Sunday, May 18, 2008

The firestorm over NARAL's endorsement of Senator Obama

NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed Senator Obama earlier this week, pissing off a host of Clinton and Obama supporters who thought NARAL was betraying Senator Clinton.

A common complaint is - when both candidates in the Democratic primary race are pro-choice (though some people would argue otherwise) - why not wait till the end of the Democratic primaries? Less-charitable explanations have NARAL trying to gain leverage with a future Obama administration - hence, the endorsement was out of pure self-interest. A similar argument was made by Ciccina on Kate Michelman's earlier endorsement of Senator Obama. See my reply on the Kate Michelman episode here.

The pattern of this week's endorsements was quite clear. First, though, let's backtrack. The race has gone on for so long even though it has been obvious for months that Senator Clinton would not be able to overtake Senator Obama in the delegate race (which is all that matters). For that, she needed two-thirds and, with each subsequent primary, ever-increasing fractions of the remaining delegates, right after the March contests. Yet, the race continued, and it became increasingly negative as Senator Clinton sought to destroy Senator Obama's electability and credibility (and yes, there were some attacks in response from the Obama camp). I am certain that if the positions were reversed, the campaign would have been over after March, with Senator Obama forced out of the race and - perhaps - offered a VP slot as consolation.

So to those who say why not wait till the contests are over - the battles may continue, but the war has been over for a while. Yet, Senator Clinton has been given every conceivable opportunity to beat Senator Obama - but she has not been able to make the sale even with the help of Jeremiah Wright and bittergate. Indiana and North Carolina were the last major primaries where she could have made a major dent in Senator Obama's pledged delegate lead. But Senator Obama effectively put paid to those hopes with a decisive victory in NC, and ran very, very close in Indiana. The remaining contests are largely symbolic, with either candidate heavily favored, and no chance of an upset. PR - which has the biggest remaining delegate haul - can't even vote in the November election.

All this while, Senator McCain has got a free ride, with almost no press scrutiny or Democratic exposure of his very conservative record, and consequently his poll performances are much better than that of a generic Republican. The Republicans have also been able to freely attack Senator Obama, with Senator Obama having to fight both Senators McCain and Clinton.

Given these circumstances, it is high time the Democrats came together and focused on winning in November. Part of the problem is making sure Senator Obama can win the votes of lower-income white Americans and women - after everything Senator Clinton's campaign has done to make sure these groups remain suspicious of Senator Obama, or feel - unjustly - that he has "stolen" the election from her. Hence the pattern in this week's endorsements. Earlier this week, Senator Edwards, who has some support among lower-income Whites, endorsed Senator Obama. And later, NARAL did the same, to make sure Women knew Senator Obama was OK on women's rights. Both Edwards and NARAL effectively told their followers that Senator Obama is the winner, fair-and-square. Sure, NARAL could have waited till June 3 - but then they would look a sore loser grudgingly coming around, rather than the call to Party unity that they now represent.

It must have been pretty hard for NARAL to make this choice, even more so than it must have been for John Edwards. But I am glad they had the guts to make the call, and admit openly what most sensible people realize - that Senator Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee. I just hope they don't weasel back out of their endorsement.


Kirsten said...

RS, thanks for your reasoned comments. I'd point out that NARAL is not the Democratic Party, and there has never been anything to hold them back from campaigning against McCain. In fact, I think that fighting McCain is exactly what political groups should be doing right now.

I would also point out that if NARAL was trying to educate their supporters that the front-runner in the race would be a good choice for women, they could not have done it in a more dismissive and condescending manner. By hardly mentioning Senator Clinton in their announcement, and being incredibly vague and cheerleader-ish about their endorsement, they do not sound like political pros making a tough but sound decision. And when they got the backlash that they surely could have foreseen from their supporters and their allies, rather than take it square, answer questions directly and use the opportunity to be more transparent, Keenan got defensive and told (former) NARAL supporters to just get over it.

Right. Because that's exactly what will make women regret their decision to stop giving money to NARAL.

And finally, one last point. The race was "allowed" to continue? That's a bit dismissive, isn't it? Senator Clinton is not some back of the pack candidate with 15 delegates, but a very serious candidate who has carried some important states -- states and constituencies that Senator Obama will need in the fall. Maybe rather than telling them that their candidate is irrelevant and their concerns don't matter (in other words, just sit down and be quiet), they should go ahead and run against McCain, let Clinton run til she's decided she's finished, and then welcome her supporters into their camp. Because I'm pretty sure that they're going to be much more likely to wind up there if they feel their views and voices have been heard than if they are told repeatedly that they just don't matter.

RS said...

NARAL's endorsement sounds like a choice between Senators Obama and McCain, rather than Senators Clinton and Obama. They do praise Senator Clinton as a pro-choice candidate, but you are right - they could have talked more about her long record on women's rights issues.

"allowed to continue" - that is an unfortunate choice of words. All I am trying to say is that the difference in pledged delegates pre-March 4 was about 160, and that is still the difference now. Neither candidate has broken the other's voting blocs. All this has been entirely expected, given the strong passions on both sides.

So the race could have been called before March 4; that is the sense in which I used the phrase "allowed to continue." I was not trying to be dismissive; I apologize. I shall modify the post.

By the way, what you say - that Senator Obama should go after Senator McCain and let Senator Clinton decide when to quit - is exactly what's happening. And as I have written in another post ("why Senator Clinton might lose..."), in my opinion it is Senator Clinton's failure as a manager that has cost her the nomination. Nothing to do with her supporters - without them, the Democrats are sunk.

Kirsten said...

So funny...I was actually thinking about this exchange, and very much along the lines of your last para this morning as I reading the news. I totally agree with you about Clinton's campaign. I truly, honestly feel that she would be a better president than Obama -- but her campaign just had so many misfires that I couldn't gin up much enthusiasm about it (don't tell ciccina). And by contrast, I think Obama's camp has been really quite deft, and made a sound decision to just keep running for president (rather than the Democratic nom), while at the same time, tacitly encouraging Clinton to stay in the race. Nicely done there.

RS said...

I won't ;-)