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I’ve been trying to understand why Hillary Clinton’s "popular vote" argument carries such power, and why the pundits' responses and those of the Obama campaign don’t seem adequate to dent it.

We here at dkos and an increasing number of the media pundits recognize that the statement "I’ve won the popular vote" is factually sketchy at best. But she continues to say it, and it continues to resonate with certain sub-groups. Why? And what can be done to counteract it?

Many of the comments and diaries here assume that the popular vote argument is aimed at the remaining superdelegates. Perhaps so, though they seem politically savvy enough to see through it. But it also taps into and strengthens deep veins of resentment within the two groups where Clinton continues to do well: older white women, and whites without a college education.

Follow me after the jump.

For older white women, Clinton's claim resonates with a narrative line that those of us over 50 can easily identify with:

I’m way more qualified for the job. And I’m winning the popular vote. But the men in the back rooms and the men on the teevee are moving the bar to keep the glass ceiling intact and prevent me from taking my rightful place. It’s the old story: a woman has to be twice as good as a man to get half as far. It's unfair and sexist, and we all need to stand up and say so.

For white workers without a college education, Clinton invokes a different narrative line, the affirmative action one that this year's anti-immigrant rhetoric has reawakened:

The white candidate is way more qualified for the job. Using any common-sense criteria, the white candidate would get the job. But then some folks in suits used a fancy formula that’s way too complicated for anyone to understand, and gave the black guy extra points on the test, and gave the job to him. It's reverse racism and it's unfair.

These narratives are dangerous. During the past couple of weeks the Clinton campaign has in other ways signaled a willingness to move toward unifying the party for the upcoming fight against John McCain. But resentment dies hard, especially resentment over yet another stolen election. Leaving these narratives in place creates two pools of anger that could fester for years, affecting the Democratic Party for many election cycles to come.

So, what can we do? Chuck Todd standing in front of his fancy touch screen and crunching numbers doesn’t really help, because it feeds both false narratives. He's a white guy, in a suit, using fancy formulas no one really understands. Tim Russert and other guys in suits insisting that the popular vote isn’t the right way to measure has similar flaws. Having Rachel Maddow say it may help a bit, but it still reeks of "those people" stealing what rightfully belongs to Clinton.

I suggest two new approaches:

First, it is essential to cut into the underlying premise that Clinton has won the popular vote. The clearest way to do that goes something like this:

When she’s talking about Florida and Michigan, Hillary Clinton keeps talking about how important it is to "Count Every Vote!" But when she says she’s won the national popular vote, she is leaving out the votes cast by the good people of Iowa, Maine, Nevada and Washington State. She’s NOT counting THEIR votes.

This has to be said slowly, matter-of-factly, not by media pundits in their cram-it-all-in rush. It would be more powerful coming from women’s voices.

Where are the elected officials, especially the women, from those four caucus states, irate and insulted that their people are being disregarded, as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gov. Jennifer Granholm have been on behalf of Florida and Michigan? I assume they’ve feared that responding would only give credence to the "popular vote" argument. But it must be countered, and they would be the best people to do it.  

This would plant a counter-narrative, one that is fully consistent with other criticisms of the Clintons: She makes these great-sounding statements, but here she goes again, she’s redefined terms in such a slippery way that it isn’t really true. We don't want to do that, not this year. We want a different kind of politics.

Second, the best way to counter the "affirmative action" narrative is with an equally strong counter-narrative: states’ rights.

The Democratic Party could force every state to hold its elections the same way. But we don’t do that. We let the Democrats in each state decide what works best for them, as they choose the people they want to send to the national party convention in Denver. There are states with long traditions of holding caucuses where everyone can come together and argue it out like a town meeting. There are states with long traditions of going to the polling place and voting behind a curtain. There are states with mail-in ballots. We don’t yet have a state that votes by Internet, but if a state Democratic Party decided to do that, the national Party would honor it.  

So we’re not going to go back and tell states, "You chose this way to hold your election and allocate your delegates, but the national party is going to ignore that and make some other calculation." We’re going to accept the delegates the way each state chooses to select them.

That narrative too fits into the larger theme of this campaign: The Democratic Party is a big tent, with room for lots of different people. We need everyone's ideas and everyone's energy. We need all of you.

In order to win over enough of these two demographic groups to prevail over McCain in the fall, the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party has to recognize and reduce the resentment that Clinton has been able to foment. And all of us can help with that reframing.

Originally posted to rugbymom on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:10 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Democratic Party needs someone with Chutzpah (7+ / 0-)

    To tell the Clintons that they have lost this race.

    •  I really liked this part... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      madame defarge, Osaka, flor de jasmim

      Where are the elected officials, especially the women, from those caucus states, irate and insulted that their people are being disregarded, as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gov. Jennifer Granholm have been on behalf of Florida and Michigan?

      Excellent point.

      "I'm a Muse, stupid!" -Serendipity in Dogma

      by Lava20 on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:17:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Tipped and recommended. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flor de jasmim

      Excellent diary.  If only more of us had your analytical skill.

      It is the folly of youth to think they can change the world; it is the folly of old age not to try. -- Winston Churchill

      by penguins4peace on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:17:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Very good diary (0+ / 0-)

      Recommended.  This is definitely a problem, and another reason why HRC is playing with some fire here in regards to the popular vote metric.  At some point she will have to concede that Obama won the popular vote - if she does not, it will be a direct and obvious act of sabotage on his general election chances.

    •  Say what? (0+ / 0-)
      We're going to accept the delegates the way each state chooses to select them.

      Except for Florida and Michigan, of course.

      Also, enough with the gender- and race-baiting-baiting, with accusations of using "dog whistles" and "euphemisms".  Just can it, please. It may be true, but what's for damn sure is that constantly making the accusation against everything that the Clinton campaign says is just tiresome, and results in outrage overload.  She's lost already.  Can we please move on.

      Obama: Change!
      Hillary: Spare some change?


      by DemCurious on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:47:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  But her "popular vote"... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sbdenmon, Mad Kossack, Lava20

    disenfranchises those voters in the caucus states.

    She can't have it all, even if she is Hillary.  She can't claim that MI & FL are disenfranchised and leave out the caucus states.  That's hypocritical & stupid.

    "It's not just enough to change the players. We've gotta change the game." ~ Obama

    by madame defarge on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:18:44 AM PDT

    •  Yes, exactly. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      madame defarge, Mad Kossack

      Now how to we say it convincingly out there?

      •  I'd say it like this: (0+ / 0-)

        Hillary Clinton wants to count FL and MI, but she doesn't want to count the caucus states, even though it was agreed by all candidates in advance that FL and MI were not going to count because those states broke the rules.

        Hillary Clinton spent the bulk of her pre-primary campaign money in Iowa, a caucus state, and now wants to pretend that those voters don't count because she came in a distant THIRD in that state.

        To sum up:  The only way Clinton can claim to have the "most votes" is to NOT count the votes in states such as Iowa that have been having caucuses for generations with no one ever previously objecting to the format, and for Clinton to count votes in states that were disqualified from having binding primaries because they broke the rules.  

        Clinton's math:  Voters in Caucus states like Iowa don't count, but votes in states that broke the rules DO count.

        Bush repealed Godwin's Law with a Signing Statement.

        by Mad Kossack on Wed May 21, 2008 at 06:06:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  No way to win. (0+ / 0-)

    The democratic party is too soft, the Clintons need to be politically kneecapped, rendered non-persons, wiped off the political map.

    There is nobody in the party that will get in their faces and explain that to them.

    Refer to those two bastards as swine and you get a half-dozen responses saying you are being too harsh, is that any way to run a political party?

  •  The election rules were in place before Primarry (4+ / 0-)

    began.  If Hillary still does not understand how the system, including caucuses work, she certainly doesn't have the capacity to understand complicated foreign policy.  This is the issue the Democratice party needs to be explaining to Hillary.  

    Hillary, you lost according to the ruls of the Primary Game in effect when we started. Stop playing games with the Primary numbers.  

    •  The same rules that Bill, Al, and John had (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      to follow. So I don't get the changing narrative. HRC has played a dangerous game since she lost Iowa: the tearing up in New Hampshire, Bill's ranting in South Carolina. I just listened to her interview with Lois Romano of WaPo (who has drank the Kewl-Aid) here. It is misleading, unfair to conflate the media coverage of mysogyny with the Obama campaign itself. I know she wants to win, but this white versus black, "affirmative action" code talk is making me sick. I don't know if I could ever vote for her.

  •  She's lying, again (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jhecht, Lava20

    That's the true narrative.

    The popular vote argument is a bogus one for the reasons that have been discussed here endlessly, but even if it were a valid metric, she's lying about the numbers.

    I don't want another Clinton lying to me from  the White House.

  •  The problem is she made it up. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is no popular vote statistic.
    She made it up.
    There has never been one before.
    Show me one example of this statistic in a presidential primary you cannot.

    This is just crazy you are disenfranchising caucus states to make up a stat to steal a election.

  •  misleading popular vote focus does encourage (4+ / 0-)

    resentment, but reasons why clinton's count is wrong are too complicated for most people. For instance I believe results for most caucuses are included (except for 3 or 4 states) But even caucus states that have their results included have influence diminished. In Mn obama won 60% of 200,000 caucus votes. If Mn had held a primary his vote margin here would be much larger.

    •  Good point, but as you say, complex. (0+ / 0-)

      The more "ifs" have to be embedded in the explanation, the harder it is to argue. As my father used to say, "If my grandmother had wheels, would she run on a track?"

      That's why I started looking for other ways to argue back.

  •  Excellent. Rec'd. (4+ / 0-)

    The deceptive nature of the popular vote argument is that it sounds like such an easy bumper sticker moral argument.  Obviously, popular vote in the general is straightforward (one person one vote), but popular vote in the primary is subject to arbitrary restrictions on a state-by-state basis.  After exhausting years pushing back on "healthy forest acts" and "clean skies acts," we have to deal with the crushingly cynical, morally bankrupt surrogate onslaught of the Clintons (for example, a moment ago, the hauntingly amoral Howard Wolfson specifically said "one person one vote" on MSNBC).

    Your suggestions are well thought out and should be applied.  I do think indeed that the Clintons fully intend to run a high-profile attempt at rehabilitation of their image and pretenses at unity, while behind the scenes poisoning the well.  (Incidentally, like a lot of things the Clintons, particularly Bill Clinton, has badly misweighed the risk-reward in going for broke and hoping to rehabilitate later.  All the king's horses...)

    Anyway, outstanding points.  Recommended.

    Calloused hand by calloused hand.

    by PocketNines on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:23:52 AM PDT

  •  another strawman today (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Morague, Triscula, rmonroe, red 83, hannahlk

    on NPR, Repub activist Tucker Eskew (and why the HELL is NPR bringing repub spinners to analyze a democratic primary??) helpfully pointed out that, if you only count votes cast since March 1 (conveniently after Obama ran the table through all of February), then HRC has a popular vote lead of 500,000.
    I'll bet if you only count Appalachia she does even better. Could do better still if Diebold did the counting and all radios were super-glued to Rush Limbaugh 24/7.
    I mean, wow. Disconnect doesn't even begin to cover this level of delusion. Yesterday, I had a toddler offer me some imaginary toast that she had just made in her imaginary kitchen. It was far more believable than this crap.

    Apparently only elections of Republicans have consequences. My bad.

    by kamarvt on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:24:29 AM PDT

    •  Very perceptive (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Those Republicans really know how to analyze Democratic primaries !!

      How about this:

      According to exit polls in virtually every state in the Democratic Primary race, Hillary Clinton has gotten near 100% of the vote of those who stated a preference for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Nominee.

      With such overwhelming support in that demographic, how can the Democrats nominate anyone but Hillary and the nomination not be considered illegitimate???


      Bush repealed Godwin's Law with a Signing Statement.

      by Mad Kossack on Wed May 21, 2008 at 06:14:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Clintons like in Poker have a "Tell" (0+ / 0-)

    When Bill is lying he waggs his finger. Hillary's "Tell" Nodding her head.. When ever you see her on stage nodding after she's stated the Clinton version of truth you know you have to check the facts. She's learned how to controll the sheep in this country.

    If McCain wins, the Supreme Court will be changed for 20 years. Something to Ponder.

    by Blue Texas on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:28:02 AM PDT

  •  Iowa, Maine, Nevada & Washington (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Iowa, Maine, Nevada & Washington are the 4 states whose popular vote totals are missing from the popular vote narrative. Additionally, Hillary is only counting 55% of the Michigan votes - only the ones who actually voted for her because she was the only one on the ballot.

    This popular vote narrative has to be stopped. She said tonight that every vote must be counted - trying to tie into people's feelings about the 2000 (s)election. It will work unless it becomes common knowledge that she is leaving out 4 states (3 of which went for Obama) & 45% of Michigan when she counts the popular vote.

    This can't be allowed to stand.

  •  You know honestly (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I stopped reading after I read.

    I’ve been trying to understand why Hillary Clinton’s "popular vote" argument carries such power, and why the pundits' responses and those of the Obama campaign don’t seem adequate to dent it.

    1. The media needs a story so that people watch. I think Chris Mathews said to Terry McAuliffe that he was preaching to the choir in saying that Hillary should stay in the race and that the media would love for this to go to the convention. Look at how much advertising money the media would make, likey more than they do from the Superbowl.
    1. Hillary was a lawyer for what 20 years and is trained to make arguments and be an advocate. So, she will make any argument she can, Big States, Blue States, Tough States. None of it matters, they are just arguments.
    1. Obama has the delegates, so he is just running out the clock and trying not to offend her supporters. Why should he counter her non-winning arguments and then be accused of sexism.
    •  I was a lawyer too, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      In addition to making the factual arguments, a good advocate frames a narrative that makes the Court want to rule in your favor. And good judges frame their decision with a narrative that makes the result palatable. Otherwise it stokes popular resentment.

      Hillary has been able to frame powerful -- but damaging -- narratives. Those do matter, going forward.

  •  Dems need chutzpah (0+ / 0-)

    The majority of people here have no problem supporting Sen. Kennedy as a great Dem who took a sitting president to the convention while trailing by astronomical numbers. HRC supporters are dismayed at the level of criticism and charges that they are GOP-lite when they have fought all their lives for the principles of the party. We hope to organize our strenghths to bring about change. ProtestVote08

  •  Counting the MI&LF vote, and accounting for (0+ / 0-)

    the caucus states, she does win the popular vote.

    Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them - T Paine

    by breezeview on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:36:26 AM PDT

    •  whose vote? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The MILF vote? I think you meant to type MI$FL. HA!  Yes, she is ahead if you count those. However, according to the rules, those votes weren't going to count. Hillary is right. Sorta. Well Kinda. Well, not really.

      •  I think her goal line is the convention (0+ / 0-)

        If she can get there alive, I think it will be a new ballgame.  Which is also in the rules.

        It appears it's all gonna depend on the superdelagates.

        Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them - T Paine

        by breezeview on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:47:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  sigh (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Phoenix Woman
      Counting only the Michigan votes for Hillary & nothing for Obama - then yes she is ahead in the popular vote if you include Michigan, Florida & the estimated totals from the 4 cacaus states. However, there is not one single person in America who sincerely believes that Obama would have received zero votes in Michigan if he were on the ballot!

      The popular vote totals in white include the non-committed vote for Obama, which makes more sense than counting nothing for him.

      This whole thing is ridiculous anyway. The candidate is the one with the most delegates.

    •  Obama wasn't on the ballot in MI (0+ / 0-)

      ...and stopped campaigning in FL once the DNC's decision came down.

      Obama and Edwards both respected the DNC's decision by pulling their names from the illegal Michigan primary's ballot -- just Bill Bradley and Al Gore did in 2000 when Michigan tried to pull that same stunt.

      Only Hillary, of the three major candidates, failed to do so this election cycle.

  •  I was thinking about this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    never forget 2000, sbdenmon

    last night.

    The Democratic Party could force every state to hold its elections the same way. But we don’t do that. We let the Democrats in each state decide what works best for them, as they choose the people they want to send to the national party convention in Denver.

    It's really disingenuous to hear people say that Clinton should be the nominee since it is 'clear' she would win if all the contests were primaries.

    The Obama team developed a strategy based on the rules as they are.  If the rules were different they would have campaigned differently.

    "Politics didn't lead me to working people. Working people led me to politics." Barack Obama

    by MLDB on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:37:01 AM PDT

  •  does not hold water. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    never forget 2000, breezeview

    The rules. The rules. The rules.
    If the nomination was decided by counting the popular votes, no state would hold a caucus.
    Taking that into account, he holds the popular lead by 400,000 not counting MI and FL (Because the all agreed that they wouldn't count.
    Her Match is very fuzzy. She's manipilating the numbers to favor her.

    •  Hey, I just used the same link to (0+ / 0-)

      argue the opposite point.  

      Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them - T Paine

      by breezeview on Wed May 21, 2008 at 05:39:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Are you saying that Obama wouldn't have any MI... (0+ / 0-)

        ...votes even if he and Edwards hadn't pulled themselves from the illegal primary's ballot?

        That, by the way, is what major candidates are supposed to do in illegal-primary situations:  Pull their names from the ballot.  Gore and Bradley did it in January of 2000 when Michigan tried to pull that same stunt, and Michigan's Democratic Party backed down and organized a March caucus so their delegates could be seated.

  •  Spot on..This meme is for 2012 (0+ / 0-)

    These arguments are not for the supers, it's actually intended to poison the well with women for Obama that will cause him to lose this election.

    Read around, a fair percentage of women actually believe Obama has stolen this election, and now you have Hillary herself fanning the flames of sexism..

    All the pundits think because she stopped attacking Obama, she's backing down. Wrong. These cries of sexism and popular vote leads are intended to erode enough of Obama's support amongst women to cause him to lose. The beauty of it, for her, is that nobody seems to realize what's happening.

  •  By Your Logic (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoenix Woman

    Clinton supporters should support Obama once he wins the nomination anyway, since both Clinton AND Obama are getting more primary votes than McCain.

    ---- now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their bloodstone days...

    by TooFolkGR on Wed May 21, 2008 at 06:01:30 AM PDT

  •  No Wonder HRC is upset. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoenix Woman

    They spent 4 years cultivating Right Wing media. How could this be happening? Republican Corporatist saw a win win with Clinton/McCain.

    Knowing the Republican party was weak Rupert Murdoch threw her a fund raiser. Lanny and Geraldine got jobs at Faux News. When you make a deal with the devil don't expect the rest of us to follow you down.

    How can you justify having a Liaison with Drudge, or accepting the endorsement of Mellon Scaiffe?

    Does anyone actually believe that the Her Universal Health Care would be beneficial to the working poor if she gets to decide what is affordable. The word Affordable has never been defined.

    If McCain wins, the Supreme Court will be changed for 20 years. Something to Ponder.

    by Blue Texas on Wed May 21, 2008 at 06:07:47 AM PDT

  •  Need soundbite arguments (0+ / 0-)

    HRC's argument is rhetorically powerful because it is very sound-bite friendly - all she needs to say is "popular vote" and "will of the people" and she immediately invokes the moral high ground.  When people respond by saying that popular vote is irrelevant in the primaries, which is technically true, it just doesn't sound very good.  It's sounds undemocratic.

    So, instead of saying popular vote is irrelevant, one should respond by agreeing with the basic premise that popular vote is important, and then show why HRC's own arguments ultimately show she doesn't really care about the popular vote.  

    So, it's important to state that HRC's argument requires her to exclude the votes from 4 caucus states, WA, NV, ME, and IA.  So, people can say things like:

    1. HRC is disenfranchising voters in four states - how can she say she's for the popular vote?
    1. HRC says all the votes should count, so why is she counting the votes only in 46 states?
    1. We shouldn't disenfranchise voters in MI and FL.    But, if she doesn't count the votes in WA, NV, ME, and IA, isn't she disenfranchising those voters?  
    1. Why does HRC want to disenfranchise voters in WA, NV, ME, IA?
  •  The media pushes it because they hate Dems (0+ / 0-)

    Here's how it works:

    Remember how the press didn't try to prolong the GOP primary process?  Once McCain started winning primaries, they started shoving Rudy and Huckabee and Mittster off the stage.

    But here, they've been enabling Hillary's arguments every step of the way, even though one of Hillary's own people said that they'd lost this thing back in February.

    Now, consider that the media is owned and shaped by corporate interest that like GOP deregulation and tax cuts, if not by outright ideological partisans like Jack Welch (who ran NBC through GE for decades and hired RNC chair Roger Ailes to run the NBC newsroom) and Rupert Murdoch (who himself later hired Ailes to start up FOX News) and Sun Myung Moon (enough said).

    Consider also that the media has yet to admit just how horrible an idea it was for Bush to invade Iraq, and they certainly haven't admitted their own complicity in Bush's actions.  

    Who do you think the media is likely to favor -- The Republican who wants to keep us in Iraq forever, the Democrat who has promised to pull us out but had voted for the original AUMF blank check, or the Democrat who was against invading from the very start and who polls favor over the first Democrat?

    If you answer "well, of course they want the Republican to win, so they're going to use the first Democrat to beat up on the second Democrat so he's weakened when he finally faces the Republican in November", give yourself a cookie.

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