Saturday, May 10, 2008

Not So Fast, My Friend

Is the race for the Democratic presidential nomination over -- as many writers and political observers have been suggesting, in the aftermath of Barack Obama's big win in North Carolina and his narrow loss in Indiana?

Only half a dozen states remain on the primary calendar.

One of those states is West Virginia, which holds its primaries next Tuesday.

West Virginia has the political stage all to itself, and, to a certain extent, it is resisting the notion that Obama has wrapped up the nomination.

West Virginia has a long history of being contrary. It once was part of Virginia, but after Virginia seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, the northwestern portion of the state itself seceded from Virginia and was admitted to the Union as a separate state on June 20, 1863.

In fact, to this day, June 20 is celebrated in West Virginia as "West Virginia Day."

In 2000, George W. Bush became the first non-incumbent Republican to win West Virginia since Herbert Hoover in 1928. The next four Republicans who were elected president won without the support of West Virginia.

Dwight Eisenhower didn't win West Virginia when he was first elected in 1952. Richard Nixon didn't win the state when he was first elected in 1968. Ronald Reagan didn't win West Virginia when he was first elected in 1980. And George H.W. Bush didn't win it when he was elected in 1988.

If the pattern had continued and Al Gore had won West Virginia in 2000, Florida's electoral votes would not have been enough to give the election to Bush.

I get the feeling that there are some editorial writers in West Virginia who feel that it isn't fair for the race to be considered over before West Virginians get the chance to participate.

I also get the feeling that participation in Tuesday's primaries will be good, even if the voters believe that both nominations have now been decided. There seem to be several competitive races on both ballots -- as one would expect in a state that has become increasingly competitive politically in recent years.

"Either Democrat will have a tough time this fall against Republican John McCain, whose service, policy experience and bipartisan accomplishments trump Hillary's," writes the Charleston Daily Mail in its endorsement of Hillary Clinton. "Of the Democrats, though, Hillary would be the stronger candidate."

The polls I've seen suggest that West Virginians agree.

Rasmussen Reports sees Clinton leading Obama, 56% to 27%. The remaining 17% either persist in supporting a candidate who is no longer in the race or continue to be undecided at this stage of the contest.

The numbers are virtually unchanged from a Rasmussen survey in mid-March.

American Research Group's most recent survey (conducted May 7-8) has Clinton in front, 66% to 23%.

How does one explain such a large Clinton lead in West Virginia?

In part, I would say the negative publicity surrounding Obama's remark about "bitter" voters "clinging" to guns and religion hasn't helped among West Virginia's more conservative electorate. West Virginia is, arguably, one of the most religious states in the nation. It is also a state where 7 out of 10 residents own guns.

Also, the demographics of West Virginia seem to lean more in Clinton's favor. Only about 3% of the West Virginia population is black, and about three-quarters of the residents went no farther in their education than high school. The so-called "Lunch Bucket Democrats" appear to outnumber the "Starbucks Democrats" in West Virginia.

And, in spite of the fact that West Virginia's economy hasn't struggled as much as the rest of the country, due to relatively good times for the coal mining industry, more than half of the state's households have incomes of less than $35,000/year.

The next administration will need to have a strategy ready to deal with the problems of energy prices, food prices, the economy in general.

But it's also important for Americans to decide in this election how they feel about the war in Iraq -- which will be 6 years old shortly after the next president takes the oath of office.

In this country, we celebrate those who are remembered as great warriors. But, as Yoda said in the Star Wars trilogy, "Wars not make one great." The ones who are remembered by history are the ones who show creativity and bold innovation on the battlefield in an attempt to shorten the conflict.

In fact, such a warrior died on this date 145 years ago. He was a Confederate general, and his name was Thomas Jackson -- better known by his nickname of "Stonewall." He considered himself a Virginian, although he was born in what is now West Virginia.

He died less than two months before the legendary Battle of Gettysburg. Many war historians believe the South might have won that battle -- and perhaps gone on to win the war -- if Jackson had been alive.

It seems clear that General Robert E. Lee knew what he had lost. Jackson actually died of pneumonia a week after the amputation of his left arm due to wounds he suffered in the Battle of Chancellorsville. As Jackson lay dying in the field hospital, Lee sent a letter and lamented to the chaplain, "[H]e has lost his left arm but I my right."

By the way, history also records that the battlefield wounds Jackson suffered were inflicted by mistake -- by Confederate troops.

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies -- be it by design or by chance.

The management of a war that has dragged on for 5 years can hardly be said to be creative or innovative. The damage from the war -- like Stonewall Jackson's battlefield wounds -- is the result of "friendly fire."

In 2008, Americans must discuss the situation in Iraq and decide what the plan is going to be. We can't afford to sidestep the question the way we did in 2004.

It makes no sense to elect another president who will, in the words of Rick Martinez of the Raleigh News & Observer, "refuse to win a war."

And, since it may no longer be possible to win this war, we need a plan to simply end it.

It is neither creative nor innovative to continue to throw away blood and treasure to justify the blood and treasure that has already been lost.

There must be a clearly defined objective that will preserve what we still have and give us the opportunity to repair what damage it is possible to repair.

No comments: