Monday, April 07, 2008

He should stick to history

Sean Wilentz, an historian at Princeton University, wrote one great book, "Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850." He's been coasting since and, beginning in the 1990s he traded in his academic reputation to become a shameless Clinton shill.

Wilentz makes a thoroughly irrational argument as to why Hillary Clinton should be winning the Democratic presidential race in the April 7 issue of Salon.com, which can be read at:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2008/04/07/hillary

Wilentz's premise is that if Democratic primaries were winner-take-all contests in which a 1-vote victory translates into capturing all of a state's delegates, that Clinton would be ahead of Barack Obama now and would soon sew up the nomination without needing the help of superdelegates. He presents that as more genuinely democratic. He says that the Democratic Party needs a primary system like this because every four years its nominee faces 48 winner-take-all state contests for Electoral College votes in the fall general election. (Nebraska and Maine apportion their electors.)

If you accept Dr. Wilentz's argument that Obama will be vulnerable in the fall because he did not carry the big states Democrats need to win, like California and New York, then you must believe the ludicrous argument that John McCain will prevail in those states this November. This fall, either Obama or Clinton will win in California and New York. On the other hand, while Hillary carried the popular vote in Texas, neither she or Obama are likely to place the Lone Star state in the victory column. Clinton may have carried Ohio, but whoever the Democratic nominee is will have favorable terrain there should the economy still be in recession and if violence continues to escalate in Iraq.

Clinton's wins in the "big states" are irrelevant because in spite of some bitter feelings now Democrats will unite behind their nominee in the fall. And Obama's greater appeal to cross-party and independent voters is undeniable.

Voting in Democratic primaries and caucuses is far outstripping that of Republicans across the board. Where I live, in solidly Republican Collin County Texas, Democratic primary voters outnumbered their GOP peers by 17,000. Even while the Democratic candidates are bashing each other and McCain is getting a free ride from the media, the political equivalent of Wilfred Brimley can only manage a tie with either Democrat.

Dr. Wilentz also is advocating the Clinton position that the rules can be changed after the game is played (in Michigan and Florida.) Finally, I am baffled by his notion that the Democratic primary process should magnify victories in a winner-take-all system like the Electoral College. The Electoral College rests on this system and this tragic flaw in our presidential selection process gave us eight horrible years of George Bush.

Had votes been proportional in the Electoral College, we'd be in the final year of Al Gore's presidency. Is Wilentz arguing that the Electoral College represents the "will of the people" or that America was better off under a Bush presidency?


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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