Well, by Saturday, Obama’s problems may be all but over – it’s the day the Democratic Party rules committee meets, and the Man With The Plan will be hoping that the lingering possibility that Michigan and Florida delegates will be seated, will there be dispelled – or that at very worst, those states will get only half their delegates, a last minute kludge effort to represent the states, while punishing them for shifting their primaries.

Half the delegates would still not suffice to push Hillary over the line. It’s stunningly unfair of course, and whackier solutions are afoot – such as guessing the proportion of delegates Obama would have got in Michigan if he’d been on the ballot and awarding those, etc etc – but really giving two states representation isn’t the issue, undermining Hillary’s legitimacy is. Just as burning the jungle is not, in fact, gardening, so the whole rigmarole has nothing to do with party democracy – it’s exfoliation pure and simple, to leave the Clintonista forces exposed on the hillside.

But hey, the Clintons fought in the Vietnam War war, and they know their Manual of Guerrilla Warfare. When in doubt, create a foco, a concentration of power. True to their ambition to be hunted down and beaten to death early in the era of President McCain, they’re planning a big demonstration in the capital, with supporters being bussed in from the two disenfranchised states in question. Couldn’t get the muscle together to challenge Republican thugs in Florida during the 2000 recount, but they can picket a rules committee. Say it with me, NUTC.

Obama will get round that – he will, won’t he? – just as another big problem heaves into view. With the California government setting June 17 as the date on which gay couples can start getting married, states around the country are working out how they’ll handle these unions – New York is taking legal advice, New Mexico conducting opinion surveys, and Alabama is pruning the lynching tree.

The importance of the California law, is that it extends the right of same-s-x marriage to everyone (Massachusetts’ law applies to Massachusia- Massachusit- Massana-…. in-state folks only). Couples will fly in to Frisco, see the bridge, get hitched and get back on the plane to demand that their home-state recognise the union for pension, guardianship etc etc purposes – and fire up the lawsuits if they don’t.

To put it simply John McCain isn’t the one who should be worried about the impact this will have on political life. Even Hillary could get away with coming out against gay marriage in her new Roseanne The Riveter guise. Obama, having established himself as a candidate for change, tolerance, a generic sort of hope, a transcendence of tired old politics … is going to look both not credible and a prick if he comes out against it.

But if he speaks in favour of the concept, he’s drawn right back into the culture wars he’s spent most of his campaigning getting progressive politics extricated from. He can’t simply call it a states-rights thing – the California law will be the occasion for a re-examination of federal-state (or more subtly, inter-state recognition).

Make no mistake, it’s a toughie. According to Crikey’s roving correspondent Charles Richardson, with whom I dined only hours ago, on his arrival from a vox popping tour of the Great Plains – okay Haber, Montana, where the Amtrak stops – Obama’s team there are confident of winning the state. Montana hasn’t been held by the Dems since 92, and is the leading edge of a landslide. If Obama can get Montana, he’ll have taken half a dozen other swing states as well. Yet in some of those places – Iowa, South Carolina – where Democrat evangelist isn’t an oxymoron, gay marriage could be a deal-breaker.

Could be. For we simply don’t know the degree to which the ground has shifted beneath people’s feet since the issue last went live. The truly exciting possibility is not that it will create a political storm but that it won’t – which would indicate a categorical shift in American self-conception, amidst changed circumstances and new assumptions.

Peter Fray

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