Theater of Politics

We should pause and enjoy the Democratic cliff-hanger

You can play in the hay, Hillary, but enjoy it while it lasts. Barack Obama said as much when he graciously commented last week that the embattled Hillary Clinton should stay in the Democratic nomination race “for as long as she wants.” Now her candidacy is in still more perilous standing following the departure of her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Obama’s own outward magnanimity belies the broader political movement behind him, licking its chops at the dwindling hopes of the Clinton campaign. But months of mud-slinging aside, the candidates have provided a valuable political service to the American public.

First, we should pause before the gavel is brought down at last and applaud the zesty performance we have been given. The show these two have together provided for American voters and international spectators has been undeniably entertaining. Politicos everywhere have been gripping the edge of their seats for months as they followed the competition like diehard gamblers at a horse race. Furthermore, on a deeper level, the race has been surprisingly significant in leading America into an engaging political discussion it might not otherwise have had.

If we have learned anything from the ebb and flow of the Democratic primary’s ‘direction’ as it has played out in the media, it’s that whatever the pundits may prophesize, nothing is for certain. Clinton has shown impressive resilience, even as Obama and others have begun to sound like patronizingly benevolent parents who, sighing, allow their over-enthusiastic child to spend five more minutes in the sandbox.

Penn’s departure on Sunday reflects a wider rise-and-fall trend among advisors on the campaign trail. Persistent sniping between surrogates and consultants has provided prime fodder for a political contest of tense and competitive edge. The transcript reads like a bureaucratized soap opera: Clinton New Hampshire co-chairman Bill Shaheen resigned after suggesting that Obama’s past drug use would hurt his chances in the general election. Similarly, Obama adviser and Harvard faculty member Samantha Power had to step down from her campaign position after dramatically labeling Clinton a “monster.”

On the other hand, Republican nominee John McCain’s “Service to America” biography tour—effectively an attempt to kill time until the fall—has been downright tedious. His well-worn personality parade pales in comparison to the current mood of cliffhanger ambiguity that still hangs over the Democratic nomination. Suddenly, what has often been an automatic nomination process has been ignited with uncertainty and thus interest. The theatrical element to Obama and Clinton’s tussle has generated public enthusiasm at a fever pitch, generating far more media coverage of the Democratic candidates and leaving the political veteran McCain overshadowed. As voices in the media have frequently reminded us, the prospect of either the first female or first black president is a revolutionary one indeed (especially in contrast to another white Republican man, no matter how distinguished).

Most importantly, this race has also led to the mobilization of the occasionally dispirited American electorate. If it takes the epic drama and emotion of a contentious primary to rustle the feathers of the electorate and get voter participation up, so be it. The past few months have seen troops of idealistic activists, young and old, manning phones and canvassing constituents for their candidate of choice. Might this race for the nomination prove more thrilling than the one for the White House? Probably not, but commentators and onlookers alike have already experienced more thrills than they did in all of 2004, and it’s not yet May.

Everything must come to an end, and the Democrats’ drum-roll is becoming more frantic with each passing day. Political pundits are honing in on the ‘mathematical’ probability that Obama’s growing delegate lead will spell victory after or even before the remaining eight contests remaining have been settled. But before the verdict is announced, no matter its nature, anyone who has followed this roller coaster campaign trail with fervor or mere bemusement should appreciate what this extraordinary race has meant for America, and the tantalizing balance that, still hanging in the air, will only give way to a new one in August.

Emmeline D. Francis ’11 is a Crimson editorial editor in Mower Hall.


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