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Exit Poll Parsing Presents a False Choice


This endless Democratic primary season may or may not be good for the party, but it has certainly not been good for the media. Pages of newsprint and hours of airtime have been wasted parsing election results, exit polls, non-exit polls and the comments of the candidate's surrogates and pseudo-surrogates.

Counting delegates and super delegates and going back and forth over Michigan and Florida is all well and good. But there is one line of thought that keeps coming up -- encouraged by the Clinton campaign -- that I simply don't get.

It's the syllogism that Clinton beats Obama among white, working-class voters in swing states; Democrats must win these voters to take the White House; therefore Clinton should be the party's nominee. It makes as much sense to me as Woody Allen's classic, which went something like this: All men are mortal. Socrates was a man. Therefore are men are Socrates. Socrates was gay, therefore all men are gay.

Better, I think, to look at this as a series of choices. If a group of people allergic to strawberries are offered a banana, an apple and a strawberry and the majority of them choose the apple, it simply doesn't follow that when the apple is removed from the equation they'll choose the strawberry over the banana.

It's a false choice, and for Democrats, John McCain is that strawberry. Yes, there are many Democrats who've become so invested in their candidate that they've lost sight of the fact that in terms of policy there are few differences between them.

So yes, we can argue about experience and we can argue about race and gender. But the fact remains that there are stark differences between McCain and Obama, and to look at the voters who've gravitated to Clinton as essentially McCain voters registered as Democrats is condescending to those voters. On two key points -- the war in Iraq and the economy -- Clinton and Obama stand much closer together than either does with McCain. Those will be the biggest issues facing Obama and McCain in November, and voters who voted for Clinton won't suddenly think more time in Iraq and an extension of the failed Bush domestic agenda is a good idea.
I'm not naïve enough to think there aren't Democrats out there who are voting solely based on race or gender considerations, but let's not forget that as the losing candidate in the Virginia primary, Clinton had more votes than McCain did in winning that election against Mike Huckabee.

And don't forget that the conversation early in the primary season was that Obama was going well in states with open primaries by pulling in Independent voters and disaffected Republicans. What happened to that conventional wisdom?

Yeah, I still harbor some doubt that this country is ready to elect a black man (or a woman) president, but nowhere near as many as I did 12 months ago. Once the acrimony of the primaries fades and Democrats enter the voting booth and think about their priorities and their values, when they think about the war or about the Supreme Court, issues of race and gender will pale next to the state of the nation.

Maybe I am naïve, but the syllogism I prefer is: all Democrats are Americans; the Democratic nominee will be better for America; all Democrats will vote for the party's nominee.