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Brad Henry blues



To: The media and whining Democratic delegates

From: A cranky independent

Re: "Superdelegates"

Having watched with dispassionate disinterest the battle for the Democratic Party nomination, I want to tell one thing to all of the people who are upset about the lengthy primary calendar, the fact that superdelegates will pick the nominee, and the failure of Michigan and Florida to have delegations because they broke party rules: Shut up and listen to Gov. Brad Henry.

The man who wrestles with public speaking like a man fighting a bear communicated both his politics and his understanding of how to make tough decisions in the face of adversity. Anyone who wondered where Henry's political future resided got a healthy message last week, when he vetoed an abortion measure that passed with overwhelming support in both sides of the Legislature, and then followed up for good measure with an endorsement of Barack Obama.

Talk about spitting into the wind; in two decisions, the governor rejected the judgment of not just the Legislature, but also the majority within his party in both chambers on Senate Bill 1878 (the House had first passed it 80-12, the Senate 38-10), and also stood in opposition to 55 percent of the state's Democratic primary electorate in choosing to support Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.

That's great! Way to go, governor! Unlike many of your political peers, you actually made a pair of tough choices that fly in the face of what is locally popular.

Elected officials are not just vessels for the aggregated and often poorly thought-out preferences of their constituents, but also sober judges of the wisdom of choices. I'm not fond of post hoc birth control, but the Henry veto statement communicated an important notion that was absent from the collective judgment of the Legislature: "This legislation does not provide an essential exemption for victims of rape and incest. By forcing the victims of such horrific acts to undergo and view ultrasounds after they have made such a difficult and heartbreaking decision, the state victimizes the victim for a second time." He knew he'd lose, but did he cry about rules that overturned his veto? No. He made a difficult, principled choice.

But I think the far gutsier call was hopping on the Obama bandwagon. Other superdelegates around the country " U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, for example " cry and whine about the unfairness of being a superdelegate and the "undemocratic" nature of the superdelegate process. Not our governor: He made a choice (albeit after David Boren signaled his preference) and articulated why he chose as he did. No crying about the system or the rules that forced him to stand against a majority of his partisans " instead, a difficult, principled choice.

Is that such a bad thing?

No, assuming that the governor has no future electoral ambitions. The behavior of the governor is consistent with a man networking in national politics and following his own, usually moderate judgment, but it is not consistent with a strategy to win further electoral office in Oklahoma. Whatever he plans next, he's going there in the guise of a national Democrat, who plays by the rules.

Gaddie is professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and president of the Southwestern Political Science Association.


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