Paul Nitze: Convention hoopla puts a pit in my stomach
August 27, 2008
Don’t be fooled by the largely positive reactions to Hillary Clinton’s speech Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center. Don’t be fooled by the thousands of signs you saw being waved in the background ” stamped “Unity” on one side and either “Obama” or “Hillary” on the other. I left the convention with an all-too familiar pit in my stomach, knowing that once again my party could shoot itself in both feet.
Sen. Clinton’s speech, while unambiguous in its endorsement of Sen. Obama, did not heal the divide between her delegates and his. Rather, it showed a trademark lack of grace and humanity on Sen. Clinton’s part and failed to address the rifts caused by this primary season in the frankest possible terms. Many commentators have harped on her seeming inability to give the crowd any compelling reason to support Sen. Obama, even if just a simple affectionate anecdote about his personal qualities.
I agree that a positive case for Sen. Obama should have been made, but I don’t find too much fault with her decision not to go down that road. After all, it wasn’t the task at hand, and it probably would have struck a false note no matter how she handled it.
What concerned me was her failure to give voice, starkly, to the pain and grievances of her supporters. Without first describing her own disappointment, and that of her millions of backers, many of them won’t be able to let go. Some of the slights to her candidacy by the Obama campaign were real and some were manufactured, but they should not have gone unmentioned.
As it was, her delegates and her supporters watching on television were left to wonder, “Is she telling me to move on simply because Sen. Obama is the vessel for my goals that Sen. McCain will never be? Or is she genuinely forgiving him for the way he and his surrogates handled the primary?” No matter what you think about whether forgiveness was merited, it was what her supporters needed to hear, and it was left hanging in the air.
For its own part, the Obama campaign is anything but blameless in this painful, potentially loss-inducing drama. Rumor has it that Sen. Obama has played hardball on how the delegate roll call would be handled this afternoon, attempting first to move it off the convention floor, to the hotels where the delegates are staying. Barring that, his camp has pushed for only a partial roll call, followed by the release of Sen.
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Clinton’s delegation, and a unanimous nomination. As I write, the mechanics are still
being wrangled over.
This is despite the fact that many of Sen. Clinton’s delegates have said that the one thing they want out of this convention is to be able to cast their vote for her during a formal roll call, even if the outcome is pre-ordained. Is that so much to ask? This is, after all, a candidate who won nearly as many votes as her opponent, who comes to the convention with greater support than any losing candidate in decades, and who has a huge national following. Even if potentially embarrassing and distracting, a full roll call vote is entirely appropriate and the Obama campaign should have acceded to it in whichever form the Clinton campaign wished.
Watching this play out over the last 48 hours, my thoughts have drifted to 2004, when John Kerry accepted the Democratic nomination in Boston. Then too, the national political environment favored Democrats in the fall (albeit not to the same degree), and he carried a modest lead in the polls into the convention. Despite the scorn heaped on him for “reporting to duty” in front of the delegates, he gave one of his better speeches, and I think most of those who attended the convention were very hopeful for a Kerry victory. We know how that turned out.
But there was another reason to be hopeful in 2004. We knew that even if Sen. Kerry lost to President Bush, that a very bright star had appeared on the horizon. He was an unknown state senator from Illinois, then coasting to an easy victory in his U.S. Senate election. Few thought that he would head the presidential ticket in 2008, but the years 2012 and 2016 were tossed around.
Which leads me to another question that has gone unanswered. If the Democrats lose this election, who will run in 2012? Is there anyone who has spoken this week who can step up to the plate? No matter what her supporters say, and no matter what she herself desires, Sen. Clinton will not be that candidate. Nor, for that matter, will any of the other leading candidates from this election cycle.
Unfortunately, I have not been that impressed by the undercard at this convention.
Gov. Warner, a highly competent technocrat who gave last night’s keynote address, does not have the star power to win the White House. The best speech by far last night was given by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Will he be drafted in 2012? Something tells me that the party will not look kindly on another
Massachusetts politician’s chances in the general. So who will it be? At this point the party faithful can only hold their breath and hope it’s President Obama, running for a second term.
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