Another Important Aspect to West Virginia

Well, for at least today, and maybe tomorrow, the talk of the town will be Clinton’s landslide win in West Virginia. To my pleasant surprise, it seems that most of the media has not gone into hysterics as I had expected, and most pundits who have finally come to grips with the math of this race did not instantly forget the mathematical impossibilities surrounding Clinton’s win.

Thus, the talk about West Virginia is not really focused around whether or not Clinton can still win this thing, but seems to have centered on demographics. Yes, demographics are important, but I also find that there is something very important about West Virginia and the other recent states that have participated in this primary.

As the tone of this primary is slowly, almost painfully shifting from blood war to reconciliation, a meme that pops up here and there, indeed one that I have subscribed to at least in part, is that Hillary Clinton has made Barack Obama a better candidate.

There’s definitely fire to this smoke, even if it’s true that the greatest hardships that Obama has had to face on the trail were not induced by the plethora of Clinton and Clinton supporter attacks, but instead self-induced or induced via guilt by association. Still, one can readily admit that Obama has had to learn to cope with a serious opponent that could beat him if the circumstances were right. He’s had to learn how to cope with spin and whisper campaigns and all the rest of the rough and tumble that comes with politics.

While he may have dealt with that as a politician in the Illinois state legislature, and then again when he ran for the US Senate, what Clinton’s candidacy has offered was a much better funded organization on a national scale to go up against. Up until recently, what press Obama received on a national scale was mostly favorable; the swooning reviews over his 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and speculations that this young rising star was the future of the party.

But the thing that I wonder is, does this work the other way around? There’s been debate that Clinton made Obama better, but wouldn’t it also be true that Obama made Clinton better?

Just think, a couple of months ago, West Virginia would have been the kind of state that Clinton would have lowered expectations on, and more importantly, wouldn’t have bothered to campaign very heavily in. Same goes for Indiana. Small states, relatively insignificant states, and really West Virginia is a battleground state now, huh? Learn something new every day.

Whatever you may think or say about the Clinton camp’s spin at this late stage of the game, it’s important that it’s there, and that while Clinton may have learned the lesson late, she seems to have finally gotten it.

Yes, Obama has managed to teach Clinton a lot, even if she didn’t realize he was the teacher and she was the student. Primarily, he’s taught her to expect nothing, that there are no foregone conclusions, which essentially was what she was running on prior to Super Tuesday. Super Tuesday was supposed to be her big firewall against the upstarts’ fits of popularity in Iowa and South Carolina, the day when the inevitable Democratic candidate was finally given her due.

But that never happened, and the Clinton team was woefully unprepared for what would come next.

It was in that month of February that Clinton probably learned the most important lesson of her political career. Preparation was part of it, understanding the game was part of it also. But not taking for granted victory until it is in hand was the big one. That she was so convinced she would win on Super Tuesday probably lost her the nomination, her negligence allowed Obama to accrue the pledged delegate lead that would prove to be the most rigid firewall in this nomination contest.

After February, Clinton contested Wyoming, and Mississippi would be the last contest that Clinton let slip through her fingers without a serious campaigning effort on the ground. Since then she’s been working, and she’s been winning. She hasn’t won by margins nearly large enough to overcome the blowout streak Obama built up in February, but by now that can hardly be seen as the point.

After all, we’re looking at this from a more academic standpoint than anything now.

The point is that had post February Clinton showed up after Super Tuesday failed to lock in the nomination  for her, she very well may have contested all those small states and caucus states between Super Tuesday and Texas and Ohio. She may not have won those states, but she could have done what Obama was doing all along and preventing her from getting too far away from him in any one state.

Indeed, it’s quite possible that Obama has changed the face of Democratic primary politics for the foreseeable future, opening up a bypass or secret passage around the old tried and true method of building up enough symbolic victories to turn Super Tuesday into a tidal wave of pledged delegates for the perceived frontrunner.

Had Clinton known about that little secret passage, I don’t think there’s much doubt in my mind that the roles right now would be reversed, with Obama trailing Clinton in pledged delegates, but not by much. Which of course brings other questions into mind such as would this race be nearly as bitter as it is now; likely not but it would have to hinge upon whether Obama got as negative as Clinton and her campaign did.

But that’s tangential to the discussion now. We can never know what the shape of the race would be with Obama trailing Clinton, and there’s little value to be gained through speculation.

Yet there’s plenty of wealth here in understanding just what lessons Obama’s campaign has to offer, and I for one think that while I’m sure Clinton would have much rather gained the nomination and the White House, that she has learned just as much, if not more, from Obama than he from her.

After all, losing is a learning experience.

On top of not taking things for granted, I’m sure when the Clinton team goes back to analyze what went wrong, they’ll probably see that Mark Penn is an idiot (many of them actually already have this opinion, I understand), but they’ll also understand why he is an idiot. They will hopefully learn that negative campaigning is not as lucrative and risk free as they may have thought, given that more often than not every time Clinton went on the attack she ended up suffering a backlash for it. I would also expect them to look at exactly how Obama raised his money and take that into consideration for the future.

I also imagine that the Clinton campaign took a heavy lesson on self identification. Clinton has flitted from one persona to the next in an attempt to build a narrative about herself throughout this campaign. It’s been an interesting thing to watch as the various Clintons that were offered by the campaign dissolved in a pool of dissonance, and unfortunately that made way for the oldest and most comfortable narrative about her stick.

For the eighty-billionth time, I will say that she should have stuck to the inevitable incumbent persona that colored her candidacy last summer. It wasn’t a perfect narrative, and was highly flawed in an election year in which people overwhelmingly want something new and different, but at least at that point Clinton was maintaining her support, and holding true to one narrative could have provided a foundation of consistency that her candidacy has lacked in the time since.

I don’t know what the future holds for Clinton. At one point in time I thought that if she didn’t find her way on the ticket, either at the top or as the running mate, she would go back to the Senate and push for the Majority Leader spot, though recently I’ve heard rumors that Senate Dems have been none too pleased with her. She could run for the governor of New York, and in that aspect, she could easily apply the lessons learned in this contest.

But we’re not there yet, we’re still here in the Democratic primary. And in a fit of irony, the core message that the Clinton campaign seems to be conveying to Obama and everyone else is the same message that she once needed delivered to her in earnest when she was the frontrunner; don’t take it for granted.

More commentary on Clinton’s win in West Virginia at Memeorandum: TownHall Blog, Ben Smith’s Blogs, The Swamp, Reuters, Gothamist, The Crypt’s Blogs, Brendan Nyhan, The Democratic Daily, The Caucus, MyDD, Truthdig and No More Mister Nice Blog

(edited by DrGail)

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