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Thursday, March 06, 2008

# Posted 6:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS DELEGATE MATH THE "CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN"? Taylor, my partisan preferences are well known. Yet I remain fascinated by how Democrats are trying to persuade each other that their candidate deserves the nomination. Several points you make seem to have well-known counterarguments available to any Hillary supporter. In addition to asking why your side of the argument is better, I'd be curious to know why you think it will appeal to more primary voters and superdelegates.

First of all, you suggest there are only two paths open to the superdelegates:
They will go to either who has a clear lead in elected delegates, or, if no one does, then to who they think has the best chance of beating McCain.
Why shouldn't they go to the candidate who emerges with the largest popular vote? To a certain extent, this is a restatement of the much discussed question, which has more legitimacy, a primary or a caucus? Regardless of whether Hillary has taken a consistent position on this subject, why should superdelegates reject the proposition that the popular vote is a better reflection of the party's will? My personal opinion is that there is no clear answer to whether delegates or votes confer more legitimacy. But I'm curious why you consider only one of those options plausible.

My next question, referring back to the title of this post, concerns the proposition that for Obama,
It is critical that the math becomes the story.
From day one, Obama's message has been that he is a bringer of change who can unite the entire country, not just the Democratic Party. Although I don't pay attention to every word Obama says, I don't believe he has ever placed much emphasis on the idea that a mathematical edge among elected delegates demands the support of the delegate. As others have pointed out, shifting to a focus on delegate math and arcane bylaws seems to subvert Obama's message that he is the leader of a movement that transcends such petty things. Thus, would an emphasis on the math actually do more to hurt his campaign than to help?

With regard to the question of Hillary's negatives, I am inclined to share other Republicans' opinion that they would be a gift to the GOP in the general election. Yet does it follow logically that because Hillary's negatives are high, it is "absolutely ridiculous" for her to argue that she is better vetted? All along, Hillary's position has been that those negatives are the result of an enduring Republican effort (some might say a vast right-wing conspiracy) to vet her as aggressively as possible, and she has survived.

Could Obama endure a similar test? In the very same post you cite approvingly, Josh Marshall suggests that Hillary's vetting argument is actually quite valid. He writes:
The Clinton campaign got rough and nasty over the last week-plus. And they got results. That may disgust you or it may inspire you with confidence in Hillary's abilities as a fighter. But wherever you come down on that question is secondary to the fact that that's how campaign's work. Opponents get nasty. And what we've seen over the last week is nothing compared to what Barack Obama would face this fall if he hangs on and wins the nomination.

So I think the big question is, can he fight back? Can he take this back to Hillary Clinton, demonstrate his ability to take punches and punch back?
I don't know. As you recognize in your post, Obama can't afford to hit back in a way that makes him seem to be down at Hillary's level, since the entire justification for his campaign is that he can win without stooping to that level.

On every point raised above, both campaigns have made reasonable arguments that happen to coincide with their candidate's interests. What I want to know is, is one set of arguments intrinsically more persuasive to Democratic superdelegates? Or is only way forward to forget about which argument is better and just see who polls better against McCain?

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