You know, after all of the bashing the Chron did of Tom DeLay, Rick Perry, Tom Craddick, and the rest of the redistricting bunch over the summer, I started to lose some of my animosity towards their editorial page. It's almost a relief to see that I needn't have worried about them changing their stripes.
Like Claude Rains' Capt. Renault in the film Casablanca, who was "shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!," there are many who profess to be shocked that politics is going on in the Democratic Party presidential primary race. Al Gore's surprise endorsement of Howard Dean's candidacy has set this melodrama into motion.
There's an ugly element of cynicism to it, coming as it does before a single Democratic voter has had a chance to cast a ballot.
Some would argue, with good reason, that the endorsement, obviously aimed at boosting Dean as the frontrunner, is a reminder of past years when party politics played out behind the closed doors of secret, smoke-filled rooms.
The primary process was, among other things, supposed to test and battle-harden the candidates for the real contest in November.
There's also an ugly element to it in the way Gore spurned another of the candidates, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who had been Gore's vice-presidential running mate in the 2000 presidential race. The fact that Gore had not told Lieberman that the Dean endorsement was coming will win Gore no points for loyalty or graciousness.
The Gore endorsement announcement was made in Harlem in the apparent hope that it would bring Dean some support among the African-American electorate. But the move could backfire.
There were some who questioned Dean's support for policies and issues important to black voters. And on Wednesday another of Dean's rivals, Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., won the endorsement of South Carolina's most influential black politician, Rep. James Clyburn, the state's only black congressman in more than a century.
The six-term congressman's backing is considered critical in the potentially pivotal Feb. 3 primary in South Carolina, where black voters are expected to cast 40 percent or more of the vote.
How much of an effect -- and how lasting an effect -- Gore's gambit will have on the contest remains to be seen. It's too early to say it is decisive.
Politics, as we are so often reminded, is hard ball, and Gore obviously wants to be a player, even if that means making new enemies.
Some might welcome it as a sign, in an otherwise lethargic campaign, that at least there's a game under way.
And Dean's opponents might take up the challenge with another of Capt. Renault's memorable Casablanca lines: "Realizing the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects."
Look, in a hotly contested, multi-candidate primary like this, making such an early endorsement is a risk. Al Gore or anyone else could sit back and wait until they're sure which way the wind is blowing and then sycophantically hop on the sure-thing's bandwagon and act like they've been bestest buddies forever, or he can put his neck on the line and say up front "this is the candidate that I think ought to win", knowing full well that he'll alienate people and will be left with nothing if he chooses badly. Once again, who's being cynical here?
If this were really about the back room, then we wouldn't have all these candidates out here clamoring for votes. We'd have a single anointed frontrunner which everyone who knew what was good for them lined up behind from day one, not unlike a certain hopeful from the last election. The voters are still free to make up their own minds here. Are we happy now, guys?Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 11, 2003 to The making of the President | TrackBack