Wednesday, August 27, 2008

After Hillary

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I continue to go back and forth on Hillary's speech last night. It was, on the whole, rather impressive. As I put it last night, she did what she needed to do for Obama, for the Democratic Party, and, perhaps first and foremost, for herself and her political future. Regarding that last point, I didn't care for all the self-promotion, but, of course, self-promotion is what her more ardent supporters wanted. They still think she deserves the nomination, after all, and, watching and listening to Hillary last night, it's pretty clear she thinks she does, too.

One notable exception I take to Hillary's speech is that while she praised Biden and even McCain personally, she said nothing about Obama other than to express her support for him in the election and to encourage Democrats, all Democrats, including her more ardent supporters, to vote for him. She may still not think she's qualified for the presidency, but a few words about his leadership and other qualities would have been nice. All I can remember is a line about building change from the bottom, not from the top, but applying it generally, not just to Obama.

Like others, I am hopeful that perhaps, just perhaps, the task of praising Obama personally, and of asserting that he is indeed qualified for the presidency, ready for the job, has fallen to Bill, who speaks tonight. Hillary may not have been able to do so, given her past criticisms of Obama on the experience and readiness fronts, but Bill could, and his support would be especially meaningful given his rather objectionable performance, if I may put it kindly, during the primaries and his seemingly lingering bitterness. Tonight may be about national security -- with both Bill and Biden speaking -- but it is also about building up Obama for tomorrow.

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Regarding Hillary's apparent lack of enthusiasm last night for Obama personally, John Dickerson provides some useful historical context:

Tuesday night, the Democrats celebrated Ted Kennedy. He was in Clinton's shoes in 1980, after his hard-fought battle with Jimmy Carter. When he gave his convention speech, he mentioned Jimmy Carter once, congratulating him only in passing. Ronald Reagan never mentioned Gerald Ford in 1976. Hillary Clinton named Barack Obama more than a dozen times. Kennedy's famous speech declared that the dream will never die. Clinton's pitch was that the dream cannot live without electing Barack Obama.

There is a stark divide between Obama and the Clintons, but, as usual, the media -- eager for a story, eager for sensationalism, eager to fill up their preconceived narrative -- are making much more of it than there actually is.

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For positive reviews of Hillary's speech from a couple of commentators I like a great deal, see Jonathan Cohn and Jonathan Chait.

And, yes, it was an extremely effective speech in many ways. I grant it that.

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So what to do with Hillary now? Obviously, she needs to be out there campaigning for Obama. But what role is best for her? Michelle Cottle thinks it should be not cheerleader or character witness, for both of which she is ill-suited, but attack dog:

[I]n the coming weeks, the Obama people would be wise to use Hillary as a key attack dog against McCain and the GOP. Obama is the leader of hope and unity and change and promise. He cannot afford to be too angry or too negative. But Hillary... Hillary has always been a polarizer. She is angry. She is a brawler. She is a grudge-holder. She has issues. Most particularly, she knows what it's like to be slapped around by Republicans better than anyone in this country, and, whatever bipartisan strides she has made in her senate years, she still has the taste for Republican blood. You can see it in those bulging blue eyes.

Better still, playing the attack dog would lessen the need for Hillary to fake enthusiasm for Obama. All her anger and resentment and disappointment of the past 20 months -- hell, the last 20 years -- could be channeled into gutting McCain like a trout. People expect Hillary to rage against the Republican machine. For years, she has been their whipping girl, just as for years she has stood as a symbol of perseverence and strength for many Democrats -- especially women. Instead of having her run around trying to sunnily convince women or working-class whites of what a swell guy her former opponent is, Obama's people should just wind her up, point her in the direction of these constituencies, and let her rip John McCain and his whole lousy party a new one. It would be honest. It would be real. For Obama, it would be useful. For Hillary, it might even be a little cathartic. Everybody wins! Except McCain. Which is the whole point, right?

It is indeed. Lest we forget.

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