Yesterday, my wife, son and I went to an Obama party to watch the final primary results. Originally it had been scheduled for a restaurant, but the level of response from area Obama supporters was so great, they had to move it to an art gallery at the last minute. When we got there just after six, there were easily fifty people around the room and (horrors) a giant Lou Dobbs on the projector (fortunately, the room was loud enough that his drivel was drowned out).
As the evening wore on toward the time the South Dakota primaries closed, more people crowded in. Eventually, McCain took the stage to a small smattering of "boo"s, but he was largely ignored similar to Dobbs. Every so often, the CNN delegate ticker would roll over as a new super delegate would pledge for Obama, bringing cheers from the whole room. There his counter was at 2114 when the head of the Missouri Democratic Committee took the stage. He and three other Missouri super delegates were still unpledged and had said that they would vote as a block. He told us, five minutes before the SD polls closed, that all four of them had decided to pledge their support to Obama. The applause of the couple hundred people was deafening.
With this enthusiasm we welcomed even Republican pundits calling McCain's just finished speech "the worst ever." We watched as South Dakota was projected for Clinton, but our spirits weren't dampened because we knew this nomination battle was finally won.
Then Senator Clinton took the stage. We applauded her; proud of the fight she had fought; respectful of the enormous effort that her supporters had put out for her as we had for Sen. Obama; glad to have such a strong leader on our side.
Then she began her speech: "I want to start tonight by congratulating Senator Obama and his supporters on the extraordinary race that they have run." "Uh oh," I said to my wife, "this doesn't sound too conciliatory..." In fact, to me it sounded like the sort of thing she would say to the loser of a contest. But we were still optimistic and applauded her praise of Obama.
"Nearly 18 million of you cast your votes for our campaign, carrying the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history." Yup, there it was, the knife in the back. The glaringly misleading half-truth designed to divide the party. The tone in our room immediately changed. We knew that more than 18 million people also cast their vote, as best they could, for Obama. In fact, by all counts except one, Obama won more votes than any primary candidate. Even on that one in which he didn't, more people voted against Clinton than have ever voted against a primary candidate in history.
"And I am committed to uniting our party so we move forward stronger and more ready than ever to take back the White House this November." Ok, we thought, after what she has just said, how does she intend to do that?
"You know, I understand that that a lot of people are asking, 'What does Hillary want? What does she want?'" We are, Mrs. Clinton. We do want to know what you intend to gain by drawing this out with more divisive politics. What do you want?
"I want to end the war in Iraq. I want to turn this economy around. I want health care for every American. I want every child to live up to his or her God-given potential." So do we all. Work with us, help us get Barack Obama elected the next president of the United States and you will see all these things and more. "And I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected. " Ah, there it is, 'I want to use those people that voted for me as bargaining chips." It couldn't have been said more clearly.
The problem with this is manifold. She herself showed in this speech that she doesn't hold respect for those voters beyond the power it will give her. She has also, with this stance shown that she does not have even that level of respect for the 18 million people who voted for someone else. And she has shown that she doesn't respect her opponent enough to even admit when he has had a clear victory. Even this morning, her communications director couldn't answer when asked whether Obama had won the majority of the delegates needed to become the nominee.
Senator Hillary Clinton, I do not know what drove you to take this stance on the day your own metrics for victory were met by your opponent. What I do know is that you threw away your best remaining chance to bring this party together, not as Clinton or Obama supporters, but as Democrats. Instead, for whatever reason, you have chosen to drive that stake into the heart of this party. You had the opportunity to leave with the strength of a leader, instead you have encouraged the idea that your due was stolen from you.
You, of all political leaders, know what this image means to so many. And yet, rather than leading your supporters past that, you chose to relish in it. You know better than most, that none of those things you hope for will be accomplished under a McCain presidency. You also know that without the support of your followers, we may be doomed to four years of McCain. But still, rather than securing a central role as a Democratic leader, you chose to hold your own party hostage.
I do know that your campaign has said you will concede the nomination this Saturday. My only hope is that such belated words will be strong enough to bring us all back together.