Monday, June 2, 2008

Momentum and Party Unity

Remember a key word in primary and electoral contests, "momentum?" The reason why the Democratic Party wants to prevent the front-loading of the primary calendar is because of the fear that the initial contests would create an arbitrarily begotten momentum that generates a path-dependent outcome that later primary contests would not be able to unhinge. Hence the decisions to penalize Florida and Michigan. Yet momentum was hardly a problem this year, and party elders probably wished there were more. In contest after contest, states with demographics favoring either Obama or Clinton went predictably for each side. Even after Obama secured his commanding lead in pledged delegates, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico went strongly in Clinton's direction. Contrast this to 2004, when the party came together very quickly behind John Kerry after he won Iowa and New Hampshire. Ironically, the party trying to prevent frontloading to minimize the impact of momentum is also the party eager to end its nomination process now. The Dems are learning that too little momentum, exacerbated by proportional representation, can be a bad thing.

It was this lack of momentum that has brought the fissures within the democratic party to the political foreground. This weekend, Obama supporters got an uncensored view of the serious disgruntlement felt by Clinton supporters as they jeered the proceedings of the party's Credentials Committee. Clinton's detractors are annoyed at her for not giving up as much as her supporters are agitated that she is not getting a fair hearing. So the nomination contest should be wrapped up in a few days, but Obama best not underestimate the problem he has on his hands. Yes, when things are not swiftly swept under the party banner/carpet (as the Republicans were apt to do this year) we discover that liberals can hate each other.

Whether or not the Democrats take the White House this year, the intramural conflict going on right now isn't just the contigent effect of the emergence of two rock-star candidates. The party is in trouble also because it is tripping over its own rules.

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