So far, 2008 has not gone he way the leaders of the Democratic Party envisioned. Just over a year ago they took control of the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years, and as the primary race began they had what everyone considered to be three very good candidates to choose from. Not since the 1976 election following the Nixon debacle a generation ago had the prospect of taking back the White House looked so much like a sure thing.
Yet the party now seems on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and not just with the mess the race for the nomination has become. Since taking control of the Congress, virtually nothing has been accomplished except for a series of resolutions designed to end the Iraq war that were destined to be vetoed from the start. There is very little of substance the Democrats can point to when making the case that they should get another two years as the majority. They likely will keep that majority, but it will be so slim that another two years of gridlock is all but assured.
The real question now is whether a Democratic President will be there to help minimize this gridlock. A year ago that seemed like a virtual certainty: the Democrats loved all of their candidates and the Republicans hated theirs. It was a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee on the Democratic ticket, possibly with Barack Obama as her running mate, and that the Republicans would push hard for a life-sized poster of Ronald Reagan to be theirs. The Democratic race would be over by Super Tuesday while the Republicans fought all the way to the convention and beyond.
Then a funny thing happened: John McCain came back from the dead, and people started buying into Barack Obama’s audacity of hope. Now it’s the Democrats who are stuck in an electoral quagmire while McCain gets to run around looking presidential. There could even be a convention fight in Denver, since neither Obama nor Clinton will end up with enough pledged delegates to win outright, although the super delegates seem inclined to vote for whoever is ahead at the end of the primaries.
That stance made some sense before the controversy surrounding Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright happened. Between Wright’s hateful sermons and Obama’s quote about “typical white people,” the audacity of hope suddenly became simply audacity. Obama did give an eloquent speech in response to the uproar, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone; giving eloquent speeches is what got him where he is today. Now his “positive” campaign is attacking Hillary Clinton’s character, calling her deeply flawed and dishonest. So much for change.
This is typical for a political campaign, but this was not supposed to be a typical campaign. However, the rancor has gotten so venomous that supporters from both sides are saying they’ll vote for McCain if their candidate isn’t the nominee. It will be hard for the Democratic leadership to pull everyone back into the same tent this time around, especially since DNC Chairman Howard Dean seems intent on reducing the number of states the party even has a chance to win.
Dean’s ridiculous exclusion of delegates from Florida and Michigan because of outdated party rules could easily cost the Democrats two key states in November, no matter who their nominee is. Florida is especially critical, and telling the voters of the 4th largest state in the Union that they just don’t matter is dumber than letting out a howl after getting crushed in the Iowa caucus.
There may still be time for the Democrats to right this apparently sinking ship. It’s a long time until November, and McCain could make some serious missteps between now and then. But that’s also a long time in which to learn even more about Barack Obama, and for the Democrats that hasn’t been a good thing so far.