Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory II: What Robbie Burns Might Say to Clinton and Obama

John McCain’s job this election campaign keeps getting easier and easier. The Clintons and Barack Obama will continue to slug it out for at least another six weeks, spending money and shedding credibility as they fight for the Democratic nomination. I had hoped that Democrats in Pennsylvania would send a decisive message of some sort, but with a 10 per cent lead in Tuesday’s primary, Hillary isn’t going to give up yet.

We should not be surprised. Bill Clinton scrabbled his way up on the strength of his intelligence, charm and ambition. Hillary, whatever you think of her, is a woman who never let small stuff get in the way when she believed something merited her support. Their persistence and devotion (yes, that’s the word I’d use) to some decent goals is not to be either deprecated nor underestimated. They did not accomplish what they have by giving up.

But as Lee said as we checked the first returns from Pennsylvania last night, if you were a believer in conspiracy theories you could say that Obama and Clinton were set up to tear themselves apart so the Republicans would have a cake walk to the White House.

More likely this intra-party warfare was unintentional. I’m tempted to say something about the “law of unintended consequences” which has a nice ring about it. But doing a little looking around I can find no serious exposition of such a law: the first reference I can find is in paper written in 2004 about the sanctions against Iran which led to blockage of relief money after disastrous earthquakes there: "Law of Unintended Consequences: US Sanctions and Iran’s Hardliners" by Mehrdad Valibeig.

The idea, however, is as old as the hills, or at least as the Scottish poet Robert Burns. In a poem addressing a field mouse whose cozy nest had been destroyed by a farmer, he wrote that the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. True enough, and in the last stanza he could be talking about the current situation:

“Still thou art blest (he says to the mouse,) compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!"

Me too.

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