Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Outta Here

Today marks the end of the Democratic primary, which, as Barack Obama frequently notes, has gone on long enough for babies to be born and even start discussing the race with their parents. This evening, Hillary Clinton [should] admit what the rest of the world has long known. No matter how many sweaty hands she shook or greasy spoons she visited or tiresome slogans she tried or loathsome compromises she made, she couldn't put the kid away. How frustrating it must be, that this young, skinny, inexperienced guy would have been just another Chicago-pol wannabe if not for that damned convention speech. Following his 2004 oration, Obama became something larger than politics, a force representing the national zeitgeist that could not be trounced the usual way.

That's the story anyway, though it's not really what happened.

Plenty of political obituaries will be written today and tomorrow, page after page sifting through the wreckage for an answer to the question that Clinton surely ponders at 3 a.m. (when the phone isn't ringing): What went wrong? There are plenty of clues. Her husband comes to mind for his many and inexplicable failures to understand the meaning of the glowing red dot on recording devices (and the parallel reality that where there is a president - present or former - there are recording devices). Then one might recall Clinton's tone-deaf inability to read the public mood about Iraq and admit before anyone really cared that she'd erred in providing Bush the authority to launch an ill-timed, ill-planned war. Oh, and we might want to give props to her opponent who, despite his many missteps, seems to possess a zen-like calm in the face of adversity. But as far as I'm concerned, the final cause of Clinton's slow-motion collapse comes down to one date: February 5th.

Clinton simply never imagined a campaign lasting past "Super Duper Tuesday," and she paid a dear political price for that lack of vision. Failing to put her upstart opponant away in Iowa and New Hampshire (despite her surprising win in the Granite State), she should have recognized this race for what it had become, a toe-to-toe knockdown that would lurch across the country. This required a strategy of body blows meant to keep her opponent from getting any air. Instead Clinton practically ceded the red states to Obama, since she'd never built much of an infrastructure there anyway. Clinton's failure to compete in GOP strongholds allowed Obama to jab and dart across the country for weeks, catching his breath and rolling up points in his favor.

Sure New York and California have more delegates, lots more. And swing states make the difference in November. But Democrats live in the south and mountain west, too. They won't necessarily convince their neighbors to vote Democratic in November, but they count in the primaries. And they showed up for Obama because he showed up for them. In fact, for all of his well-crafted references to MLK and all that soaring oratory about hope and change, it was simple mathematics that put Obama at the top of the ticket this November. His numbers added up; Clinton's did not.

Yes, there's a certain pointlessness to these sorts of self-congratulatory postmortems. It's easy to read a campaign as history, much harder to predict one as destiny. I was surprised by the twists and turns to this race, and I was frequently wrong in my speculations. But there's no doubt: Clinton's likely concession tonight will be a sad one. How sad? Advance-team staffers have been told that they can have a plane ticket to one of two places, New York, where Clinton will congratulate Obama, or home, where all political types dream of going one day. But if they fly to New York, they're expected to find their own way from there.

It's a sad epitaph for a hard-fought campaign: Thank you for standing with me all this time. Now you're on your own.

Learn More: The AP has run a pretty good "greatest hits" summary of the Democratic primary: Obama effectively clinches nomination

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