“This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight.”
True. Partly true.
Hillary Clinton’s nonconcession concession speech on the evening of June 3, fully five months after the Iowa caucuses on January 3, fully 16 months after she declared her candidacy, was full of decisions and loaded with everything we’ve come to expect from Hillary the Riveter, the Clinton Bulldog, the Fightin’ First Lady, the Ain’t-Over-Till-It’s-Over junior senator from New York. She had her shout-outs to the common folks, her hoarse call to action to defeat the Republicans in November, the edge in her voice of a prohibitive frontrunner-turned-underdog who had to stand up for every vote she got. She counted the number of times she’d been counted out by Barack Obama’s campaign and the media and again snatched at the dubious 18 million-vote number of Americans who wanted her to be their next president. There was, of course, a plug for her website, though pleas for money have now ceased. Anyone looking for a different tone, what with the varied reports of her acknowledgement of her delegate plight dominating Tuesday’s airwaves and pages (click here and here for examples), might have checked their TiVo to ensure they weren’t watching a victory speech from mid-January, February, March, April or May.
But then something ever so slightly changed, whether she wanted it to or not.
“And in the coming days, I’ll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way.”
Campaigner Clinton wasn’t much for consultation before -- the advice of party elders to withdraw, the analysis of every economist out there saying that her specious gas tax reprieve was nonsense -- and talk of the best interests of the party and country was not exactly a staple of the Rocky-esque Hillary stump speech. Widely circulated quotes of her opening up to the possibility of the vice-presidential spot might have something to do with this change in rhetoric, the raw reality that she cannot catch Obama in delegates and that she’s run plum out of primaries could hold some sway, the fact that idle John McCain referenced Obama no less than twenty times during his de rigueur victory speech just perhaps indicates McCain knows who he’s facing, but in spite of all that, it was really something to hear Clinton herself hint at the reality that so many others had accepted for so long. The language itself was more important than anything else: When was the last time (perhaps the first time?) anything or anyone guided Hillary Clinton along?
And then it was Obama’s turn.
“Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign.”
“She has made history not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she is a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight.”
“I congratulate her on her victory in South Dakota and I congratulate her on the race she has run throughout this contest.”
Easily magnanimous and true.
“Our party and our country are better off because of her and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
The former, probably false. The latter, probably true.
Obama’s speech, soaring and broad as always, was his most genuinely conciliatory to date. Whether Clinton’s doggedness will ultimately prove helpful for the country remains to be seen, but her impact on Obama’s candidacy is undeniable. Consider the effect of a Rev. Jeremiah Wright, nuttily and vitriolically ripping the US of A at the beginning of October as Obama, a man with no military experience, runs against a man who spent years of his life as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton. Consider Obama, fresh-faced and heretofore unscathed, stumbling to quantify his patriotism in front of a suddenly hostile media egged on by the baying hounds of the Republican Imperial Guard. Imagine a 2008 campaign unhindered by Clinton’s blind brawling that eased Obama through the primary season, through a smooth summer and into the fall as a man riding every conceivable advantage -- rock-bottom GOP approval ratings, a tanking economy, the prospect of 100 years in Iraq, a Republican candidate with one good issue (foreign policy) and middling support from his own partisans -- suddenly derailed in the one way that could prove most detrimental.
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Because of Clinton, who despite her stumbles on the trail is a keen campaigner with a profoundly sharp mind, Obama had the breathing room to deliver perhaps his best-ever oration, addressing the prospects of race and the potential of a post-racist world, and was able to finally cut the Reverend loose after Wright simmered to a boil once again. Yes, Obama has scars from the longest five months of his life, and yes, the rancor amongst his supporters and Clinton’s diehard faithful spells trouble for the party moving forward. But you can bet your mortgage or your fuel bill (whichever is in worse shape, mind) that the true nasties of the Grand Ol’ Party, the ones who see dim prospects in November and don’t mind hanging turncoat Johnny out to dry, will throw everything they’ve got at Barack Hussein Obama, who, if you didn’t already know, is a communist, fascist, racist, Islamist, subversivist, internationalist, taxist terrorist whose brother is Osama bin Laden and uncle is Saddam Hussein.
At the very, very least, Clinton’s scattershot claims of “big state supremacy,” “popular vote victory,” “support amongst the working class” and “being the most competitive against John McCain” have forced some realism into the Obama camp. It’s wonderful that he’s registering millions of new voters; it’s terrific that he’s inspiring people to come back to the party and the polls, and his appeal to independents is commendable. But elections, as the GOP so viciously knows, comes down to a smattering of votes in key states that outweigh every other predictor of victory. Obama sees his weaknesses with certain demographics (and believe me, they were there before Clinton pointed them out and played them up) and is now formulating a pragmatic strategy to get into the White House. Having trouble in Ohio? Make sure you carry Pennsylvania. Florida still elusive? Better head out West. Still locked out of the Midwest? Prove how much African-Americans and students in North Carolina and Virginia want you to be the next Commander-in-Chief. If for nothing else, expand the map with your vast campaign coffers and make a 72-year-old McCain chase you all over the map.
In Tuesday night’s three speeches that all claimed victory without admitting defeat, if you strained your ear just so, you could hear the musty page of history turning. Hillary Clinton, denied her ink on the page, has become the unwilling but indispensable mentor Obama never could have imagined. Her grudges, her cunning, her insider’s cabal are all dread contingents of the “old politics” Obama has squared his campaign against. But as Obama steps up to the ballot against the oldest non-incumbent presidential candidate in our history, he would do well to mind the lessons of his elders. Get tough, as Clinton would. Get grounded, as McCain will. And then rise above them both. -- Joe Horton