Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Democratic friends bemoan the continuation of the nomination cycle. I remind them that history tells us otherwise. Al Gore fought Bill Bradley for most of spring 2000, and, in the first year in which I voted, the party crowned Bill Clinton in the summer, after he'd fought Paul Tsongas and an obstinate Jerry Brown, the latter hanging on until the end (I still remember Brown's face contorted with rage at the convention).

David Greenberg points out that drawn-out nomination "processes" are normal and in fact welcome. After retracing the 1972 and 1976 elections, he reminds us of how particularly brutal 1980 -- the year of Reagan regnant -- was for the incumbent president Jimmy Carter:
Four years later, Carter, as the sitting president, should have had an easier time. But Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy launched a primary challenge that galvanized the Democratic Party's liberals. By June, Carter had won enough contests to amass a lead in delegates that seemed to guarantee him renomination. Yet Kennedy refused to withdraw. He publicly carried on his campaign through high-profile speeches while allies worked behind the scenes to poach Carter's delegates. "If Mr. Kennedy is feeling no great financial pressure to get out of the race," the New York Times reported on June 11, "he also appears to be feeling no great pressure to withdraw to avoid splitting the Democratic party." Days before the convention, Kennedy announced he would break precedent to become the first Democrat since William Jennings Bryan to address the convention before the first roll call—the gesture of an active candidate, not a peacemaker. He ultimately surrendered at the convention itself.
While I'm loathe to give DC pundits more work, the deferral of a coronation keeps the party and press from applying the patina of inevitability to either Senators Obama or Clinton that rendered the choice of John Kerry in 2004 moot in the eyes of a lot of voters.

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