Susan Estrich: It's Not Over, Till It's Over

Judging from my e-mail lately, quite a few people are angry at me, including some of my closest friends. All of them, I should note, are supporters of Barack Obama.

They’re not angry at me for criticizing Obama, for insulting him in any way, which is something I try not to do; while I make no secret of my longstanding relationship and friendship with Hillary Clinton, and my belief that she would be an excellent President and that having a woman in the White House would itself be the sort of major change that I have always hoped to see in my lifetime (I wrote a book about that, after all, a year before Obama got in the race), I have also said, over and over, that if Obama wins the nomination, I will do everything I can to help and support him.

As it happens, that’s the rub. The “if he wins the nomination.”

In my view, he hasn’t – at least not yet.

“It’s over,” one of my friends writes me curtly, in a personal email after my last column here suggesting that it isn’t.

Others aren’t that polite. I won’t quote. They question where my head is, and worse.

A little too much protesting, dare I say? If it really were over, what difference would it possibly make if someone like me kept her head in the sand?

Frankly, I’ve been in campaigns where it was over, and we knew it, but were perfectly willing to go along with the charade that we were still running hard and hoping to win, turning every Tuesday into another victory that got us press, positive attention, and more money in the mail.

I used to joke, but only half in jest, that from early April-on in 1988, everyone knew it was “over,” but there was certainly no need to announce it, not when we could look like the “winner” every Tuesday defeating our honorable opponent who had no chance of the nomination and getting all that good-will (not to mention money) that “winning” brings.

I was almost disappointed when the so-called fight finally ended with the last scrutiny, and instead of covering our victories, the press started focusing on our shortcomings.

If it really were over, Barack Obama would be happy to beat Hillary Clinton week-after-week, plan his convention program, start gearing up for the general election, and dismiss any off-days as nothing more than the kind of “sour grapes” one occasionally finds at the end of the process, the sort of protest vote we have seen in past primaries when, at the end, voters hand candidates with no chance of winning the nomination a victory as a way of sending a message to the nominee to not move too far to the right.

If it really were over, super-delegates would not be holding back coyly, waiting til the last minute and then some, risking the wrath of the winner by holding out the possibility that they might support the loser.

The whole point of superdelegates was that in a close contest, they were supposed to pick the electable candidate, not necessarily the one that the party’s grassroots activists support, but there would be no need for them to hold back, or play games, or risk alienating the next President, if it were over.

There would also be no need to attack their right to do what they were supposed to do – make a judgment, especially about electability – if the judgment were already so clear that it begged discussion.

It doesn’t.

The danger with the Obama folks complaining endlessly that “it’s over” is not only that it may distract them from doing what it actually takes to win it (I have no doubt they are capable of doing both, or at least trying to), but that it contributes to what would be the wrong impression that should he ultimately not win, it is because it was stolen from him: that it was over, and then Hillary/the press/whites/ me took it away.

That’s how the party could end up torn in two. That’s how black could end up feeling robbed. And it wouldn’t be true. Not when has the power to take it away from you once you win. That’s what it means to win.

Once you have that list of delegates, the majority, committed to voting for you, there is nothing Hillary or I or anyone else can do to take it away. But until you do, it’s not over.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for