I'm hearing and reading a lot today about how the Clinton supporters are going to ruin the party with their obstinate refusal to acknowledge that Obama has won and threats to vote for McCain. I think everyone needs to take a breath.
The fact is that this campaign is a photo finish. There has never been a primary where it's come even close to a tie before. Someone had to win and it's going to be Obama and it's going to be seen as legitimate, mostly because the primaries ran their course (for which everyone should actually be grateful.) But to think that a race this close could end with an instantaneous round of kumbaaya among the loser's most passionate supporters is probably a little naive. It's not human nature. (And if Clinton had been the one to win with this narrow lead, you can be sure the other side would be threatening to stay home or vote for McCain too. See this article from just before the Indiana primary if you don't believe me.)
I think the thing that has most exacerbated the fervent Clinton supporters' frustration, and frankly astonished me a bit, has been this endless drumbeat since February for her to drop out even though she was still winning primaries. Nobody should expect a politician who is still winning to quit. It makes no sense. It's not in their DNA. Certainly, in a race this close it made no sense whatsoever. I don't think that line has helped Obama (and I think it's why the campaign itself has been so careful not to publicly flog it.)
In 84 and 88, Jackson was seen as a potential party wrecker too and in 88 he took his historic campaign, in which he won 11 contests, all the way to the convention. He made a very famous speech which he ended with the chant "Keep Hope Alive," which could have easily been construed as wishing for Dukakis to fail so he could get another bite at the apple (something that people are accusing Clinton of already.) But it wasn't.
And that's because while Jackson went to the convention trailing by 1200 delegates, he was holding a very important card, which everyone recognized and respected. You can rest assured that people were worried that his constituency, many of them first time voters who he had registered, would stay home in the fall, and so Democrats treated him and his campaign (publicly at least) with respect and deference, and rightly so. He represented the dreams and aspirations of millions of Democratic voters, after all.
To many African Americans, a constant clamor for Jackson (or Obama if it had gone that way) to drop out of the race would have been seen as a call to go to the back of the bus. Likewise, for many of Clinton's supporters, it's been seen as a call to sit down and shut up (or "stifle" as Archie Bunker used to say to Edith.) I'm not saying it's entirely rational, but then these things rarely are. The extreme closeness of this race makes it even more frustrating and emotional for a lot of people.
There is opportunity in all this mess. Obama's main rationale for running is that he's uniquely capable of bringing the disparate strands of our frayed politics together to get things done for the common good and change politics as we know it. If this is handled well, and the party comes together, he can take credit going into the fall for healing a painful rift in the Democratic party thus making the case that he has the ability to do the same thing for the country.
Activists can all help him do that by getting past this tedious pie fighting stage as quickly as possible. Obama supporters should acknowledge the fact that Clinton got an enormous number of votes and represents a vital constituency in the Democratic party that must be respected if we are going to win. And Clinton supporters need to acknowledge the fact that while their candidate came extremely close, at the end of the race, she came up short. Somebody has to win it and by the measures the party has set forth, Obama is the one who did. This is a Democratic year and I believe we will win this thing. But it's going to take leadership from both the candidates --- and us.
Update: I should point out that Obama hasn't quite clinched and nobody should expect Clinton to concede until he crosses the finish line. I could be wrong, and she'll decide to take it to the convention like Jackson did in 88, Kennedy did in 80 and Reagan did in 76. But I doubt it.
* comments are fubared. Not my doing.