Game over, you lost
June 4, 2008 | Yesterday Barack Obama garnered enough delegates to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary convened her partisan devotees — a not entirely redundant phrase — at Baruch College in New York City to make a valedictory speech — except that it wasn't any such thing!
Hillary conceded nothing. She congratulated Barack "on the extraordinary race" but neglected to mention that he won the race. She insisted that she carried "the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history," a dubious claim that depends on very creative arithmetic. She claimed that she would "make no decisions tonight" but would consult "with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward...." She ended by urging "the 18 million people who voted for me and to our many other supporters out there of all ages ... [to] go to my website at HillaryClinton.com and share your thoughts with me and help in any way that you can."
Hillary — there's no decision to be made; you lost! Congratulate the winner, go back to one of your mansions and decompress for a while. Lick your perceived wounds, but for goodness sakes, do it in private. Enough with the melodrama.
Hillary and some of her supporters seem to believe that she is entitled to be the nominee, and that what should be rightfully hers has been taken from her unfairly. In their telling, she's a victim. See, for example, The Caucus: For Clinton’s Women Fans, Mourning and Anger (NYTimes, Jun 4, 2008); read the comments following the article, where attitudes are laid bare.
The simple fact is, she blew it.
She had the biggest advantage a modern Democrat could have, the Clinton name. She was the undisputed front-runner from the very beginning of the campaign. She had the benefit of an established campaign machine dating back to Bill's two campaigns. She had an awesome campaign chest. But she blew it.
• She followed a flawed campaign strategy, ignoring caucus states. This allowed Obama to gain early victories and build momentum and credibility.
• She mismanaged resources, assuming that it would be all over by Super Tuesday, February 5. When it wasn't, she ran low on funds. Her campaign ends awash in debt (some say as much as $30M).
• She had Bill, who could have been a tremendous asset, but who turned into a liability, flying into red-faced rages, clumsily playing the race card in North Carolina, and stealing the spotlight from Hillary, so much so that it was sometimes hard to tell who was really running. There was a fine Clinton legacy to draw on, but he reminded everybody of the legacy of scandal, equivocating, and parsing the meaning of "is".
• She underestimated Obama as an opponent and misread the electorate. She was so confident that her "35 years" of experience (the majority of which consisted of being the wife of a governor or president) would carry the day that she failed to consider the possibility that voters might not be convinced. With public opinion of Washington politicians at an all-time low, she ran as the experienced Washington politician ready "on day one." Besides, the "35 years" turned out to be just one of many exaggerations that all but shattered her credibility.
• She couldn't decide on a persona. At the beginning of the primary season, she blew away the competition with her poise, command of policy and fact, presidential demeanor, stage presence. By the end, she was poor Hillary, petulant about being picked on by mean media and aggrieved at being "disrespected." She may as well have stamped her foot and cried, "But it's my turn to be president!"
In the game of Survivor: Democratic Primaries, Hillary was Outplayed, Outwitted, and Outlasted. Tribal council has spoken; off the island.
The Stanley Cup finals just finished (Detroit won), and Hillary would have done well to consider the traditions of that contest. The two teams battle ferociously in a best of seven series until one team wins four games to become the Stanley Cup champion. Then something wonderful happens: the two teams line up behind their captains and shake hands. No team likes to lose the finals, but when they do, they pull up their socks and congratulate the winner. Then they get off the ice and let the winner bask in victory.
Hillary had every right to compete through to the very end. In sports, we admire the athlete who tries their best as they finish the event, even though it's clear they won't win. But Hillary did great harm to herself, the Democratic party, and Barack Obama by the way she conducted herself in the final months. Sure there was nastiness on both sides, but most of it originated in the Clinton camp. If she were really interested in enhancing the chances of a Democratic victory in November she would have used the opportunity of free, national television coverage to ask her supporters to rally around Obama. Instead, she kept as much attention as possible on herself by pretending there was a decision to be made and encouraging her supporters to rally around her. She and Bill have such big egos they just suck all the air out of the room.
Make no mistake. Hillary's primary campaign, which almost succeeded despite her flaws, broke down barriers and assumptions about a woman as president. Geraldine Ferraro, who ran as Walter Mondale's vice-presidential candidate, is now a relatively minor footnote in the history of women in US politics. Hillary Clinton's impact will be huge. When a woman is elected president, she will owe much to Hillary Clinton's run.
Barack Obama also gave a speech after the last primaries were over, choosing as his location the St Paul arena where the Republicans will hold their convention this summer. How's that for in-your-face?
He was gracious to a fault toward Hillary, saying, "Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she’s a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight."
But then he turned to his theme of change and took aim at John McCain with respectful but pointed remarks, suggesting that McCain is out of touch with what Americans are really concerned about: "John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy – cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota – he’d understand the kind of change that people are looking for."
Personally, I never believed that I would see in my lifetime a Black man chosen as the presidential nominee of a major party. It feels like a monumental step forward for our society. It should be cause for celebration throughout the land.
Unfortunately, the Democratic primary campaign that began with almost giddy optimism ends, for many, with a bitter aftertaste. There were so many good candidates and the stars seemed aligned for a Democratic landslide. But the prolonged back-and-forth stirred up a lot of bad blood and surfaced some ugly isms just below the surface of American culture.
Richard Cohen of the Washington Post captured it well in an essay called A Campaign to Hate (Jun 3, 2008).
Last updated on Sep 3, 2016