Sarah Churchwell: Hang on in there, Hillary. It's too soon to quit

Share
Related Topics

Last October, a revelatory Vanity Fair article called "Going After Gore" traced the dubious history of the "toxic coverage" in the US media that irreparably damaged Gore's chances in the 2000 election. The effortless charm of George W Bush was relentlessly contrasted with Gore's inability to turn charm on like a tap.

Gore was seen as too focused on the minutiae of policy, and as someone who wasn't a natural politician, whose lack of ease with the press, and the public, was a liability in a campaign increasingly run on personality and on rhetoric. Bush was the man reporters wanted to have a beer with: a roguish, fun-loving guy who'd be "a different kind of Republican". Meanwhile, a journalist with Time magazine admitted: "It's really easy, and it's fun to disprove Al Gore." And so they went for him, setting him up and then shooting him down.

As the calls for Hillary Clinton, another "unnatural" politician and "charmless" policy wonk who has been excoriated by the press, to concede the primary race for the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama grow louder and more hectoring, it seems worth pausing to consider whether history might have anything to teach.

The most common reason put forward for insisting that Clinton "do the right thing" and "bow out graciously" is that she is doing the Democratic party, and its chances in November, irretrievable harm by prolonging the internecine struggle of the primary contest and taking it to the convention (despite the fact that the chairman of the National Democratic Committee, Howard Dean, has suggested that the nomination should be decided around 1 July).

A similar argument was advanced in 2000, pressuring Gore to concede the presidency to Bush, or risk a "constitutional crisis" – American code for "rip the country apart". He was told he couldn't win, that the people had spoken, that he should concede graciously and let the system work – the one the Republicans were busy rigging. So he conceded. That turned out well, didn't it?

Yes, the general election is different from the primaries. But far from being an especially protracted Democratic primary, this one is right on historical track. June is actually the magic month, in which the Democratic nomination was clinched in 1992 by Bill Clinton; in 1988 by Dukakis (Jesse Jackson didn't withdraw until June); in 1984 by Mondale (who didn't officially gain the nomination until the convention in July); in 1976 by Carter; and in 1972, the first year in which the present primary system operated, by McGovern. The only exception to the June rule was the 1980 election, in which Edward Kennedy fought on against Carter all the way until the convention in August. Only in the last two elections, in other words, has the Democratic nomination been a foregone conclusion this early in the primary process. And neither the results of 2000 or 2004 should send Democrats rushing to foreclose their options.

The other argument for Clinton's summary withdrawal is that using superdelegates would somehow be cheating, subverting the democratic process by asking party mandarins to overrule the popular vote and, while they're at it, refuse the first viable African-American candidate his legitimate shot at the White House. But no one seems to have any compunction about insisting that the first woman with a legitimate chance withdraw from the race. And yes, the superdelegates are a legitimate route: the US primaries are not mini-national elections, they are much closer to the UK system of electing a party leader, who then seeks the popular vote in a general election.

Meanwhile, that much-vaunted primary "popular vote" that Clinton has lost doesn't take account of the Democrats or independents in Michigan or Florida, both of which will be swing states in November; or that only 60,000 popular votes separate Clinton and Obama if Michigan and Florida are counted; or that the superdelegate rule was created precisely in order to decide primary races in which there was no clear popular mandate. It is by no means definitionally sexist to call for Clinton to resign, but given how gingerly everyone is approaching the question of Obama's (mixed) race, it seems worth letting the country prove the point.

But the most important reason to cease pressuring Clinton to quit is that the media and the blogosphere, delighting in their sportive shredding of Gore's electoral chances in 2000, helped pave the way for the disastrous US administration of the last eight years. If the media enjoyed dismantling Gore, their pursuit of Clinton has been blood-sport. Let's allow history, and democracy, to play out their course – and stop creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

The writer is a senior lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee