Tomorrow about this time, Hillary will be behind a podium in Podunk or somesuch, West Virginia, thanking the good people of those mineral rich, banjo-echoing mountains for their support in handing her a 70%, 80% or whatever vote, possibly the single most persuasive result of the primary death march. Of course should she get less than that it will be another nail in a thoroughly secured coffin lid – but there’s every indication that the win will be a convincing one.

Still, history ain’t gonna give the gal a break it seems – the West Virginia result is going to come in the same week that Obama finally passes her in superdelegates, to add to his convincing margin in delegates proper. The super-ds have been defecting at the rate of two or three a day from camp Clinton, the most high profile recent departure being George McGovern, for whom Bill and Hillary helped organise Texas in the ’72 election.

Since few under 50 remember McGovern at all — and those who do know him as the man who took the Democratic party to its greatest ever loss of modern times — that may not have been a crucial score. Indeed, poor old George McG seems to realise that someone scoring his support is like Macbeth getting endorsed by Banquo — the charge against Obama has always been that he’s McGovern II, the candidate the party blithely chooses without realising that their enthusiasm has tracked them far to the left of majority support.

But McGovern still commands a certain respect within a section of the party, and a small cascade of super-d endorsements followed, to the point where Hillary has now lost one major (rhetorical) claim against demands for her capitulation. All that remains now is her argument that, once Florida and Michigan are factored in, she has the support of a majority of the popular votes. But of course the argument is ludicrous, as she was the only one on the Florida ballot. As an argument, it’s a pure product of the 24 hour news cycle, and its unassuageable need for talking points, no matter how ridiculous.

Obama has long written West Virginia off, and is trying to give the appearance that he’s now campaigning against McCain, attempting to shift Hillary into the Ron Paul, quixotic candidate category. That isn’t completely convincing — he has, after all, been campaigning here in Oregon for the past few days. The state is so friendly to him that half the cafes you go into have an Obama jar beside the standard tips one where you can, if you choose, deposit your gratuity directly into the coffers of the “Man with the Plan”. Given American service wages, the fact that tips are counted as part of them, and taxed accordingly, that’s some kind of wonderful.

Obama is currently leading in Oregon by about 8%, averaging several polls, and he will presumably be hoping to win by double figures to maximise the damage. By that time (Tuesday 20 May) the West Virginia and Kentucky polls will be over, and the unspoken general consensus — that two Appalachian states that are less communities than one very extended family, don’t signify much — will have ensured that they’ve faded from memory. After Oregon there’s nothing.

There’s a chance Hillary will concede then — that is, if she has so exhausted the patience of the party leadership that they begin to threaten camp Clinton with reprisals, a freezing out from influence or respect, should she continue. It seems unlikely that she would run it to the end and then concede after Puerto Rico, as if it the whole outing had been for fun.

But should she stay on after Oregon, the question then becomes what she would actually use for arguments, especially in those long weeks between the primaries and the convention. That, presumably, isn’t something she’s thinking much about — the trick on this sort of mission is apparently not to think too far ahead, since long-term prospects are pretty bloody. Politics, in the zone where Hillary is, is about day-to-day survival, like guerrilla survival behind the lines, and every 24 hours of continued existence can be taken as a victory.

You could blame the particular folie a deux of the Clintons for this sort of conduct, but it’s worth asking whether there is something distinctively American about it too — a situation in which other nationalities might have dissolved their identity into the collective good of the party, with only the satisfaction of a line about a “drover’s dog” to comfort them.

What seems to grant Hillary the sense of being admirably gutsy, rather than crazy as a box of spanners, is the enduring sense of providence – the idea that seems to play a bigger part in American life than elsewhere, that one’s actions are guided, ordained, and the good fortune to see them to fruition, the Lord will provide.

Providence, so great an obsession they named half a dozen cities after it, must of course be mitigated somewhat in a secular age. Given our contradictory aims, we can’t all be an agent of the Lord’s purpose – but it’s entirely understandable for any given person to think that they are. It’s one subtle but major difference between American and, especially, Australian culture.

However secular your average macrobiotic bicycle-knitting gay marriage celebrant in Trader Joe’s might be, the idea of providence and guidance shapes their sense of their own lives and its meaning in a manner alien to a society dumped on the beach of Botany Bay in 1788. Ambition, in that sense, is simply a superficial appearance of a deeper process, seen through a glass darkly.

So Hillary’s blurred crusade carries on, lost en route, heading into the wilderness while in search of Jerusalem, hoping for some sort of blessing that, by its very nature, could be nothing other than disaster for the party itself…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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