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Hillary's Speech Good but Superficial
by Julian X  /  non-fiction  /  27 Aug 2008

Last night, Hillary Clinton gave her speech at the Democratic National Convention.  It was stirring.  It was exceptional.  But it was also, ultimately, trivial.

In saying this, I don't wish to trivialize just how good she was.  Her delivery was nothing short of excellent, from start to finish.  She's come a long way since the start of her campaign for the Presidential nomination, and she can now deliver a major speech almost as well as her husband.  In fact, he reportedly coached her in public speaking at the start of the campaign, and campaigning for a year hasn't hurt.  The power of her delivery, combined with receiving some 18 million votes, clearly cements her, in her own right, as one of the powerhouses of the Democratic party -- a star who could go on to be President in a later election or who could go on to become an elder statesman (statesperson?) in the mold of Ted Kennedy, who spoke the night before.

Without being patronizing, she's come a long way from simply being the governor's or the President's wife.  She's come a long way even from the opportunistic woman who rode public sympathy for her, in the wake of her husband having cheated on her and lied about it yet again, into New York's open Senate seat.

The speech wasn't just well-delivered, however.  It also had a solid handful of soundbytes, catchphrases that Obama might do well to pick up and run with.  It was the kind of speech that a President ought to give.

Of course, this wasn't her year.  This was a change election, in the wake of eight years of total incompitence and outright contempt for the Constitution.  She was a polarizing figure in the wake of a President elected as "a uniter, not a divider" who ended up being more partisan than almost anyone before him.  She started her campaign as the inevitable candidate, but the truth was that Obama was the man for the moment -- and the more people knew him, despite his being the underdog, the more they saw this.  She ran a despicable campaign in many ways.  But she also ran one that was incompitent in key respects, one that thought it could afford to be incompitent, since it believed its own press about her inevitability.  Anyway, she lost.  And she deserved to lose.

Which brings us to what was wrong about the speech.  In recent polls, 25% of Clinton supporters said that they wouldn't vote for Obama.  There's a reason for this:  as Clinton realized that she was not only facing a real opponent but actually losing, she turned vendictive.  She said things, in frustration, that threatened to undermine the entire party should Obama be nominated.

McCain, she said, had the experience to be President.  She said that she did too.  Obama, she ridiculed, had a speech given four years ago.

She made statements similar to this on several occasions.  They went beyond calling Obama light on qualifications.  They went beyond calling Obama utterly unqualified.  They even went beyond calling Obama just plain unacceptable, outright ridiculing him.

It should be no surprise that these statements had an effect.  We all knew they would at the time, and now we have the data to suggest that they have.  Both Hillary and her husband seemed willing to destroy the party to secure its nomination.  Personal power seemed all that mattered to them.  Seeing the nomination slipping away, she set out to destroy the man who was stealing it from her, to salt the earth under his nomination.  It was a zero-sum game, winner take all.  But her loss was soon mathematically all but inevitable, and it soon became clear that she was undermining not only the frontrunner but the eventual nominee.

And that's what she's done.

Now, she's lost the zero-sum game.  Obama won and everyone else lost.  Now, she's operating a non-zero-sum game:  she can't win or lose, only maneuver.  As the nominee, Obama's still in a zero-sum game:  only he or McCain will win in November.  But Hillary's in a different space, one where she can help Obama and still gain ground herself.

Which is exactly what she's doing.  She gets money to retire her campaign debt and gets respect from Obama, including a prime-time speech at the convention.  In return, she's endorsed Obama and campaigned for him.

The problem now are those salted-earth comments that she made in those zero-sum days of the nomination battle.  They're now being used in McCain ads against Obama.  And 25% of her supporters still say they won't vote for President or will vote for someone else.

You can understand why she made them, but they make her job more difficult.  Because campaigning for Obama isn't enough.  In order to fix the damage she's done, she has to repudiate those statements.  She has to gain him that 25% that she cost him.  She has to generate enough full-throated supporters to counterbalance the damage done by those statements and the McCain ads that exploit them.

Instead, what she's done is endorse Obama only by comparing him to McCain.  She rarely even talks about Obama.  She just talks about the Democratic party's agenda, how horrible Bush has been, and how McCain is a continuation of Bush.  These are all good things for her to say, and she does so in empassioned and articulate fashion.  But nothing that will undo the damage she's done.

By not repudiating her past statements, she objectively endorses them.  This means that she's endorsing Obama despite believing that he's ridiculously unqualified -- solely because the Republican alternative, while more qualified, is so worse on policy grounds.  Never does she talk about Obama's qualifications to be President.  She doesn't even talk about what a good President he'll be.  She just endorses him because he's the Democratic nominee, and she really believes in the principles of the Democratic party.

She gives a litany of issues and then says, "that's why I'm endorsing Obama for President!" -- as if her enthusiasm in doing so will make everyone ignore the logic of what she's saying.

Well, this just won't do.  It leaves that 25% still feeling that Obama's unacceptably unqualifed, which she hasn't really disputed.  It leaves those statements out there for McCain to use.  And I'm not the only one noticing it.

Within minutes of the speech, the McCain campaign issued a statement pointing out exactly this.  For all the recent Republican bluster and disgusting attacks, they're right:  she didn't address the underlying issue.  There's still an elephant in the corner.

She's fractured the party, and she's not mending the divisions.

To point out how absurd this is, imagine a civil war in which one side decries the other as fundamentally, even genetically terrible, even as it became clear that the cause was lost.  Once the other side has won, those divisive ideas are still out there.  The losing side might declare its allegiance for the victors all it wants, but it has to do the hard work of educating people against those persistent and divisive ideas -- or the new nation may not survive.

Even in self-interested terms, Hillary needs to do this.  If Obama loses, plenty of people will still look to the remnants of that 25% as the reason why.  Plenty of people will still blame Hillary.

She's now deep into non-zero-sumness:  she has to help Obama win, building him up personally, or she'll be blamed if he loses.

Yes, it's true that other losers of the nomination haven't been as gracious.  Many didn't even mention the victor's name or did so only a few times.

But if this election is really as important as Hillary says, or as Obama and every other Democrat say and feel, shouldn't she have done more?

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Politics by Julian Darius:
Bush / Clinton
Unelectable Hillary
Hillary:  Obama May be Muslim
Obama Just the Beginning
The Largest Garbage Dump on Earth
Tiananmen Square 19 Years Later
Biden is Obama's V.P. Choice
Speeches that Could Have Been:  Hillary at the Convention
Hillary's Speech Good but Superficial
Hillary's Convention Speech and Revisionist History
Palin Gaffs
Palin on the Supreme Court
Dick Chaney Endorses Torture, Killing Americans