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George Will

Her contortions aside, numbers don't lie

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton, 60, Illinois native and Arkansas lawyer, became, retroactively, a lifelong Yankee fan at age 52 when, shopping for a U.S. Senate seat, she adopted New York state as home sweet home. She may think, or at least would argue, that when she was 12 her Yankees really won the 1960 World Series, by standards of "fairness," because they trounced the Pirates in runs scored, 55-27, over seven games, so there.

Unfortunately, baseball's rules — pesky nuisances, rules — say it matters how runs are distributed during a World Series. The Pirates won four games, which is the point of the exercise, by a total margin of seven runs, while the Yankees were winning three by a total of 35 runs. You can look it up.

After Tuesday's split decisions in Indiana and North Carolina, Clinton, the Yankee Clipperette, can, and hence eventually will, creatively argue that she is really ahead of Barack Obama, or at any rate she is sort of tied, mathematically or morally or something, in popular votes, or delegates, or some combination of the two, as determined by Fermat's Last Theorem, or something, in states whose names begin with vowels, or maybe consonants, or perhaps some mixture of the two as determined by listening to a recording of the Beach Boys' Help Me, Rhonda played backward, or whatever other formula is most helpful to her, and counting the votes she received in Michigan, where hers was the only contending name on the ballot, and counting the votes she received in Florida, which, like Michigan, was a scofflaw and where no one campaigned, and dividing Obama's delegate advantage in caucus states by pi multiplied by the square root of Yankee Stadium's ZIP code.

"We," says Geoff Garin, a Clinton strategist who possesses the audacity of hopelessness required in that role, "don't think this is just going to be about some numerical metric." Mere numbers? Heaven forefend. That is how people speak when numerical metrics — numbers of popular votes and delegates — are inconvenient.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur said that every military defeat can be explained by two words: "too late." Too late in anticipating danger, too late in preparing for it, too late in taking action. Clinton's political defeat can be similarly explained — too late in recognizing that the electorate does not acknowledge her entitlement to the presidency, too late in understanding that she had a serious challenger, too late in planning for the special challenges of caucus states, too late in channeling her inner shot-and-a-beer hard hat.

Most of all, she was too late in understanding how much the Democratic Party's mania for "fairness" has, by forbidding winner-take-all primaries, made it nearly impossible for her to overcome Obama's early lead in delegates. If Democrats, who genuflect at the altar of "diversity," allowed more of it in their delegate selection process, things might look different. If even, say, Texas, California and Ohio were permitted to have winner-take-all primaries, Clinton would have been more than 400 delegates ahead of Obama before Tuesday and today would be at her ancestral home in New York planning to return some of its furniture to the White House next January.

Tuesday night must have been almost as much fun for John McCain as for Obama. The Republican brand has been badly smudged by recent foreign and domestic policies, which are the only kinds there are, so McCain's hopes rest on the still-unattached cohort called "Reagan Democrats," who still seem somewhat resistant to Obama.

McCain's problem might turn out to be the fact that Obama is the Democrats' Reagan. Obama's rhetorical cotton candy lacks Reagan's ideological nourishment, but he is Reaganesque in two important senses: People like listening to him, and his manner lulls his adversaries into underestimating his sheer toughness — the tempered steel beneath the sleek suits.

George Will's e-mail address is georgewill@washpost.com.

© Washington Post Writers Group

Her contortions aside, numbers don't lie 05/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2008 10:24am]
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