I’ll be blunt. I didn’t expect much. However, I thought today Hillary Clinton began the campaign to resurrect herself and remake herself as a Democratic Leader in the fashion of Ted Kennedy. This was not a perfect speech as some of the pundits/talking heads seem to believe, but I do believe it accomplished what she wanted and also what Obama wanted. In brief, this is what I think the speech accomplished for her and for him.
1) To Go Out With Some Grace and Give Obama a Boost. In marked contrast to her speech on Tuesday, she was both appropriately grateful to her supporters, but also appropriately accepting of Obama’s victory. She avidly endorsed him, asked her supporters to work for him, and made the case why it is so critical for a Democrat to be elected as President.
2) She began the process to resurrect the Clinton Brand. Except among her diehard supporters, the Clinton brand took a beating among many Democrats this primary season. They looked venal at times in their attacks on Obama. And the dog whistle racist appeals to white voters were simply devastating to her and Bill’s reputation and standing among the African American community. Today, for the first time she offered an olive branch back to Obama and that community, rather than swatting it away every time it was offered to her.
Her loss of the nomination was a bitter pill to swallow, and at times she has appeared bitter and spiteful during this campaign, but not today. Sure, she praised herself and her husband, but not excessively so, and in the proper context of explaining to her supporters why a Democratic victory in the Fall is so important.
I don’t know what was said between her and Obama on Thursday night, but whatever it was she, today, gave the right message in just the right way. The party must unify, and it must unify behind Obama, so that everyone in the party who voted for her can accomplish the goals that she and they share with Obama and his supporters. She talked a lot about universal health care, the economy and women’s issues more than anything else, and considering the base of her support, that was probably the appropriate tack for her speech to emphasize. She stated the case clearly that only a Democrat in the White House could achieve those goals. That message will be critical to help bring around her supporters to be transformed into obama voters.
By not striking a bitter or cynical or tepid note in her remarks about the winner she did herself a world of good. It may not have been the best speech she ever gave, but it was the right speech for this moment. I imagine the Obama campaign is sighing in relief that she came through with what leaked reports in the press had promised: an unequivocal endorsement of her opponent whom she had fought so hard against for so long.
3) She placed herself front and center in the Obama Veep Stakes. It’s amazing what the exhibition of a little dignity and grace and generosity of spirit can do for a politician. Until today, the efforts of her advocates for the second slot on the ticket had seemed heavy handed and clumsy in their attempt to force her on Obama as his running mate. I don’t even know if the Vice Presidency is what she wants, but if she does, this speech did far more to advance that cause than any previous efforts by her surrogates. Why? Because it made the case for adding her to the ticket by demonstrating to all of us again her political skills as a campaigner, and by reminding people of the base of supporters and others she likely can help bring to the polls in November. Instead of a flat out demand as some have made, she offered Obama and the rest of us a subtle and at times persuasive argument for her inclusion on the ticket. By humbling herself before Obama and fellow Democrats with this concession speech, and by presenting herself as a Democrat first and a Clinton second, she took much of the edge off public opposition to her among ardent Obama supporters and other senior party officials who clearly have been annoyed, to say the least, at the path her campaign took over this last week.
Did she do enough with this speech to gain the nomination for Vice President from Obama? No, but she put her name back in the hat, and made it difficult for him to simply dismiss her as a running mate out of hand. She still will have to do a lot more to convince him and his team that she should be on the ticket, but I do think she undid a lot of the damage which had occurred over the last several days, weeks and months. Once again a “Dream Ticket” will be a topic of conversation, and the more she does to repair the divisiveness of the campaign over the weeks leading up to the convention, the better her chances will become.
If she does indeed want that spot (and many of her supporters want it for her), this was the best thing she could have done to begin convincing Obama and the party elites that she will be a necessary ingredient for any Democratic victory this Fall. And if Vice President isn’t on her wish list, whatever is on there will have benefited from the speech she gave today, whether that is a Supreme Court appointment or other position of power and influence in an Obama administration.
Obviously, much remains to be determined, and her willingness to “work hard” for Obama over the coming weeks will be the proof needed to show that she didn’t just make a pretty speech on his behalf because she had no other option. But just as clearly, today shows why she can’t be counted out yet as a player in the general election, whatever role she will be called upon to play, and whatever price she will extract to play that role to the hilt.