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Apr 30, 2008 3:28 pm

Hillary’s Old-Fashioned but Postmodern Campaign

With her substantial Pennsylvania primary victory, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has again proven to be the Timex candidate. Like the occasionally unfashionable but always durable watch, she “takes a licking but keeps on ticking.” As the Democratic nomination standoff starts resembling World War I’s relentless trench warfare, worried Democrats wonder when it will end. Paradoxically, despite running a campaign as anachronistic and as twentieth-century as the Timex slogan, Hillary Clinton is hinging her campaign on a postmodern argument that the stronger candidate may not be the one with the most popular votes – or delegates won.

Hillary Clinton has proved Thomas Edison correct. In politics as in technology perspiration frequently trumps inspiration. No one can deny that she has been impressively indefatigable, unyielding and buoyant. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton are indomitable political thoroughbreds. Just as they persisted despite repeated humiliations during Bill’s 1992 campaign, just as both she and her husband soldiered on throughout the Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998-1999, Hillary Clinton has come back and won, whenever she needed to, whenever pundits eulogized her.

Barack Obama has successfully flummoxed the Clintons. These once cutting-edge, fresh-faced baby boomers have run a surprisingly flat, frequently outdated campaign, more television-based than internet-savvy, more rooted in yesterday’s techniques and agendas than today’s technologies and trends. In one nostalgia-drenched campaign ad in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton reminisced about playing pinochle. Young voters are as likely to have played pinochle as they are to have pinned their first loves – or, to be more accurate, their first casual hook-ups. Earlier, while Barack Obama’s supporters led by the hip-hop-star transformed a lyrical Obama speech into the addictive, infectious music video “Yes We Can,” a Silicon Valley hotshot supporting Hillary Clinton produced a cheesy, kitschy, Disneyfied ditty pronouncing “Hillary for you and me – bring back our de-mo-cra-cy.” Predictably, in Pennsylvania Clinton voters again skewed older and more traditional while Senator Barack Obama’s voters were younger and hipper.

Yet by refusing to quit, Hillary Clinton has made a case that she might be the stronger candidate against John McCain. Just as her husband turned a simple case of obstructing justice to hide adultery into a postmodern, multi-dimensional nationwide morality seminar that depended on what the meaning of the word “is” was, many of Hillary Clinton’s arguments would make my most Derrida-dazzled, postmodern colleagues proud. McCain, like most nominees before him, won the nomination by winning the most votes and thus the most delegates. Today, we find ourselves balancing out Hillary Clinton’s eight big state wins versus Barack Obama’s small state wins, assessing her strength among swing voters versus his deep ties to the base. One Web site, offers five different estimates for the popular vote totals, with Obama leading by half a million in the first, to Clinton leading by 122,000 votes, counting Florida and Michigan.

In fairness, this is more than a Clinton con. Just as state electors chosen by popular vote select America’s president, party nominations rely on delegates to the national convention chosen by popular vote – except for the 795 Democratic leaders and officeholders designated as super-delegates. To confuse further, state Democratic parties have generated a thicket of obscure exceptions and rules, the national Democratic Party undemocratically and punitively invalidated the votes of Michigan and Florida for holding primaries too early, and our computer age invites wacky multivariate analysis that look compelling with full-color visual aids.

Democrats are justifiably worried that this continuing battle may threaten their chances of winning the presidency. Then again, the Clintons teach the opposite. Perhaps, whoever can survive this Clinton-Obama knockdown will have precisely what it takes to win in November – then lead America effectively.

AFTERTHOUGHT on Barack Obama’s thoughts while wolfing down proletarian food in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Reporters asked about Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas leaders, Obama replied: “Why can’t I just eat my waffle?” Perhaps this incident was misreported. Maybe the candidate said: Why can’t I just continue to waffle?

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