Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DNC Day 2: Hillary in the house

Any hope the McCain presidential campaign had of picking off the millions of disgruntled Clintonites who threatened — threatened! — to vote for McCain in November just got more unlikely. Tonight on the second night of the Democratic convention, Sen. Hillary Clinton made the full pivot — unparseable, inescapable, unambiguous — toward supporting Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States.

Tonight Clinton made her biggest effort yet to close the breach between the Obama campaign and the women who flocked to her campaign from the beginning.

Tonight in one impressive oratorical stroke, Clinton restored much luster to a political brand and biography badly tarnished in the hard-fought primary campaign, jumpstarted her own presidential prospects in 2012, and went a long way to transforming herself from a politician to what she’s always really aspired to be: a stateswoman.

It was obvious from the start. “I am honored to be here tonight. A proud mother. A proud Democrat. A proud American. And a proud supporter of Barack Obama.

“My friends, it is time to take back the country we love.

“Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines.

“This is a fight for the future. And it's a fight we must win.”

People, it doesn’t get plainer than that.

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Her speech hit the high points of platform she’d made previously during the primary season, and as expected she called on her supporters to shift their support to Obama for the 69-day run to the election. But Clinton also clearly, forcefully laid out the stakes for women in this election. Invoking the health-care crisis, the energy crisis, the need for improved education, the war in Iraq and women’s rights more generally, made clear her opposition to the opposition: “No way, no how, no McCain. Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our President.”

There was an aspect of the valedictory to her address. We heard the obligatory expression of gratitude: “I will always be grateful to everyone from all fifty states, Puerto Rico and the territories, who joined our campaign on behalf of all those people left out and left behind by the Bush Administration. To my supporters, to my champions, to my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits, from the bottom of my heart — thank you.”

But then Clinton finally confronted and put down what for her supporters had been a central, if unspoken point: that their love for her as a candidate might not be transferable, but their political allegiance certainly, necessarily, is.

“I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me … [or] were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?”

“We don't have a moment to lose or a vote to spare. Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hang in the balance."

And with a line barbed enough, pithy enough to stick in the national mind for the rest of the campaign year, Clinton renewed the shotgun vows uniting McCain and President Bush in wartime matrimony: “We don’t need four more years of the last eight years.”

The veteran pols fearing gridlock and outrage on the convention floor needn’t have worried, not tonight anyway. To anyone watching on TV, the Pepsi Center in Denver was something of a love feast, with Obama and Clinton supporters in the hall interchangeably passionate. The Clinton and Obama campaigns have been reportedly in lockstep behind the scenes, so much so that Clinton reportedly got standing O’s before and after her speech. The campaigns are said to be making arrangements for furthering unifying their efforts, and jointly making decisions about the Clinton roll-call floor vote to come.

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And what about that? Ironically enough, Clinton’s undeniably full-throated support of Obama for the presidency calls into question the very need for the scheduled roll-call vote that Clinton and her supporters have insisted on. A roll-call vote on the convention floor reawakens, if only briefly, the same twinges of regret — or the same shards of anger — her speech tonight so powerfully tried to put in the past. Why the insistence on this numerical validation of what you already know? Why stick the knife in again?

Chalk it up to the competitive Clinton spirit, a spirit we’re likely to get more than a glimpse of tomorrow. NBC’s Tom Brokaw suggests that Hillary’s speech may be the first part of an oratorical game of Can You Top This — that former president Bill Clinton, who’ll follow Joe Biden on the stage tomorrow night, may be even more fulsome in praise of Obama, reaching for the oratorical gifts that have typified his politics for a generation.

Someone in the blogosphere and the infomational beyond will probably say it at some point in the next twenty-four hours: Hillary Clinton will be a hard act to follow. From the evidence presented tonight by Hillary Clinton — senator, candidate, party peacemaker finally gracious in defeat — it wasn’t an act at all.

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