Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Alleged political experts calling for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama to cede the Democratic nomination for president in the interest of "party unity" are making a foolish mistake. By fighting to the finish, the two candidates dominate the media for months, getting a chance to get their messages out while their already-nominated general election opponent struggles for attention.
Allowing the two to attack each other for a few more months will not, as some argue, weaken the eventual winner in November. Obama and Clinton share the same basic views and differ only in execution and personal style.
It's not like Obama is going to suddenly wound Clinton by revealing that she's pro-life or that Clinton will release a video of Obama dressed in drag lip-synching Kelly Clarkson songs. Basically, Clinton gets to say that Obama lacks experience, and Obama gets to say that he stands for change while his opponent represents the establishment.
Does anyone think that if Clinton had not called into question Obama's readiness to handle a "3 a.m." emergency, the Republicans wouldn't do the same thing in November? If you're a grizzled veteran like John McCain running against a relative newcomer like Obama, you do not need a degree in political science to know you need to make that argument.
Similarly, one can also imagine that Republican strategists might pit their candidate's carefully crafted "maverick" image against Clinton's reputation as the ultimate insider, were she to be the opponent. Continued primary battles won't hurt the eventual nominee for the Democrats because there's no basis on which to attack either one, beyond their stands on the issues, which generally are not well-guarded secrets.
Until the Democrats anoint his opponent, Republican nominee McCain has nobody left to fight. That means the remaining Republican primaries are meaningless and the news of his victory in them receives little more than a perfunctory mention in print or on television.
His opponents, however, are in a highly competitive struggle that produces endless soundbites. If Obama has the hiccups or Clinton buys a new brightly colored, unflattering pantsuit, the story goes on the front page of every major paper, then gets discussed endlessly by hundreds of talking heads across dozens of channels.
The best moment, however, comes for the Democrats if they head into their August convention with no clear nominee. If that happens, then instead of being a TV footnote that only gets major coverage for the nominee's acceptance speech and the inevitable shower of balloons that follow it, the entire thing becomes riveting television.
A contested convention that actually includes multiple floor votes may not outdraw the Super Bowl, but it will most certainly bring a huge audience to their television sets. People watch TV because they don't know how shows end or what happens in advance, and a floor fight for the nomination is essentially the ultimate in reality programming.
A pitched battle for delegates would allow the Democrats to bring their message to a crowd that would not normally tune in. That could have an enormous impact on who ultimately wins the White House.
If the Democrats keep fighting, McCain only controls the news cycle for one day - the day he announces his pick for vice president - between now and the end of the primaries. Giving that advantage up for something as vague as party unity would be a move that only a group of politicians, pundits and political insiders consider a good idea.
Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. His new book, a collection of columns, Easy Answers to Every Problem, can be ordered at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. Daniel B. Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.