Blogs > HNN > If It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over, When Is It Over?

Jun 3, 2008 7:57 am

If It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over, When Is It Over?

We have already started rifling through our thesauruses – or more accurately scanning them – trying to find the right, over the top, description for the titanic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – extraordinary, historic, unprecedented. Both Clinton’s people and Obama’s people are invested in emphasizing just how many people voted, how intense the process was, how hard-fought the battle was. For Clintonites, this becomes a way of still trying to eke out a win, or, at very least, preserving some dignity, some bragging rights – and a shot at 2012 if Obama falters. For Obamaniacs, this becomes a way of graciously saluting Hillary and her supporters as worthy opponents, while also trying to make these last few weeks a triumphal victory over a superstar, rather than an exhausted stumble toward the finish line.

Still, as we tally up the thousands of delegates, tens of millions of votes, and hundreds of millions of dollars, most Democrats seek closure. One of the extraordinary, historic, unprecedented moves Hillary Clinton made was that she simply refused to concede defeat. As a result, she not only ended up winning many more big state primaries than Obama did, she also demonstrated the depth of her support. Had she quit in February or early March, she would have been remembered as the Ed Muskie of 2008, an over-confident frontrunner whose aides spent too much time debating who would get which West Wing office but produced as little as Muskie did in his 1972 Democratic presidential primary collapse. Instead, Hillary Clinton proved quite formidable – she and her husband angered many Democrats in this campaign, but she mobilized millions.

Today, after the final state primaries, Hillary Clinton must make a critical decision. Her impressive swing-state victories and her historic vote total have vindicated her decision to hang on for dear life these last few months. Grumbling from John Edwards’ camp that he should not have quit so soon emphasizes one of the probable legacies from Clinton’s never-say-die campaign: in the future it will be harder to get candidates to give up, and thus harder for parties to rally around one winner early in the process. But with Obama on the verge of sewing up enough delegates, with party leaders starting to beg for unity, the time has come to end the campaign.

Ending the campaign when there remains even a slight chance of winning – a knock- out Obama scandal, a sudden shift in super-delegate sentiments – violates Hillary Clinton’s deepest instincts and most enduring political lessons. She frequently has recalled that when she was young, a neighboring girl bullied her, reducing Hillary to tears. Her mother, Dorothy Rodham, banned young Hillary from the house, refusing to give refuge to a coward. Hillary went out, walloped her rival, and earned the respect of the boys – and this girl’s eventual friendship. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s marriage to Bill Clinton has been a decades-long exercise in refusing to quit, no matter how personal the hurt, no matter how public the humiliation. And throughout the 1990s, both Hillary and Bill Clinton distinguished themselves as public figures who frequently beat the odds by hanging on – from eventually winning as the “Comeback Kid” in 1992 to defying widespread calls for his resignation during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, then seeing Bill emerge as a presidential rock star in and out of office, while Hillary ended up as a powerful New York Senator and leading presidential candidate.

While there is nothing like winning, there are better and worse ways to lose. If Hillary Clinton concedes gracefully now that the last vote has been cast, and works enthusiastically for an Obama victory, she may restore some of the Clinton sheen that this vicious primary battle tarnished. Talk about the Clintons’ 2012 strategy – sabotage Obama so she has a shot four years later – the absurd claim that by remembering that Bobby Kennedy ran in June she was calling for Obama’s assassination – both reveal how angry Obama Democrats are with the Clintons.

Hillary Clinton must make the right, gracious, conciliatory moves, sooner rather than later. If she does it right, she will position herself as the next-in-line to lead the Democratic party if Obama falls, or continue to be a power-player in Washington during an Obama Administration. There are second acts in presidential politics. Ronald Reagan lost a heartbreaker in the Republican nomination fight in 1976 - but he did okay after that, I think. Moreover, she will help rebuild the Clinton legacy and restore some of the Clinton magic that has dissipated amid the stench of sweat and bile this extraordinary, historic, unprecedented campaign generated.

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Mike A Mainello - 6/8/2008

I will agree that his selection was historic, but I believe he is more of an unproven rookie that people are trying to make into a superstar.

To quote you "Obama has done it more lyrically, by articulating a vision that is uniting and inspiring.."

His actions have not matched his words. In the short time he has been in the US Senate, he has not walked the walk. Nor does his record in the Illinois Senate support a bi-partisan, moderate approach. While I am no McCain fan, at least he has exhibited a bi-partisan approach, even to the detriment of his base of conservative supporters.

I ask many Senator Obama supporters what they like about him or why they support him and all I ever get is "change" and "hope". While these sound good, I don't believe his changes in they way he wants to treat our friends - NAFTA, CAFTA, Iraq, and small business - and our enemies - Iran and Venezuela - are good for the country.

He does not have any executive experience to evaluate. While he did work as a community activist, whatever that is, but he does not have a good track record on charitable donations.

"Barack Obama has a rather poor track record when it comes to charitable contributions. He consistently gave 1 percent of his income to charity. In his most charitable year, 2005, he earned $1.7 million (two and a half times what George W. Bush earned) but gave about the same dollar amount as the President."

So while I guess it will feel good to elect a black american, is it the best action for the country?

Thanks for responding and hopefully I can read one or two of your books.

Gil Troy - 6/8/2008

Thanks for your comments Mike - actually, and I'll be developing these ideas next week -- I believe that both McCain and Obama are centrists -- but in different ways. McCain has approached the center through iconoclasm and legislative bridge-building - Obama has done it more lyrically, by articulating a vision that is uniting and inspiring. Both are legitimate centrist tactics with proud pasts -- which will prove more popular and which will be a better governing strategy -- is what these next few months will prove....
As for superstar, how else would you describe a 46-year-old, precedent setting, come-from-nowhere Democratic nominee?

Nancy REYES - 6/7/2008

HIllary in 2012!

for all the spin of an adoring press, she won the woman's vote, the working class vote, the Hispanic vote and the Asian vote, not because of "racism" per se (which was behind perhaps `10% of the white vote) but because she is the best candidate for the job.
If Obama didn't have the 90 percent of the black vote, he would have lost.
His hyperbolic messianic statements in his acceptance speech where he plans to heal the sick and cure mother Gaia asks for parody: ("I face this challenge with profound humility and knowledge of my own limitations.... I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless.this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal").

Better a crooked neurotic Hillary who is able to be realistic than a demagogue who thinks he is Lord and Master.

Mike A Mainello - 6/5/2008

Let me be first to admit I have not read any of your books. I was intrigued by your term "superstar" to describe Senator B.O.

I will agree that he has captured the hearts and mouths of the televised media. However, I am concerned that he is nothing more than an empty vessel. How do you see him?

Also, your book about moderate Presidents seems to fit Senator McCain and not Senator Obama. He has reached across the isle quite a bit. Do you see it the same way.