Listening very carefully, you could hear the Hillary campaign concede. That came in yesterday’s Bill Clinton speech, in South Dakota.

I want to say also that this may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind. I thought I was out of politics until Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.

Sounds better if you read it in Bill’s sun-baked Southern accent, but the gist is that it’s a soft-landing for Hillary to announce her departure from the campaign on Tuesday night, after the Montana and South Dakota primaries.

That speech is going to be held in New York, with a bevy of high-powered donors in attendance. Of itself that says little – it could be a rallying point to announce that our great Democratic party lives by its name blah blah blah, we will go all the way to the convention yadayada, based on the idea that she has “won the popular vote”, that the Democratic rules committee’s ruling on Michigan’s primary was a bummer, and that superdelegates require the full length of time to reflect on the decision on who is best placed to defeat McSame in November.

‘Sall meta-chutzpah of course. Michigan and Florida were punished according to party rules for moving their primaries too early – the concern being that in the lunatic system whereby the 98% white state New Hampshire assumes some god-given right to have the first primary, successive backwards leapfrogging would put the primaries all the way into the year prior to the election. Iowa had already threatened to move its caucus into December 2007, and a failure to act would have had half a dozen big states piling in. All campaigns agreed to the move stripping the delegates. Hence their non-appearance on the Michigan ballot paper.

Except of course for Clinton. Was she planning all this as an ace-in-the-hole all along – or did it just present itself as a desperate improvisation as Obama’s campaign surged? When faced with a choice between conspiracy and the screw-up, it’s always the screw-up, NY mayor John Lindsay once said of US politics, and nowhere has pretzel logic been more in evidence than in sorting this mess out.

Re-seating the Michigan and Florida delegates, with half their votes, is the equivalent of caving into pressure, and giving the most obstreperous kid what s/he wants, with everyone else simply rolling their eyes. But seating the Michigan delegation involved awarding 69 delegates to Clinton, 59 to Obama. Clinton had received 55% of the primary vote – running against no-one – and the Michigan Democratic party came up with a formula of 73/55 delegates. Both suggestions were based on a combination of the vote, exit polls and general opinion polls.

The DRC’s 69/59 formula is only four votes different, yet it was sufficient for Clinton rep Harold Ickes (part of a Democratic family going all the way back to FDR’s New Deal “brains trust”) to do what the Clinton team does best – making a case out of virtually nothing at all. Four votes wasn’t going to swing it, but to hear Ickes you would have thought the poll had gone all North Korean all of a sudden.

There was virtually no chance that team Clinton would get what they originally wanted, and needed, to really be in the game – a seating of Clinton’s Michigan delegates only. They never really believed they would get it – but when you’re on a roll, hoping that something will turn up, it’s hard to know when to stop.

Trouble with being on a roll is, the only way to stop is to bang into something. There’s no classy way for Hillary to withdraw from the race now, no natural exit point. Should she use tomorrow night’s result to concede – she will lose Montana and win South Dakota – no matter how noble her speech, it’s going to be a fearful anti-climax, an implosion of sorts. We came all the way for this? For South Dakota?

Doubtless the original settlers to South Dakota felt much the same way, but one suspects that a sense of bitterness will linger on long after the competition is over.

That is of course unless Hillary becomes Obama’s VP candidate – and that candidacy is announced well ahead of the Convention. There are so many variables in that one it is hard to track. HillarVP would help Obama get back the tranche of voters who go by various names – Reagan Democrats, Joe Lunchpail, NASCAR dads, Hoagie voters, Steve Cheesesteak etc – but on the other hand is it really worth going into the White House with both Clintons? Not unless you’re making a sitcom it isn’t.

Conversely, HillarVP has contradictory motivations. Given what she did with the First Lady’s role, she could carve out a hell of an independent Vice-Presidency, which may be sufficiently attractive to outweigh the spit that has to be swallowed in working for Bama. What else is on offer – returning to the Senate would be hard, hard yards. Run some pissy NGO? What sort of serious weaponry do they have? And first female P or VP gets you into the history books.

On the other hand, withdraw, run dead, pull your supporters out from the Democratic campaign and wait for 2012, when President McCain ends his single term. She can forget 2016 if Obama gets two terms – she’ll be in the history books by then, or the footnotes thereof. Veeeeeeery interesting, as the late Dick Martin would say.

Obama, for his part, is certainly trying to bring the thing, just now releasing the details of a phone conversation he had with Hillary today, congratulating her on being a great candidate, respect etc – the dialogue being pretty much indistinguishable from what you’d say to talk a suicide off a ledge.

Well in any case, twenty twenty twenty fours to go (all sing) we wanna be sedated…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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