Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The US Elections: A Brilliant Little Coup

Most people will be aware that the Little Coup marked the beginning of the downfall of the Union.

Well, alright, perhaps not most people. In fact, perhaps not anyone at all. I certainly didn't. Not until I read this, that is.

I do know a bit about another little coup, though, since I've just watched it unfold last night.

Enough will be said - now and in the years to come - about Obama's successful bid for the Democratic nomination for the president of the United States.

What I wanted to point out, though, is a minor but interesting point. It's this: Obama realised his win yesterday by means of a coup - a little one, to be sure - which was brilliantly timed and superbly executed.

For a few months now (ever since the close of February), just about anyone who can count knew that the nomination would, in all likelihood, go to Obama. The question wasn't really if, it was how and when.

But things weren't looking up for him as the weeks passed, and the worst possible demons of American politics - demagogy, egomania, hypocrisy - were dragged on and off the stage in the guises of Wright, F&M, the popular vote, and the like. And although, as time passed, it still wasn't really if, it was rapidly getting to yes, but what if.

Obama's real problem during this time wasn't that he was losing states he ought to be winning, since he wasn't (although, to be fair, Clinton performed better than many expected in some primaries). His problem was Clinton was managing to slowly dissolve the entire premise of the campaign; she was making such a mess of the whole process that the one rule of determining a winner -who gets the most delegates? - was slowly sinking into a deliberately created quagmire.

Yesterday, only two small states remained. Together, they had 31 pledged delgates on offer - too few to push Obama over the finish, even if Obama scored heavily in both primaries. And it got worse for Obama, since South Dakota was sliding towards Clinton.

There was, in other words, a very real risk that yesterday would have have been the end of nothing, and the beginning of mayhem. That it would leave the road wide open for Clinton to pursue the course she had taken after February. Pledged delegates? Ha! That was then, this is now. Rules? What rules? They didn't get us anywhere, did they? It's all up for grabs, folks, and I'm just getting started...

Clinton seemed poised, in other words, for total war. And a war on the ground of her choosing.

But all that was abruptly halted yesterday. Not by the primary results: they weren't good for Obama by any means. He won Montana, but lost South Dakota. The results should and would have helped Clinton.

It was halted by what happened before all the results were in. It was halted by a sequence of events that effectively rendered the state results inconsequential. It was halted by the little coup, which played out as follows.

In the hours before the results came in, in a carefully choreographed action which, no doubt, was in part scripted by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the superdelegates started to move. They started to crawl out of their holes; they stated committing themselves to Obama.

They'd said they wouldn't, not till the primaries were done and dusted. Time and again, they said that Wouldn't Be Right. That they should Wait And See. But yesterday, one by one, they crawled out nevertheless.

One by one they came, and by the time the potentially troublesome South Dakota results started coming in, there was such a clump of them - shivering, perhaps, in the harsh light of day, but all of them mouthing "Obama" gamely - that that state's results didn't matter at all. And when Montana proclaimed itself for Obama, a possible disaster was suddenly transformed into a triumph. By God! Obama hadn't just won, he'd won convincingly.

Suddenly, Florida and Michigan were moot. Suddenly, the popular vote argument was moot. And out went the big states/small states issue. And the caucus/primary thingy? It was tossed into the garbage can by a disgruntled Clinton afficiando who had packed his things and was heading off home.

The nomination was decided then and there, and each and every possible route to scurry around that outcome was abruptly cut off.

It was bloody brilliant, and it was brilliant because of one simple thing: because the supers came out before the results. Because they came out hours before the results, and there was nothing Clinton could do to halt either them or the inevitable consequence of their sudden emergence. And it was superbly executed because they came out in just the right numbers: not quite enough to tip the scales all by their lonesome, but sufficient to have the voters do that without even realising they were pushed over the winning line by the superwind in their backs.

It was a brilliant strategy, and the people who devised - and realised - it deserve huge acclaim.

Hats off to you, Messrs. Axelrod et al. You've done a great job.


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