The presidential election of 2008 may be remembered for the election of the first African-American or of the first woman. Less dramatic, but no less memorable, is the number of Americans who are registered with a party but choose not to back their party's candidate.
Seeking refuge in third parties by those disillusioned with their own is an American tradition. This year, many are even making noises about defecting from one major party to the other.
It's rent the Republicans, once a party of almost military discipline, thanks to field marshals like Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove, asunder. Whether disingenuous or not, one-time loyalists have threatened to not only vote, but campaign for, the Democratic candidate.
Meanwhile, the rock cut in the Democratic party is less wide, but -- the product of years of erosion -- deeper. In 2000, droves of Democrats, staging a mass resistance to Al Gore's risk-averse campaign, defected to Ralph Nader.
At the moment, Hillary Clinton's campaign is spinning its wheels. Still, it may gain traction and beat Obama's to the finish line. Yet many Democrats not only bridle at the prospect of her candidacy, but find her record, platform, and character unpalatable.
In other words, the party may suffer a mass attack of Goreaphobia. This time, disaffected voters may remain hidden behind closed doors. Since Nader hasn't decided to run and the Green Party's Cynthia McKinney isn't well-known, they might be less likely to vote third party.
As Hillary Clinton's campaign strategist, Mark Penn, said recently, society has become "infinitely personalized." In an age of niche marketing, voters, more like consumers than ever, won't allow themselves to be herded to brand names any longer, even if they bought those products in the past.
Besides, when registering Democratic, who recalls signing "I accept" to small print binding him or her to vote Democratic in every election?
For the sake of argument, though, let's assume that an implied contract exists. It requires the candidate to come up with deliverable goods in three areas: foreign and domestic policy, and electability.
Hillary's campaign, for instance, tried to use her resolve on Iraq to market her as strong on defense and thus secure the center. But when much of the nation realized our presence in Iraq wasn't making us any safer, her perceived strength became one of her biggest weaknesses.
Were Hillary's vote for the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq her only flagrant foreign policy misstep, we might be inclined to overlook it. But she not only supported it, she was the only Democrat to accept all of the Bush administration's claims at face value.
Years before, she defended her husband's bombing raid on the Sudanese chemical weapons plant that turned out to a pharmaceutical plant. At the very least, this preview of the dangers of relying on faulty intelligence should have made her more alert to the red flags spring-loaded into Iraqi intelligence.
Hillary also supported military aid, including missiles capable of being nuclear weaponized, to countries like Israel, Pakistan, and India, all of which had failed to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. At Foreign Policy in Focus, Stephen Zunes compiles the whole dismaying chronicle of her martial heart as a presidential advisor and as a senator.
But we'd be remiss if we failed to single out two instances in which Hillary's overcompensating to prove herself tough on defense went well beyond the bounds of decency. One, she refused to support the international treaty to ban land mines. Two, she voted down a Democratic resolution restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries using them against areas populated with civilians.
In his "Get Your War On" comic strip in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, David Rees addressed what, by all rights, should be known as the other vote she'll never live down. "Don't worry," one character tells another, "cluster bombs only affect foreign children."
Some of Hillary's supporters console themselves with the thought that there's method to the madness of her foreign policy. That is, she's just trying to establish her defense credibility and once in office, her weapon of choice will be the olive branch. But holding fast to that illusion requires massive infusions of denial.
Zunes again performs an invaluable service when, in another piece, he sizes up Hillary's foreign policy advisors. We'll spare you a roll call of the same team from the Bill Clinton years that brought you "Thirty Seconds Over Kosovo." Not to mention "We Think the Price Is Worth It" -- the heroic story of the Iraq sanctions that might have given a less manly administration pause because the wholesale child die-off was a little too pricey.
We'll present, instead, Zunes's measured summary: "On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush's, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars."
Hillary's campaign may have let its hair down just in time to pull out New Hampshire. But, when it came to adjusting to the public's shift on Iraq, it was a day late and a dollar short.
The burden of proof is now entirely on her team to show why we should buy this particular model of Democratic candidate. Even if she's retrofitted as a hybrid, Hillary is still yesterday's SUV.
Many of us would sooner ride off in a used car like Nader, or an experimental prototype like McKinney. Besides, when it comes to electability, a consensus of polls shows that if Hillary is nominated, she'll be lucky to win by a car-length.
Never fear, says Harold Ickes, her adviser in charge of delegate counting. Superdelegates will "exercise their best judgment" to assess the electability of a candidate. Those delegates who are mere mortals would do well to bow to their wisdom, however conventional.
But it almost goes without saying: After a Republican administration like one we've just endured, the Democratic candidate should lap the field.
The questions beg to be asked: Where do Hillary's supporters get off trying to foist a candidate on us whose foreign policy sell-by date has expired? And whose strategy seems to be based on calling in markers on her husband's administration?
Furthermore, how dare they make women who choose not to vote for her feel like they're letting all women down? Shame on you, Hillary supporters, for shaming them.
If Hillary is nominated, Obama supporters will be expected to fall in line behind Hillary just because she's a Democrat. But, no doubt, they'll still be licking their wounds from the defeat of a candidate whose ambition was leavened by what looks, for all intents and purposes, like genuine idealism.
A defeat borne of strong-arming superdelegates, as well as an after-the-fact certification of the Florida and Michigan primary votes, will leave many Obama supporters in no mood to vote for Hillary. But pressure from not just Hillary supporters, but Democrats at large who are preparing for such an eventuality, has been ongoing.
How dare Democrats desperate to regain the White House at any cost guilt-trip reluctant Obama supporters into voting for Hillary? The onus isn't on the latter if the Democrats fail to take the White House -- it's on the party for driving a lemon of a candidate out of the showroom.