The Magazine

It's Not Over Till It's Over

Hillary still has a chance.

Mar 3, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 24 • By JOHN J. DILULIO JR.
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Clinton and Obama have not had a serious debate about Iraq. As Obama proclaims, almost as often as he says "change," he opposed from the start giving the president war-making authority. Stipulate that he was right--as most Democrats and a public plurality do--and then ask how, exactly, he reasoned his way to that decision when Colin Powell, John Kerry, and many others with no less information and much greater experience did not? Did he analyze the available prewar data differently, and, if so, how? Unlike Democrats from Joe Biden to Joe Lieberman, why did Obama never offer a serious plan to fix the poorly executed, pre-surge occupation?

As pleasing as his pledge is to the party faithful, how can he be so absolute about bringing all troops home by a date certain? How does that year-before-the-act pledge constitute being "as careful" getting out as we were "careless" going in? Conceding that a "new" global politics would be welcome, what wisdom is he seeking with crusty old foreign policy hands like Zbigniew Brzezinski on his national security team?

If Clinton does not have this debate with Obama, McCain surely will. There is no reason to trust any pre-October 2008 polls showing Obama beating McCain, including those now showing him beating McCain by a larger margin than Clinton would. Obama would be the second consecutive Democratic standard-bearer ranked the Senate's most liberal member by nonpartisan outlets like National Journal. He leapt leftward as he positioned himself to run for president: a "composite liberal score" of 95.5 out of 100 in 2007, up from 82.5 and a 16th-place finish in 2005. (Clinton's 2007 score was 82.8, and her lifetime score is 79.4.)

In a general election, there will be some McCain Democrats. Obama Republicans are more of a question, and independents could be either man's flock. Many general election scenarios remain possible, but, as I reckon it, the only one forecasting a Democratic victory that respects mass-electorate math and state-by-state statistics is a few-point win over McCain that involves McCain getting millions fewer evangelical votes than Bush did in 2004, the Democratic ticket getting as many or more African-Americans as Kerry-Edwards did in 2004, and the sleeping giant Latino vote going decisively against McCain.

Other scenarios for a Democratic win against McCain all pretty much assume that the stubborn post-1996 red state-blue state realities will be changed by a change-agent candidate. Obama generated voter enthusiasm even in Republican Kansas, and he may prove to be a party-realigning candidate, but believing so at this stage requires, well, the audacity of hope.

If Obama wins any two of the Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania primary trio, then he is virtually certain to be the nominee. One thing is for sure: If he doesn't win, I won't be teasing my sure-to-be down-hearted students.

John J. DiIulio Jr., a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.