged version of the chaos at the infamous Chicago convention of 1968.  The code name for all this planning is R68, or Re-create 68.  Code Pink has disrupted many Clinton events along the trail.  Huffington Post, which hourly publishes spectacular anti-Clinton jeremiads, is run in part by Kenneth Lerer, a successful Obama bundler.    There are anecdotes from the blunt pro-Clinton bloggers at Stop-Obama.org that an anti-Clinton strike force is under development for the Denver convention, led by the nimble, numberless, stylish Code Pink.  

The benefactor of Code Pink is the super-rich and vivacious Jodie Evans, who is also a successful Obama bundler as as well as a pal of Mrs. Huffington.  Code Pink (codepink4peace.org) has been less than coy about its contacts with R68.   Active websites such as DNCDisruption08.org, unconventionalaction.org, infoshop.org, a presence called Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Colorado (raimd.wordpress.com) and others along with the mother ship Recreate68.org can be seen as both prankish and ominous.  

Conversation with the R68 planner Glenn Spagnuolo is pleasant and uneventful; he speaks of on-site health clinics and food for all at the rallies in August.  The Denver Mayor John Hickelooper’s office, the Colorado Homeland Security, the Denver police, the Secret Service and the DNC are treating R68 as a substantial worry, and they are working together to anticipate the activists.  For now this means the city is reserving popular city parks for DNC events only and arranging for massive security.  What cannot be done beforehand is to solve the often-blogged warning that if Mr. Obama is not the nominee, then the center will not be sanguine, at least not on TV.  

The chances of resolving the war between the Democrats peacefully are less than four in ten.  I have listened carefully to the passion on both sides and heard the drumbeat of rushing to the front.  Ask each side, "Why?"  And the answer is that 1936 FDR battle cry, "Rendezvous with destiny.”

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