03/23/2008 02:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Michigan, Florida, and the L-word

Barring some bizarre new twist in the endless campaign, there will not be "do-over" primaries in Florida and Michigan.

According to news reports, the Obama campaign had a lot to do with that outcome. With the clock ticking, the campaign stalled, quibbled, and objected to different possible election formats -- until state officials finally gave up and packed it in. No point having a party if one of the guests of honor doesn't want to dance.

Tactically that may have seemed like a shrewd move to Obama's campaign managers. Holding two more primaries would have given Hillary two more chances to gain ground; it would have increased the total number of delegates (and thus the number required to win); and it would have guaranteed that this whole messy thing would go on at least until June.

But it was a mistake to place obstacles in the path of the only conceivable means of fairly apportioning and seating delegates from two large states with a combined total of 400 delegates. A mistake because not having those primaries inescapably raises the question of the "legitimacy" (this spring's L-word) of Obama's claim to the nomination. Obama can talk all he wants about having won the most votes, the most states, and the most delegates so far, but if they don't let the voices of the people be heard in two key states, his claim to the popular mantle can be challenged. The Clintonites have already begun using the L-word, and that will surely continue and escalate; indeed, the issue of legitimacy can be (and likely will be) used as a rationale for Hillary's remaining in the race, despite the slim odds of her succeeding.

It was also a mistake because it tarnishes (slightly) Obama's claim to represent a new kind of politics, more idealistic and participatory, less hard-nosed. Yes, of course, if the roles were reversed, the Clintons would have done exactly the same thing: winning at any cost has long been their mantra. But Obama has promised a more principled and democratic politics, less bare-knuckled and more visionary; and the principled move in this circumstance would have been to invite more democracy, rather than less, even at some (small) risk that it would lessen his chances of getting the nomination. The last thing Obama wants or needs is to add fuel to the internecine warfare and to end up with a nomination that carries an asterisk.