by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n this 2008 edition of our traditional presidential primary season, the conventional wisdom has been consistently wrong. The media wanted to crown a winner quickly. Why even vote, they seemed to suggest last summer, since Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani had the nominations all but locked up.
But here it is, mid-February, with the Democratic race deadlocked and the all-but-over GOP contest still rolling on.
Conventional wisdom says that even though people say they hate attack ads, they are swayed by them. In this race, however, attacking, negative ads have not worked or even been used much.
Conventional wisdom says money wins elections, but even Mitt Romney's mountain of cash wasn't enough. People are paying attention to the candidates, not their slick, well-financed message machines.
Conventional wisdom says red meat issues that divide the electorate are the way to win. But a funny thing has happened these past six weeks, as the idea of putting the national good ahead of party loyalty has become fashionable again. And we shouldn't be surprised -- after all, candidate George W. "Uniter-Not-A-Divider" Bush won on that very message in 2000. (Of course Bush didn't actually govern that way, which is why the theme of change has been embraced by every candidate in the field.)
It's hard to remember any election quite like it.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ut despite being so wrong for so long, conventional wisdom is rearing its head again. The pundits are back, saying this is all going on too long. And the partisans are arguing that voters need to just get in line behind whichever candidate seems anointed.
Conventional wisdom has said the once left-for-dead John McCain is the frontrunner, but he celebrated that status by losing two out of three races on Saturday -- and in his only win here in Washington, he won with just a quarter of the Republican votes. Conventional wisdom has it now that Hillary Clinton's campaign is headed over a cliff. But she's preparing her last stand in Texas and Ohio and still has an edge in the bizarre race for Democratic superdelegates. (More on them in a minute.)
Through it all, the voters haven't been buying what the pundits and partisans are selling -- they've just voted.
And if you were anywhere near a caucus here in Washington this past weekend (or in Idaho on Super Tuesday, if you were a Democrat) you'd know why. It's exciting. It gets people fired up. It gets people believing in the future of the country. It restores their faith in our political system. So what's with all these impulses to hurry up and pick the winners?
At the caucus I went to, the gathered participants were almost drunk on possibility -- and it was the same at the Spokane appearances by Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul. In those moments, our democracy truly is a living, breathing thing -- and people want to touch it. As the forces of Obama and Clinton argued it out at the caucus, I kind of felt sorry for the Republicans, who had been told by their partisan leaders that they didn't need to bother, since John McCain would be the nominee. They were missing out on all the energy. (I felt better when I saw that it was a scrum after all -- kudos to Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee for staying in the race.)
So I say let it happen -- let the people have their say, whether it ends this week or if we have to wait through the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio or even the Pennsylvania vote on April 22. The experience of engagement we had last week -- the same experience all those other states have had (and future states will have), with the electioneering, the candidate visits and the explaining how our elections work to your kids -- is vital to the political health of the country.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & said it's hard to remember any election quite like this one, but in fact there's an election that seems a lot like it. Although many of us have tried to blot that memory out, the 2000 presidential election was whisker close, too. But the aftertaste of Bush v. Gore is not from how close the vote was, but in the result -- and I don't mean which guy got selected. The fact that the Supreme Court ruled to stop counting votes in an American election set a depressing tone for the years to come.
So here we have the possibility of a karmic bookend on the George W. Bush years. If we can have a tight American election that is resolved by voters, not some higher power, we can reestablish the primacy of popular rule. If we can prove that elections do matter, that will be a big part of how America bounces back.
Again it all depends on how it ends -- and not by ending up with a certain candidate, but by having a result that is arrived at fairly. And that brings us back to those Democratic superdelegates. Little known until the past couple weeks, these 796 ultra-Democrats -- elected officials and party leaders who are electoral free agents -- could sway the nomination after all the state tallies are added up. Taking away the people's choice, whatever that might be, would be a disaster.
The memory of the Florida debacle is still fresh, and the world is watching how the planet's leading democracy practices what it preaches. If superdelegates steal this election for one candidate or another, we'll have confirmed that American elections are nothing more than shiny pageants orchestrated by partisan puppeteers.
We all want to know who will win now and in November, but what's most important is knowing that whatever the result, it's in keeping with our sacred tradition of free, open and fair elections.