Hillary's Game

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Aug 26, 2008 11:23 PM

My fellow Americans, I have lived in The White House.  I know something about the challenges that a President must confront.  And as you can imagine, I've gotten to know Barack pretty well over the last 18 months.  I've seen how his background has given him a unique and valuable perspective on America -- and the world.  I've noticed how his life experiences have given him a deep love for this country, and appreciation for the opportunities it offers.  I've watched him fight hard for the causes he believes in, with the instincts he honed working in the toughest parts of my hometown, Chicago.  And I know that he has the wisdom, the judgment, the heart and the character to tackle the problems we must face, and to lead us to the tomorrow that we, as Americans, deserve.  He is the person we need in The White House now, he will be a great President and Commander-in-Chief, and I support Barack Obama enthusiastically!

Oh, wait.  That's the speech Hillary didn't give.  On MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell is reporting that "there was a change in the hall tonight."  All the pundits there seem happy with what she did.  And if they're right, and this speech does the trick, all I can say is that the Hillary supporters sell out pretty easily. 

Sorry to be the contrarian skunk at the garden party.  But as far as I can tell, Hillary continued to play the game that's she played brilliantly, so far.  She said she supports Barack, and told everyone to vote for him . . . without offering any real reasons why they should, reasons that might inadvertantly convince someone actually to do it.  Her words of support, of course, allow her to ask anyone who doubts her commitment, Well, what else was I supposed to say?

But as a shrewd politician -- and the wife of a very shrewd politician -- she knows the objectives of a political convention: To give the country a comfort level with a candidate on a personal level, along with good, solid reasons that he is not just the better choice -- but the best one for the country at this particular time.  Her speech advanced neither objective for Obama. 

Critiquing the Bush administration and linking her "friend" John McCain with it (and quite gently, compared to what could have been said) isn't a reason to vote for Barack Obama as an individual, after all.  The only reason she gave to vote for Barack?  Because she said so.  And that's because she's a Democrat, and he's a Democrat, and the Republicans are bad.  (She's a team player, don't you know?). She actually had nicer things to say both about Michelle Obama and Joe Biden than about Barack himself. 

Her allusions to Barack were formulaic -- "Barack Obama knows [insert Hillary priority/Democratic policy]."  That's it.  In other words, he's the right choice insofar as he agrees with her (rather than she agrees with him because he's great).  Tomorrow, will anyone be able to recite a reason that Barack merits their votes, or will they merely recall that good sport Hillary urged them to vote for him?

She did a fabulous job --  for herself, that is.  If her goal was to make the conventioneers wonder if they had nominated the wrong person, she may well have succeeded.   And going forward, my bet is that the Clinton people will continue to say everything they must in order to be able to defend Hillary from charges that her lack of support cost Barack the election -- even as they do as little as possible to really help him.

They'll do all the right things in public, while indulging in little maneuvers and leaking little tidbits designed to raise inarticulable suspicions about their true feelings (update: things like this), thereby keeping alive a little frisson of resentment among her supporters.  And if and when Barack loses, she'll tell the Democrats: I did everything I could, didn't I?  I told people to vote for him, after all.

Yup.  That's the Clinton magic.