6.07.2008

Clinton calls for unity and endorses Obama in a feminist speech

Freed from the imperatives of the campaign trail and the need to minimize the historic nature of her candidacy to be deemed credible in a male-dominated system, Hillary Clinton went further than usual in linking her efforts to women's rights today -- but not before delivering a strong endorsement of her former rival and pledging to work her heart out to make Barack Obama the next president.

In what is likely to be her last major speech until the convention (unless Obama selects her as his running mate, of course) Clinton spoke to loud applause and a cheering crowd, thanking her supporters and repeating some of the stories she is fond of telling on the campaign trail. And after announcing that she was suspending her campaign (a semantic choice that is meant to allow her to continue raising money to close off some of her debt), Clinton asked her supporters to "take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States." She insisted, "I endorse him and throw my full support behind him." Just as she did at AIPAC on Wednesday, Clinton vouched for Obama, insisting that no one can do that better than her because "I've had a front-row seat to his candidacy and seen his strength and determination, his grace and his grit."

Clinton then listed the challenges the country faces (with a predictable emphasis on universal health care) insisting after each item that this is why Barack Obama must be elected president. While John McCain was never mentioned, the message was clear: No one who cares about ending the Iraq War or passing universal health care can go off and vote for the Republican ticket in November, however bitter they might be about the Democratic primary. Clinton insisted on the need to unite: "The Democratic Party is a family," she said, "and now it's time to restore the ties that bind us together, and to come together. We may have started on separate journeys but today our paths have merged."

Both parties know that the percentage of Clinton supporters that migrate to the GOP could determine the outcome of the November election. The McCain campaign has long been sending sign that they will aggressively play on the division lines that were made explicit by the long showdown between Clinton and Obama. Democrats believe that the party will unite and that the level of cross-overs will not be dramatically higher than in past cycles (Bush won about 10% of Democratic votes in 2004). How active Clinton is in the coming months will have a huge impact in resolving this battle, and the New York Senator knows that she will be closely watched for any sign that she is not working her "heart out," as she said. Any future role she wants to play in the party will require her to do everything she can to bring most of her 18 million supporters into the Obama campaign.

In particular, the female vote will be crucial to the general election campaign and whether female voters who supported Clinton feel that the primary campaign was too sexist could determine what they do in the fall. Women have long formed the backbone of the Democratic Party, and John Kerry's failure to beat Bush substantially among women is a key factor explaining his loss. That is why Clinton's decision to stray away from her usual stump speech and deliver a more overtly feminist address today is an important one for Clinton passionately explained how her campaign lifted barriers for women, even if it ended up ultimately unsuccessful.

"I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I would be the best president," she said repeating her typical campaign line. "But," she continued as she never does, "but I am a woman and like millions of women I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious." She had never dwelt on the historic nature of her candidacy before, but there was no reason to shy away from that today as she expressed her joy that, "although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it's got about 18 million cracks in it." She celebrated the fact that, from now on, a woman winning a primary will be an "unremarkable" event, and she called on her supporters to overcome any bitterness they might harbor.

Whether this speech is sufficient to bring Clinton supporters back into the fold might very well determine whether Obama ends up selecting her as his running mate. In what was the paradox of Clinton's speech, its success would mean that Obama would no longer need to put her on the ticket to unify the party. Surely aware of this, Clinton sought to demonstrate her strength today. Not only did she make sure to carve her place in the party history, but she also reminded Obama of just how much she could do to help him with female voters and to vouch for him when the GOP attack machine gets going.

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10 Comments:

  • As an Obama supporter, I will say that she handled a difficult moment with grace and strength. Her endorsement of Barack was unstinting.

    She also has to treat some of her more inflamed supporters with delicacy - they can't be bull-rushed into backing Barack, even by her. What she can do is to ensure that none of the grass-roots movements to protest at the convention, to support McCain or to write her name in take hold. The better way to do that may be through direct behind-the-scenes outreach to key organizers rather than broad public appeals.

    Even Olberman, who has been critical in the past to the point of unfairness, gave her compliments for what must have been a wrenching moment. If Barack makes it, she could be a key player in health care reform. There's no denying her ability, toughness and commitment but the only way she can make maximize use out of it is by cutting the knot to WJC and becoming her own political figure. He is a real obstacle to forging a working relationship with Obama, and she and Barack may well have discussed this in the private meeting.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 07 June, 2008 14:38  

  • If,no when Barack gets elected I think a reorganization of leadership in the party is needed, and its starts in the Senate Reid must go, Hillary would be a great SML or an excellent Supreme Court Nominee

    By Blogger Javier, At 07 June, 2008 16:28  

  • Javier Harry Reid is not going to be kicked out of the leadership anytime soon. I would say that the soonest that would happen would be in 2011, if Harry Reid happens to lose his Senate seat in 2010 (his role as top Democrat in the senate has led to him having low approval ratings in Nevada, but it's unknown if they would feel the same way more than two years from now.)

    On bringing the party together, its going to take a lot of work. McCain's best chance is that he gets a sizeable portion of Clinton's voters directly and that another portion stays at home. Even with Clinton's endorsement, its going to be tough. The key is will Obama be ahead of McCain (although by statistically insignifant margins) in most of the polls until the convention, in which most of Clinton's supporters who will vote Obama will have then come home. If Obama can win 90% or so of Democrats and stay within single digits among independents, he will win the election, and McCain will do all that he can to take away frustated Clinton supporters.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 07 June, 2008 20:08  

  • You guys are feeling pretty optimistic about the fall. Sounds like Clinton actually inspired you to envision success for the Democrats in November, if not for her. But I'm sure she'll gladly take whatever advice Obama or some other gentlemen offer her. She just needs to be told which path to take. Hmm...Majority leader or Supreme Court Justice? Never thought of it before but if the guys think it's right, then, hey, I'm sure she'll acquiesce. Didn't you get that sense from her speech? You know, the part where she said, "I'd love for someone to tell me how to live out my political career."

    Did it ever cross your mind that she might run again if Obama loses? What's it going to be, Hillary?

    By Anonymous Tom, At 08 June, 2008 01:16  

  • Yes folks, I was there for the inauguration of president Dukakis and....., oops, my bad, wrong universe. Look folks the election of Barack Obama is not preordained. This will be a close election, and many things must fall in place nicely for either of these two gentlemen in order to get elected. All this giddiness is uncalled for and extremely premature. I have the feeling that because of the nature of the characters, Barack either will win a very big and inspiring victory, or will suffer a crushing, humiliating defeat. It is just that kind of election. He will be a much better candidate that Dukakis ever was, and a tougher one, thank you Hillary! But just wait and watch the traditional Osama Bin Laden pre-election message, and I say that tongue in cheek folks, do not hyperventilate. Lets see how good or bad the numbers are after the nomination conventions are over. I reckon that Baracks’ speech will be one of the most anticipated speeches of my life, I am not that old after all!! I have the feeling it will be something special. But always remember that Michael Dukakis left the nomination convention with a 17 points lead over that awkward, whiny, unelectable George H.W Bush. Things don’t always go according to the script that we so desire.

    By Anonymous Robert, At 08 June, 2008 01:43  

  • Come on Tom, what's your point - that even men who have not been involved in gender based attacks on Clinton aren't allowed to speculate on where events might lead her and Obama? And take a look at the preceding comments before you characterize them as 'pretty optimistic'. Both jaxxx raxor and I used a very cautious conditional. No-one rational has any illusions about this being a walk-over, for a variety of reasons. I for one am cautiously pessimistic. I think racism will be a major problem, just as sexism was for Clinton. People will find a variety of euphemisms to mask their discomfort with electing an AA.

    As for her future candidacy crossing my mind, of course it did - none of us just fell off the turnip truck. I assume that was a significant part of the conversation with Rangel, Schumer et al - that by holding back and letting time pass, she was irreparably damaging her prospects for 2012 if Obama loses, and that if she was going to endorse, she'd better be prepared to do it 100%. And no, Tom, advice from male confreres is not per se sexist. You seem to have a rather stunted view of gender communications.

    It's obvious you're feeling rather splenetic about things, but why not try to make fact-based comments instead of just venting?

    By Anonymous zoot, At 08 June, 2008 07:08  

  • I think Obama's chances are very good. The newest Rasmussen numbers show a significant bounce for him. He's now 48-40 over McCain, and his approval ratings are higher than McCain's, too, and his Democratic support is up to 81% after idling around 70 for most of primary season.

    Obviously it's too early to take these numbers as overly meaningful, but they *are* evidence that the worries about part unity were at least somewhat misplaced. The Democratic party is coming together just fine, and given the strong Democratic fundamentals this year, that puts us in a very good position going into the fall.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 08 June, 2008 09:33  

  • It's obvious you're feeling rather splenetic about things, but why not try to make fact-based comments instead of just venting?
    -----------------------------------
    Ah, yes, I see. This is not a comments positng of mere speculation by amateurs obsessed with politics but a group of skilled journalists out to report the facts? my bad.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 08 June, 2008 17:12  

  • I think Obama should strike a deal with Hillary, Give her the a seat in the supreme court, its a win-win, She gets the power and prestige she craves and it doesn't interfere with an Obama administration

    By Anonymous Carlos, At 08 June, 2008 19:05  

  • Yes Tom we're a group of amateurs obsessed with politics (at least, I am), but if all you want to do is throw things around and howl at the moon, frankly it's a waste of time. Most other folks posting here make at least a cursory attempt to back up their opinions with facts or analysis.

    Carlos, that would appeal to a lot of people but I wonder if it would appeal to HRC. This is intuition and not based on any inside info, but I think she'd prefer to remain active in politics. The primary role of moderate justices for the foreseeable future will be to hold back the worst excesses of the radical Right on the Court - basically, playing defense. Also, Supreme Court justices are recused from a lot of interaction with the political world and look largely to other justices for company. I wonder if she'd find Thomas, Alito and Scalia very congenial company, esp. since both Bader Ginsburg and Stevens may be off the court in the enar future.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 08 June, 2008 22:33  

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