Matthew Norman: Democracy's a bitch – and then you die

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The Independent Online

By way of heartfelt tribute to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who has died at 91 leaving the better part of £1bn, I am having another crack at transcendental meditation. I feel the bond because part of that fortune came from me. A few years ago, flailing about for inner peace, I enrolled at one of his TM schools, where a week's wages was requested in return for being taught the secret.

Soon I found myself kneeling in the sitting room of a terrace near Victoria station, waiting for what the Penelope Keith figure who led me there called "your guru". In padded a beslippered Paul Eddington type, who knelt beside me and revealed my mantra as "Rom". I'd had an inkling for "Om" so it came as a shock, but I hummed "Rom, Rom, Rom" well enough for 60 seconds.

Then, the humming having mutated into giggling induced by the gulf between the eastern mysticism on offer and the western bourgeoisie offering it, I left, hurriedly and ashamedly, hundreds of pounds lighter but incomparably richer in spirit.

Or so I thought. The trouble with TM is that while chanting Rom is easy, ridding the mind of the clutter that invades it while humming is incredibly hard. At the moment, though, purely out of respect for the late Yogi, I do Rom Rom. I do Rom Rom, but it tends to go like this.

Rom, Rom, Rom, He'll sweep the weekend's caucuses, Rom, Rom, And the four primaries after that, Rom, Rom, But they're states light on delegates, Rom Rom, Rom, And she's still huge with Latinos and white women, Rom, Rom, Rom, And blue collar workers, Rom Rom, Rom, So she'll recover in delegate-rich Ohio, Rom, Rom, And Pennsylvania, Rom, Rom, All the way to a brokered convention, Rom, Rom, Sodding Rom, Will this torture never cease? Rom."

Even its most dilatory student knows the point of TM is to make you calmer, not more agitated, but so obsessing has this Democratic contest become that a tranquilliser dart designed for rhinos wouldn't work. Polls, demographics, delegate counts, Superdelegates, share of popular vote, who won which States... they bombard the mind that would be still, until it races around in the futile, deranged circles of the fever-induced nightmare.

And a nightmare it is for the US pundits, being far too finely balanced for even those self-professed omniscients to make tentative predictions. Clearly, then, it little behoves anyone to have a go from here. But what's the point of having space in a newspaper if you don't abuse the privilege to make an arse of yourself every now and then?

So what I think we must contemplate, in six months' time, is a reprise of the 2000 Presidential post-election horror show. This time it won't be hanging chads fuelling the journey to the Supreme Court, but whether Michigan and Florida delegates should be counted.

As things stand they won't be, because the states brought their primaries forward against party rules, but Hillary is keen to reverse this disenfranchisement. The fact that she won both states handily is a happy coincidence. The fact that she was the only contender on the Michigan ballot, and agreed with her rivals not to campaign in Florida, she deems irrelevant. Whether a court agrees could prove decisive.

Two other scenarios seem credible, and perhaps slightly more so. One is that, reaching Denver neck and neck, those Clintons bribe and bully those Superdelegates into handing her the nomination. With 300 of 8,000 having declared so far, she leads Obama in this category by two to one, and seems to have an inbuilt edge. It is theoretically possible, if Obama leads in states, popular vote and elected delegates, that these governors, senators and other grandees would yield to the rank and file's wishes. But so is time travel, and such a Convention would be an exhibition of pure power politics on a scale of brutality seldom seen before. And that's a game the Clintons enter as prohibitive favourites.

The other scenario is that Obama sews it up before Denver. For all the brilliance of his oratory and the soulful message, the most telling line of the hour isn't one of his, but Jerry MacGuire's "Show me the money". Here, Obama reminds me of the Maharishi. The more he bangs on about the ethereal, the richer he gets. The more he promises America that it can yogically fly above its problems on wings of hope, the more awash in cash he becomes.

Hillary, meanwhile, is so skint she's had to do a Harriet Harman, and loan her own campaign $5m. There is a giant wodge on the way, but the contrast between Bill's commission for fixing a chum's Uranium deal with the lifetime dictator of Kazakhstan and all those driblets flooding in from Obama's internet fan base wouldn't play well at all. The fact is that Obama has the capacity to influence the outcome in a way she currently does not. From here, he really ought to win.

The heart craves a pre-Denver Obama victory as strongly as the election logic – he'd beat John McCain, where she is strongly fancied to lose to the old timer – seems to demand it. But in its clearer moments, the head reflects on the Clintons' uncanny resilience. Every time they appear to be crumbling, as when Tuesday night's initial exit polls had it too close to call in New Jersey and California, the creature reforms into a gleaming, steely whole. It is as ruthless as the latter state's Governor in Terminator mode, and twice as durable. So on and on the battle goes, teasingly offering the vision of quick kill for Obama one day, crushingly withdrawing that gorgeous mirage the next.

If the decision goes to points in Denver, as seems likeliest today, so be it. It will be an absolute heart-breaker if the Clintons prevail by coaxing and petrifying the Superdelegates. If Obama is undone by backstage dodgy dealing at the first pre-election Convention since the one at which he emerged fully formed like Athena from Zeus's skull with that superlative speech, it will mean the death of idealism as a mainstream political force for generations to come. But hey, democracy's a bitch and then you die.

If it is decided in court, on the other hand, it is a catastrophe whichever way the Justices decide. The vision of the party's titans scratching each other's eyes out would surely hand the White House to a Republican warmonger for the second time in eight years. God only knows how much less ugly the world might look had Al Gore won Florida in 2000, and the authors of What If? historical tantalisers may ponder the point in future editions. But if Hillary wins Florida in 2008 by going to law, it will be a tragedy on which no one in their cluttered, frantic but essentially right mind would want to meditate for as long as it takes to hum a crestfallen Rom.

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