Matthew Norman: American democracy in all its filthy glory

Related Topics

A myriad of analogies have been lavished on Hillary Clinton as she has waged her desperate, demented, putrid and strangely magnificent rearguard over recent months. She's been the Duracell Bunny, the Terminator, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, the schlock horror creature that cannot be killed, and too many other paradigms of relentlessness to mention here.

A special favourite came this week from an American pundit, Seth Greenland, who concluded that she is John Cleese's Black Knight – the one who has his arms and then a leg sliced off by King Arthur, and cheerily declares: "All right, we'll call it a draw".

This is Hillary after Tuesday's double disaster. Had she lost North Carolina by a whisker and won Indiana by a mile, as anticipated, she would still be the underdog today, but an underdog with money, momentum and the waggiest of tails scampering after the Holy Grail that is the White House. She did the precise reverse, losing North Carolina by a landslide, and clinging on in her demographic dreamland of white, working-class Indiana by the skin of her exquisitely sculpted teeth. And while the watching millions recoiled at the lifeblood of financial and political support visibly oozing from her stumps, she stood on an Indiana stage and called it a draw.

A double plus for chutzpah, yet again, but as every sentient commentator now agrees: It. Is. Over. Some of the thicker smart arses jumped the gun, admittedly, in awarding the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama. One particular imbecile (I think he appears on this page each Friday) assured readers that Hill-ary's gracious concession speech would swiftly follow the Texas primary in early March. But against the odds she won there (in votes if not delegates), as she had done in New Hampshire before, and so the myth of Unkillable Hill grew until one came to believe that, however compelling the electoral mathematics, only a silver bullet could stop her.

Today only a bullet, silver or otherwise, can save her. That or video footage, from the director of Max Mosley: The Movie, of Obama being led around a Chicago dungeon on a dog collar by a PVC catsuit-clad Abu Hamza while being fed the entrails of white babies by the Rev Jeremiah Wright and shrilly insisting that 9/11 was the work of Mossad.

Assassination or epochal scandal apart, she has lost and even Bill knows it. Standing behind her on the dais, his face a shade of crimson to make Alex Ferguson on Claret Night look like Lilith Crane after a talc factory explosion, he could barely dredge up the wounded boxer's defiant grin when she lurched briefly into valedictory mode, and pledged to support the Democratic candidate to the full.

She might even have meant it. Her friends think she'd take the vice-presidential slot, and given the pressure on Obama to close the schism she opened with all the nuanced race-baiting and attack ads, he may have to hold his nose and make the offer. More likely, perhaps, she will look to him to settle her campaign debts and dangle such inducements to good behaviour in front of the HillBillies as the Senate majority leader's job for her and a Supreme Court berth for him.

All that is a sideshow now, though, as the eyes of the world begin to settle on America's first global candidate since JFK, and his chances in the general election. For what it's worth (considerably less than zero, you'd have to say, on the soothsaying form), I think he'll beat John McCain with surprising ease, and if so he will have one person to thank above all others in his victory address early on November 3. That person isn't his enchanting wife Michelle, the mother who guided him, or the casually racist Kansan grandmother who raised him.

That person is Hillary Clinton, whose remorseless assaults eventually coalesced into the final piece in the jigsaw of his electability. The only grave doubt there ever was about a man of luminescent rhetorical flair and rich intellectual gifts was his mettle. Could he come through the inevitable ordeal by fire, or would the nickname Obambi stick?

For two months, whenever his reverence fell quiet, she threw the drains beneath the kitchen sink, enriched with finest polonium-210, at his skinny frame. With very few forays into reciprocal squalor, he withstood it all and emerged scathed but strengthened on "that which doesn't kill you" lines.

And once he's thanked her, he should thank the nomination process itself for enabling such an electrifying scrap. Observing it closely from this side of the Atlantic has been both an education in the splendour of flawed but full-blooded democracy in action and a poignant holiday from the dank, drizzly torpor of our own anaemic version.

From 3 January, when the caucus-goers of Iowa packed into each other's houses to argue the toss with courteous fervour, all the way to Tuesday when the good people of Indiana glanced contemptuously at her "gas tax holiday" bribe and told her where to stick the nozzle, it's been a continual source of both wonderment and gloom.

What wouldn't you give for a tenth of that passion here in Britain, where we shuffle to the polls every four or five years with the relish of a New England turkey facing a ballot paper featuring only Christmas and Thanksgiving. There, they will choose between a bellicose, maverick Republican torture victim with a filthy temper and an insatiable appetite for arguing politics with those who disagree with him, and an elegiac black man of mixed race, brought up on food stamps and far-fetched ambition, who knows the bad streets of Chicago as intimately as the quads of Harvard.

Here, we look forward with glee to picking between a punch drunk, semi-comatose, puritan nebbish shaping nicely into Labour's Jimmy Jones, and a chameleon from the neo-Jim Bowen wing of the modern Tory Party (You Can't Beat A Bit of Bullingdon!) who embraced compassionate conservatism within months of authoring that dog-whistling, retrograde manifesto for Michael Howard.

I don't want to labour the comparison, because the last time I checked the medicine cabinet we were flat out of strychnine, so suffice it to wonder just this: for all America's colossal flaws, domestically and as an imperial power, can you begin to imagine either of our beamish boys surviving the searingly intrusive electoral system that has decided on Barack Hussein Obama? And if somehow they did come through it, wouldn't they be immeasurable improved as politicians?

The nomination race which effectively ended on Tuesday has been as ugly and brutal as anything you're ever likely to witness in democratic politics, and it showcased democracy in all its filthy glory. How wondrous it has looked to those lumbered with an untried, untested, unseasoned third-rate PM through a silent coronation. And how grievously we'll miss it once Hillary officially recognises that fighting without limbs is a step beyond even her legendary resilience.

For rolling comment on the US election visit:

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice