Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Double Standard Around the Call to Quit

The other day my local daily paper (yes, a Canadian paper) published an editorial calling on Hillary to quit the race for presidential nominee, opining that her terrible ambition would keep her in the race even though it was destroying her party's chances in the election later this year.

What's new about that, I hear you asking. Practically everyone is saying that! From new media like HuffPost to old media like the New York Times, there are dozens of articles every day demanding that Hillary quit the race... and they've been going on since the beginning of March.

No matter that the primaries haven't finished, that she hasn't lost, that Obama hasn't won. The same people who decry superdelegates as undemocratic seem to think that they should be able to circumvent the democratic process by hounding the candidate they don't support out of the race.

This is what Eric Boehlert had to say in Media Matters (So now the press tells candidates when to quit?):
In the past there was always an assumption among journalists that candidates had earned the right to decide when they should quit. Journalists also respected the fact that candidates represented a sizable portion of the primary voting public and that the candidates owed it to their supporters to fight on, that there was a symbolic significance for the candidates -- and their supporters -- to persevere.

With Clinton, though, the press seems to have almost complete disregard for the 14 million voters who have backed her candidacy, as well as the idea that she is their representative in this race. Instead, they treat her entire campaign as some sort of vanity exercise in which voters do not exist.
Looking back at history, it's hard to find evidence of the same media response to Ronald Reagan's failed 1976 presidential campaign. Taking on President Gerald Ford, Reagan lost more primaries than he won, and Ford won a plurality of the popular vote, but neither man had enough delegates to secure the nomination. So the campaign went to the GOP convention, where Ford prevailed. The bitter battle did nothing to damage Reagan's reputation (in fact, it did quite the opposite), in part because the media did not collectively suggest the candidate was acting selfishly or irrationally. Instead, Reagan walked away with a reputation as a resilient fighter who stood up for his conservative values.

And what about Sen. Ted Kennedy's doomed run in 1980? He trailed President Jimmy Carter by more than 750 delegates at the end of the primary season and insisted on fighting all the way to the convention, where he tried to get committed Carter delegates to switch their allegiance. The press did not spend months during the primary season ridiculing Kennedy, in a deeply personal tone, for remaining in the race.

And what about Gary Hart in 1984? He and Walter Mondale split the season's primaries and caucuses evenly, and neither had the 2,023 delegates needed to secure the nomination. Superdelegates eventually determined the winner. (Sound familiar?) Mondale had many of them locked up even before the campaign season began, so after the final primary between Mondale and Hart was complete, it was obvious that Mondale was going to be the nominee because Hart could not persuade enough superdelegates to change their mind and support him.

When Hart took his crusade all the way to the convention, the media did not form a posse and decide it was their job to get Hart to quit for the good of the party. (And the press certainly didn't form a posse in March to start pushing Hart out of the race.) Nor did the press collectively suggest that Hart had an oversized ego that had turned him into a political monster.

That new media standard has been created exclusively for Hillary Clinton.

And where were the catcalls in 1988 for Jesse Jackson to ditch his quixotic run before all the primary votes had been tallied? He finished with 1,200 delegates, nearly 1,400 behind Michael Dukakis, yet soldiered on all the way to the convention without having a prayer of winning the nomination. There were few if any media drum sections trying to pound him out of the race.

Or Jerry Brown in 1992? He continued his campaign against Bill Clinton through June despite the fact he tallied fewer than 600 delegates. (By contrast, Hillary Clinton has won approximately 1,600 delegates so far.) Brown's attacks at the time were far more personal and bruising than anything we've seen this cycle. As The New York Times reported on June 2, 1992, Brown "put his party on notice that he intends to carry his politics-is-corrupt, Clinton-is-unelectable message to the Democratic National Convention in New York in July, and beyond." Brown also told the Times that voting for Clinton was like buying a ticket on the Titanic.

At the time, Clinton was actually polling in third place nationally, behind President George H.W. Bush and independent candidate Ross Perot, so why wasn't the press in a frenzy demanding that Brown drop out of the race because he was hurting his party's chances in November?

If you look at Reagan and Kennedy and Hart and Jackson and Brown, those men all ran competitive races. But toward the end of the primary season it was clear most of them had no mathematical chance of winning the nomination. (Reagan was the exception.) Yet none of them was told collectively by the press to go home. Nor were they routinely depicted in the media as being self-absorbed.

Today, Clinton does have a chance to win. Yet she has been told by the press to go home and to get over herself.

It's unprecedented.



The Mound of Sound said...

There's one group that wants her to stay to the bitter, Tonya Harding, end - the Republicans. Hillary and the Big Dog are doing them nothing but favours. There's no doubt she'd rather see a Republican in the White House than a Democrat other than herself. We've seen her kind in history again and again and never does anything good come out of them. Yes, Hillary should stay. Myabe she can be John McCain's running mate.

CuriosityCat said...

frObama supporters and advisors are in the forefront of the motley crew trying to force Clinton out of the race.

And why?

Because they fear that Obama has peaked, and faces a possible loss.

Tuesday's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana will show how far Obama has fallen.

Anonymous said...

What do the Ford-Reagan, Carter-Kennedy, Mondale-Hart and Jackson-Dukakis battles all have in common? The candidate subsequently lost the general election. Maybe there is a credible reason to worry about this after all?

Yappa said...

This isn't a mere case of someone raising the issue. This is a prolonged attack that claims that her staying in the race proves her to be all sorts of terrible things. This is a _demand_ that she drop out. Furthermore, she can win. Some people might like to pretend that she can't, but she still has a chance of being the nominee.

In addition, any negativity caused by a prolonged primary season is surely being offset by the increased politicization of Democrats on the ground in the primary states. The organizations being built to get out the vote are going to serve very well in November. It isn't clear that this is a bad thing at all.