Democrats, God bless ‘em, love the underdog.
Maybe it started in 1960, that magical year when the country put aside 0.1 percent of its prejudices and a few dead-body-ballots in Chicago to elect a young, idealistic Catholic to the White House. Maybe it was his untimely death, maybe the pain of two Nixon victories, the nightmare of Carter or the tabling of hope when nominating vultures like Humphrey, Mondale and Dukakis, but the party of donkeys has a definite penchant for the ostrich and his head full of cool, sandy dreams.
And now, in this savage Year of Our Lord 2008, at the divinely-appointed confluence of all things electorally miraculous, the party got picky. After eight funereal years of intractable war, economic meltdown, international scorn and a fine dismemberment of the Constitution, the boys and girls in blue were handed a blank check to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, hand-delivered by a fed-up citizenry and bathed in the perfumes of a friendly Congress. Only two questions remained: how great was to be the glory, and who would hoist the banner of Change while placing his, or her hand, whether it be black or white or Latino or gay or young or old, on John Roberts’s swearing-in Bible. This was to be the karmic calling in of all favors to balance out Lee Harvey Oswald and company, George Wallace, the Canuck Letter, the Monkey Business, Newt Gingrich, Florida 2000, Ken Starr and Karl Rove, et al.
Naturally, therein lay the problem. Too much pent-up loss and too much stored karma, when released, explodes. A superdelegate system intended in 1982 to make Democrats more realistically competitive with Republicans festooned into inordinate importance, perhaps making Dems far less competitve now. A Democratic pasture that normally fields some guy from Massachusetts, a no-name small-state governor and a dandruffy green-living nut suddenly blossomed with at least three magnificent specimens of progressive ideals. One gracefully bowed out, vowing to get cheaper haircuts and work for Habitat for Humanity, the other two, unabashedly dubbed the Dream Ticket, dug in their heels from the snow of Iowa to the deserts of Texas and the fields of Pennsylvania. After all, it was Their Time to be the First ______ President of the United States, and no one, but no one, was going to say otherwise.
It certainly wouldn’t be the voters. Eyes bulged and mouths dropped agog in Iowa and New Hampshire, disbelieving of the remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime race that lay ahead. Everyone LOVED their candidate and stared across the aisle at the Republicans crankily falling in line behind the guy least likely to embarrass them in November. This was the proverbial White House white whale, the obsessive election that made Democrats feel proud to be an American and hopeful that something great lies just around the corner. Parents and grandparents patted their children and grandchildren on the head and whispered lovingly in their ears that this was what 1960 felt like, when that delightful TV box showed the Kennedy boy debating that sweaty creep with the dog named Checkers. Democrats were so enamored of the moment that they rushed to the ballot boxes, hurried home with the tofu and bean sprouts, threw away the boxed DVD sets of The West Wing (won’t be needing those to get through the years anymore!) and turned on the television to see the victory party, worrying only about how Hollywood producers would now show the America of the future, what with an African American/woman actually in ascendance to the presidency. But when the TV turned on, and showed the tightest race in decades. In centuries. Maybe ever.
Nobody had bothered to rouse the party faithful and millions of first-timers from their planning—how to swivel the bald eagle’s head on the carpet of the Oval Office from staring down at the claw with arrows to the claw with olive branches?—to note that only one of the Dream Team could actually be president. This isn’t fair, cried some. How can we choose, lamented many. Soon others demanded No Compromise, followed by slung charges of racism, sexism, corruption, elitism, Republicanism, terrorism, experience-ism, speech-ism and sniperfire-ism. The boat to 2008, 2012 and beyond was leaving, and all wanted aboard. Naturally, everything began to sink.
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Barack Obama’s supporters soon realized that running a campaign was nasty business, and a hell of a lot harder that speaking in a packed campus auditorium. Hillary Clinton’s camp soon realized that they needed to actually have a plan of action in case anyone challenged The Chosen One, a plan that didn’t solely involve Bill skulking about, drawling ad nauseam at anything that moved. The Democratic National Party soon realized that having a nominating system that makes it as difficult as humanely possible to actually nominate anyone must, at some time or another, pay its dues. Party delegates, both elected and super, soon realized that their hand raised in support while wearing a ridiculous striped hat in Denver was worth more than the country’s liberty and sanity combined.
So on this warm and ostensibly beautiful day in Pennsylvania, where voters once again voted for who they wanted and exercised their basic, foundational rights as citizens of the finest nation in the history of the earth, Clinton got her ten-point, double-digit win that will doubtless prolong and intensify the contest. Obama carried his core constituencies (nearly doubling up Clinton in Philadelphia and collecting a healthy stack of delegates in defeat) and brought new voters to the polls to continue to invest fresh spirit in his party and our country. Clinton once again showed her profound ability to fight and survive, took Pittsburgh, defended small-town America and was rewarded with wins across the middle counties of the state. John McCain continued his tour of Places-I’d-Never-Go-If-I-Didn’t-Have-All-The-Time-In-The-World and reporters booked their hotel rooms at the luxurious Hotel El Convento in Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Washington and Lincoln all looked down, smiled, and laughed at how really fucking difficult democracy is.
-- Joe Horton