Obama to Michigan: "No, We Can't"

A campaign blog.
March 19 2008 12:18 PM

Obama to Michigan: "No, We Can't"

For a campaign whose unofficial motto is "Yes, We Can," Barack Obama’s operation is acting awfully defeatist when it comes to a revote in Michigan.

A day after Michigan Democratic leaders deemed a revote unlikely, Hillary Clinton traveled to Detroit to call attention to the issue and urge Democrats to revive it. The trip shows just how big a deal this is for Clinton. Without revotes in Michigan or Florida, she loses a key argument in her increasingly tenuous case to superdelegates that they should overturn the pledged delegate count.


Obama’s people, meanwhile, are digging in their heels —some say running out the clock—until the Michigan Legislature’s recess begins on Thursday. The standoff is something of a Catch-22: The legislature can’t draft a revote plan without Obama’s approval, but Obama won’t approve it without seeing a concrete plan.

Politically, stalling makes sense for Obama. A Michigan revote would likely hand Clinton another victory and give her a boost in the popular vote. But his stance is hard to defend on democratic grounds. If there’s a chance to give Michigan voters a voice, how can Obama—the same guy who mocks Hillary for talking about "false hopes"—oppose that?

His campaign’s objections to the revote are a mix of the legitimate and the dubious. Obama attorney (and conference-call crasher extraordinaire ) Bob Bauer penned a lengthy memo explaining how a revote wouldn’t allow people who had voted in the Republican primary to participate in the Democratic re-do. Seems fair, although plenty of states hold closed primaries that exclude Republicans and independents. Less convincing are the campaign’s claims that there’s not enough time or money. Back in December, states were still deciding when to hold their primaries. And neither campaign would have trouble finding people to finance the election, if they really tried. Most notably, Bauer doesn’t offer any alternative solutions.

Obama knows he has a winning hand in Michigan. All he has to do is twiddle his thumbs. It’s just funny, and a little sad, that his case rests on saying, "No, We Can’t."

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.



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