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Opening the Box.

The news yesterday and today about a number of Democratic superdelegates moving toward Barack Obama or, even if ardent Clinton supporters like Joe Andrews of Indiana, admitting they would hesitate to be responsible for the superdelegates overruling the pledged delegates, reaffirms a point I've been making for weeks: All this talk about what the superdelegates "ought" to do is a distraction, part of the "fog of nonsense," to use Josh Marshall's phrase, that is keeping the illusion of a Clinton candidacy alive. The relevant question was always what they will do, and there was never a reason to think that they had any pressing desire to overturn the will of the pledged delegates.

As to the "ought" question, even though the historical record shows that superdelegates were created as a way to prevent nominees who would be abjectly unelectable (not that either George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, or Walter Mondale was thought to be unelectable at the moment of the convention), they were given free will and what they ought to do is, whatever they want. If a superdelegate decides to follow the national pledged delegates, the national popular vote, the popular vote in his or her district, some assessment about electability, or his or her own deep preference about who would make a better president, all those are legitimate reasons. And chances are that various superdelegates will make their choices on any and all of those reasons. As a result, the movement of the superdelegates as a bloc in the direction of Clinton was always unlikely; the qualms expressed by even strong Clinton supporters like Andrews make it impossible.

The Clinton campaign now kind of reminds me of the physics metaphor of Schroedinger's Cat. If you recall, this is a thought-experiment that is supposed to help explain transitional sub-atomic states: imagine a cat in a closed box with a vial of poisonous gas and a geiger counter. If an atomic particle decays, the gas is released and the cat dies; if not, the cat lives. Until you open the box, you have a cat that is maybe dead/maybe not.

I have to admit, I've never really understood this metaphor. It seems like it might be simpler to just explain the physics. There's a box with a cat in it and the cat is either dead or alive. So what? It's not both dead and alive. And that seems to be the state of the Clinton campaign now. As long as they can keep spinning -- e.g. Bill Clinton's new line that it's the delegates elected in primaries that count, not caucuses -- they can keep the box closed. The campaign is both dead and alive. But eventually someone will open the box. I suspect it will happen sooner than we think.

[cross-posted at TAPPED]

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 28, 2008 | Permalink