Lack of Leadership Plagues the Humpty Dumpty Party

Liberals are famous for what shrinks call “cognitive dissonance”: the problem of believing two conflicting ideas at the same time. So it should be no surprise that the Democratic Party is telling us that two of its leaders — Clinton and Obama — are both stunningly skilled politicians but at the same time neither can close the deal and bring their cage-match primary season to an end. Their party chieftan Howard Dean isn’t helping matters.

Dean is not having any luck getting the superdelegates, or most anyone else, to listen to him. He desperately wants the Democratic Party to finish selecting its nominee and stop helping John McCain to air the Democratic candidates’ dirty laundry. Dean has urged the superdelegates to make up their minds soon, no later than July 1. Even Dean can figure out that the last thing the Democratic Party needs is the spectacle of a knock-down-drag-out convention fight on live TV.

But, alas, no one is paying much attention. So now what passes for the grown ups in the party may need to step in. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, aided perhaps by Al Gore, may be planning to blow the whistle on the wrestling match and get the superdelegates to commit to one candidate or the other. Pelosi, who would chair the convention, doesn’t fancy herself as the ring mistress at a three-ring circus. She had this to say in a recent TV interview:

I don’t want a brokered convention. I think there’s too short a time when we get to that eight weeks between the end of the convention and the election and I don’t think that’s enough time to bring everyone together. I do think that the campaigns have to work their way through this, that we should have all the elections — let the people speak and then we’ll find out who our nominee is.

Pelosi doesn’t seem in the mood to broker a deal by forcing one of the two combatants to take the number two spot. She has already been vocal in her displeasure with the notion of a Dream Ticket: “Whoever our nominee is and whoever he or she is and whoever he or she chooses, will be a dream team as the Democrats go forward. Take it from me, that won’t be the ticket.”

But how exactly would she force the superdelegates’ hands? After all, under the DNC rules no delegate is bound legally to any candidate. Any committed delegate therefore can “uncommit” up until the moment of truth at the August convention. And just who is going to submit themselves to the commands of Reid and Pelosi?

Reid has just the thing to bring this to an end: a letter. Seriously. He explained that he, Pelosi and Dean would act together: “We may write a joint letter (to superdelegates), we might do individual letters. We’re in contact with each other. But what we will do when something comes up … we’ll do it together.” Well that should do the trick, right?

Perhaps not. Maybe the superdelegates would prefer to be wined and dined, cajoled and courted for the remainder of the summer. Nothing, certainly not a letter from Reid, can force them to do what they don’t wish to do.

All of this also leaves open the question of what to do about Michigan and Florida. Last week Clinton delegate Joel Ferguson filed a complaint with the DNC seeking to seat those disallowed Michigan delegates. So long as that controversy still brews Clinton will pull out all the stops to demand that superdelegates not conclude the process without resolving both Michigan and Florida – both states she “won,” albeit without any campaigning and with only her name on the Michigan ballot.

Nevertheless, there may be pressure from the media, from the two camps and from figures like Gore to bring the bloodletting to an end. Pelosi and Reid, of course, can control many of the superdelegates’ political fortunes – through committee assignments for Senators and Congressmen and through financial support for any of them in tough re-election bids, to name just two hammers these two might wield.

But the real problem is not, of course, when to decide, but whom to choose. Which candidate will gain the lion share of those superdelegates? Before Obama’s wipeout in Pennsylvania (it is hard to lose 60 of 67 counties, many by over twenty percentage points, but he did it) the betting was that superdelegates would be loathe to overthrow the pledged delegates’ choice, Obama.

However, since Pennsylvania more Democrats – led by their handmaidens in the media – may recognize that Obama is an electorally checkmated candidate. Can someone who can’t attract Catholics, women, seniors, regular church goers, union members, whites, gun owners and working class Democrats ( forget about independents, for a moment) really beat McCain? Superdelegates may feel queasy about knocking out Obama, but the prospect of a November disaster looms ever larger.

So rather than “Dear Superdelegate” letters, the key to forcing the superdelegates is the remaining primary races. Should Obama correct course and log a few wins, the superdelegates may be amenable to ending the race. However, if Clinton continues her rebound (proving Obama’s reliance on a base of ultra-liberals, college kids and African Americans is a recipe for electoral defeat), then those superdelegates will look for any excuse — perhaps a nice fight over Michigan and Florida — to give Clinton the chance to make her case.

In the end, then, the Pelosi-Reid tag team may be no more successful than Dean in ending the Democrats’ internecine warfare. Obama will have to do that on his own — and there is now a serious question whether he can.