It is a story worth repeating. In 1992, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton codemned a little known African American hip hop singer, Sister Souljah, for her violent lyrics and message of hopelessness. It is fair to say that most people, including African Americans, had never even heard of the young women but the moment was pivotal for Clinton. Facing a passionate demand from civil rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had run credibly for the Democratic nomination twice, Clinton was looking to redefine the Democratic Party that he would eventually lead to victory. Through the 1980s the Democrats barely existed as a national party. Instead, they had become a conglomeration of powerful interest groups, each with their own narrow focus and all capable of dictating their own terms to the Party’s platforms and candidates who would be nominated for leadership positions. This lack of a national community-building agenda meant a razor-thin victory Jimmy Carter in 1976 (after a huge lead in the polls against President Gerald Ford) then defeats in 1980, 1984, and 1988. When former Vice President Walter Mondale made history ad chose the first woman nominee for his running mate, he left himself wide open to the charge that he had picked a little-known, inexperienced womans only as a result of heavy lobbying by the National Organization for Women. In 1988, nominee Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis had to grudgingly placate his runner up Jesse Jackson at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
So Bill Clinton seized the opportunity, as a centrist Democrat, that no interest group would dictate what kind of candidate he would be in 1992. The “Sister Souljah Moment” was his declaration of independence as a new Democrat.
It was instructive for Tuesday, May 3, 2016. As late as 3PM on that day, Hillary Clinton’s consultants and operatives were chastising Bernie Sanders for continuing his campaign, for fighting on and refusing to drop out in favor of inevitability. As late as 9PM, longtime Clinton advisor Paul Begala was telling viewers of CNN to watch for a gracious Hillary Clinton reaching out to supporters of the vanquished Sanders to feel their pain.
But something happened. Sanders actually won in Indiana and again revealed weaknesses in both Clinton’s path to the nomination and her support base. Clinton won by only two points among women and Sanders continued his dominance among both white voters and voters under 40years of age. She has never even close to winning either of these groups and she will need them in November.
Mrs. Clinton is still the frontrunner by virtue of her lead among pledged delegates. I think it is artificial inflation to include super delegates in her total count because many of those supporters can evaporate if she continues to lose in, say West Virginia or even California. It is safe to say that Sanders will not be the nominee, but it is also not safe to call Clinton the inevitable nominee. Not yet anyway. She has more winning to do and she needs Sanders a whole lot more than he needs her now. She is going to have win over the hearts and minds of young voters and taunting Sanders at this stage is not the way to do it. He is not a nuisance and easy target like Sister Souljah.