Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Cadenza

Tonight Hillary Clinton was in rare form, at least in contrast to the way her critics normally perceive her. She was unselfish and generous. Knowing how much she wanted to be the Democratic party's nominee, she performed either a herculean act of self-abnegation or showmanship. Either way she deserves credit.

Looking at the charged convention floor, I wonder if Obama did the right thing in picking Biden. Clinton kept the delegates standing through most of her speech like no other speaker has yet done at this convention. Obama probably picked Biden because he knew they could work together, but looking at what Hillary Clinton does for party faithfuls, I'm not sure that he made the right strategic choice to maximize his chances for the White House.

So, the nagging question remains: is the party finally united? Probably not. There is a long road to healing and having Hillary Clinton on prime time television probably only reminded her supporters how close she came to making it. For these supporters, I suspect that her performance tonight elicited more wistfulness than catharsis.

The fact is Hillary Clinton had no choice but to do what she did tonight. If she gave a tepid endorsement, she would forever be blamed the spoiler if Obama loses the election in Fall. If she conceded defeat tonight and declared her political fortunes vanquished, her fans will probably want revenge. The only thing left to do was to give an unequivocal endorsement of Obama, while at the same time keeping her place as heiress apparent. Comeback kid she will be.

Clinton solidified her political standing tonight in a way that her primary wins in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania combined did not. Now, she can no longer be accused of standing in Obama's way; with her endorsement now so unequivocal, whatever happens in November, she will neither be the spoiler nor the sour grapes. She is poised for another run in 2012 or 2016, depending on what happens. For Clinton die-hards, this may be a reason not to turn out to vote this year, and there's the rub.

If this speech was successful, there probably aren't many Democrats left angry enough that they would want to punish their party by voting McCain, but there are significant Democrats left who may not turn out for Obama. Now, the Obama campaign must think of a strategy to lure the wistful Clinton supporters out to vote.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I have the same feeling about not having picked Hillary. Before the conventions I couldn't even conceive of Obama picking her; now it looks like an obvious mistake in retrospect. I think the issue was trust or a lack thereof. Perhaps Obama was guilty of zero-sum thinking in not choosing to trust Hillary.

At an earlier time in the primary, I though that Obama would be compelled to choose her if he managed to win. But that was when that looked unlikely.

A fully engaged Vice President Hillary Clinton would be a formidable asset to any president, so choosing her would not be only a campaign-related decision. The issue is whether she would be as loyal to her president as he would require. Perhaps Obama was not convinced of that based on their early meeting after he clinched the nomination.

I think the very early (post-clinching) suggestions that Obama was obliged to pick her, as opposed to arguments that he would be wise to, made it far more difficult for him to evaluate her as an option on the same plane as others.

Ultimately, I believe the Biden choice was agood one from the governing perspective. The Palin choice may have rendered the political dimension of his choice more problematic, however.