What He Hath Wrought

What He Hath Wrought

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For any Hillary Clinton supporter, there might have been no more poignant a scene when the senator from New York assembled her delegates and formally released them. The room erupted in anguished cries, disbelief, and defeat. At that moment, the journey was officially over and now the delegates were left without a team leader.

For many Clinton supporters, who had attended the Democratic National Convention amid a swirl of stories about what might happen on the convention floor—would there be a palace revolt?—there was still anger and unfinished business at Hillary’s treatment throughout the primary. The group with the most media attention were the PUMAs, who had vowed they would accept neither a compromise deal that denied Hillary a spot on the Democratic ticket nor anything less than a full roll call of the states. (Hillary herself artfully diffused this potential problem by calling for a procedural move to nominate Barack Obama after the New York delegation called their vote; indeed, she made herself into the kingmaker of the nomination process.)

But now that John McCain has nominated heretofore unknown Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential choice, the full magnitude of what he has done has been glossed over by a media more interested in her looks, her teenage daughter's pregnancy, and the energy she brings to a previously moribund Republican party. She is not the first woman to be picked for vice-president, but she is now in a position whose impact needs to be fully appreciated, especially for Hillary supporters who (at least publicly) have vowed to vote for Mr. McCain.

A vote for Mr. McCain as revenge for the slighting of Hillary is ill-advised for those who are otherwise committed to putting either a Democrat in the White House or typically vote for Democrats. Consider this: voting for Mr. McCain puts Ms. Palin within striking distance of the presidency, and if Mr. McCain serves only one term, guess who will be the candidate in 2012? It is highly unlikely that Ms. Palin would pack up her bags and move back home: her enthusiastic embrace by the Republican party is not going to be forgotten or tossed aside at will (unless, of course, she proves to be a thorough incompetent or does something illegal, but then again, this is the party of George W. Bush). Mr. McCain's vice-presidential pick will become the center of the Republican Party's universe, and there are legions who would almost certainly love to see a debate between Ms. Palin and Ms. Clinton. Talk about getting the vote out.

We might suggest that Clinton supporters who vowed to vote for Mr. McCain did so on the presumption that he would nominate a man: that certainly was the expectation in the breathless guessing game the media engaged in before his actual pick was announced. But now that Ms. Palin is becoming a household name, the dynamics of the contest have been radically altered, with consequences that have not dawned on the electorate. Clinton supporters are in an unusually tough situation: why vow to vote for Mr. McCain and potentially put any other woman than Hillary in the Oval Office? Such a notion goes directly against the question Ms. Clinton herself asked during her speech at the Democratic convention: did you do it for me, or did you do it for them? Clinton fans know the answer is both, in this order: her and them. Denied the opportunity for both, revolt is in the air.

If Mr. McCain wins the presidency, there is no assurance that he would serve only one term, and definitely no assurance that Hillary would “mop the floor” with Ms. Palin, should the latter become the de facto candidate in 2012. And in that case, who is say that Barack Obama would not make another attempt? Even if Mr. Obama wins this election, Ms. Palin is still unlikely to recede back into the hinterlands, and Mr. McCain’s choice of her will give Republicans enough energy to get on the ticket during the next round. Apparently, “change” has occurred all the way around this political season.

So Clinton supporters have a difficult choice: allow Ms. Palin the opportunity to become the first woman president through revenge, or cast their vote for Barack Obama and hold out the chance that Ms. Clinton can still make even more history and get into the Oval Office as commander in chief. Indeed, this might the first election where people in one party vote against the vice-presidential choice of an opposing party more than conviction for their own party’s nominee. It’s the most interesting of dilemmas, but a wrenching one for those who just cannot bring themselves to even like Barack Obama, much less cast a ballot for him.

Whether by accident or by design, Mr. McCain’s selection of a woman as his running mate has more powerful consequences than most people have realized. And it’s one that needs to be weighed fully before undecideds or Clinton supporters need to account for before heading to the polls this fall.