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Plethora of primaries casts aside conventional wisdom

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Ellen Goodman
February 7, 2008
— Well, so much for political bingeing. Super Tuesday, Super Duper Tuesday, Plus Size Tuesday, Vastly Engorged and Rotund Tuesday turned into a serious case of political bulimia. Never before have so many gorged on such huge portions of political expectations only to find themselves purged the next morning.

The biggest-ever Super Tuesday, the closest-thing-to-a-national-primary, was supposed to end up with a pair of nominees. Instead it ended up with “bragging rights,” mutually assured destructive spin, and five separate victory speeches. Quick, quick, which candidate said this: “We are hearing the voices of people across America”? Or this: “One thing that’s clear is, this campaign’s going on”?


By the wee hours of the morning, only 35,000 votes out of 14 million separated Clinton and Obama. If McCain was standing a little taller, Huckabee was still vertical. The only big news came when Romney, after another night's sleep, lay down his wallet and quit. That was after banks of TV analysts had spent hours mining mountains of data for nuggets of meaning.


Even a political junkie felt overstuffed trying to digest arcane rules in primaries scattered across the political landscape. It was like pulling an all-nighter in college to learn facts that—the good Lord willing—you wouldn’t need to know after the exam. Quick, quick, which states have winner-take-all and which states have proportional primaries? What’s a superdelegate, and does she need a phone booth in which to change her allegiance?


There is, however, one loser we can identify with absolute certainty and a modicum of glee. It’s the Harold Stassen of election-year politics—ta da—conventional wisdom. To wit, the Ten Dead Tenets of the Late, Great C.W.


Conventional Wisdom One: It’ll Be Over By Feb. 6. Remember all the states hustling to join the Super Tuesday lineup so they wouldn’t be left on the tarmac? Goodbye, California. Hello, Oregon, the big May enchilada.


Conventional Wisdom Two: Kennedys Are Kingmakers. The C.W. mongers swooned when the New Frontier endorsed Next New Thing. But Ted and Caroline’s excellent adventure for Obama didn’t even deliver Massachusetts. Maybe the JFK quote of the season isn’t about “passing the torch to a new generation.” Maybe it’s that other Camelot standby: “Life isn’t fair.”


Conventional Wisdom Three: Southern White Men Won’t Vote for a Black for President. Circle “False” on your Georgia answer sheet where 48 percent of Democratic white men went for Obama, disproving the last acceptable bigotry: anti-redneckism. Unless, of course, they were proving that Southern white men still won’t vote for a woman. Oh well.


Conventional Wisdom Four: Evangelicals Vote in Lockstep. Well, this year, they didn’t march left, right—or, rather, right, right—together. Nationally, Huckabee, Romney and McCain divided the evangelical vote.


Conventional Wisdom Five: McCain Is the Man of the Military Hour. The man who prides himself on outflanking George Bush in his pro-war stance won among Republicans who oppose the war. Peaceniks for War Unite!


Conventional Wisdom Six: Money Uber Alles. After investing $35 million, Romney still couldn't pull off a leveraged buyout of the Republican Party. His campaign looked like one of those Florida bumper stickers: I'm spending my children's inheritance.


Conventional Wisdom Seven: Dittoheads Rule. The combined weight of Republican talk radio was thrown at John McCain. It bounced off.


Conventional Wisdom Eight: Value Voters Rule, and Familymeister James Dobson Sits on the Republican Throne. See above. See No. 7.


Conventional Wisdom Nine: A Female Commander in Chief is an Oxymoron. When Democrats were asked who was most qualified to be commander in chief, Hillary won 51 to 36 over Obama. Is that a badge or a burden?


Conventional Wisdom Ten: The Democratic Party Will Be Torn Apart by Race and Gender. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a pollster every demography has its difference and every subdivision its divisiveness. Black and white, Asian and Latino, male and female, age and class gaps have been parsed to their nearest decimal point. But the exit polls also tell us that 72 percent of the Democrats will be happy if Hillary is the nominee and 71 percent if it’s Obama.


In the end, the Tsunami Tuesday might be better known for the tornadoes in the South and the freefall in the stock market, but let us not discount the tenacity of conventional wisdom. There is after all, one piece of C.W. still on our platter.


Conventional Wisdom Eleven: yes, folks, the Death of the Nominating Convention. We can all agree that the days when a nomination is decided in a big brawling hall by big brawling delegates is over. Uh, sure.


Ellen Goodman is a columnist for the Boston Globe. Her e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com.

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