Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton at the Convention: What's at Stake

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 147

When Hillary Clinton takes the podium this evening to address the Democratic National Convention, she faces not only the assembled delegates, not only an army of media and the scrutiny of the nation and a good part of the world. Tonight, Hillary Clinton faces a choice.

The fact of the matter is that Hillary Clinton, even in defeat, is a formidable presence in the convention hall, in the U.S. Senate, and in the the Democratic party. But even more significant, in the aftermath of her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has acquired something she never truly possessed before: her own constituency. The stories and speeches from the campaign trail of women of every age, region, background, and yes, race, investing Hillary with the mantle of their aspirations for the future political, social and economic condition of women made for good copy, yes, but was far more than just hype. It was, in a way we have never had opportunity to witness before, hope: hope for millions, as audacious any dream on offer this cycle.

And therein lays Hillary's choice tonight. Having rallied a constituency to her side, what does she do with it: lead, follow, or even step away entirely?

To lead tonight, Hillary Clinton will need to make clear, as only she can, that the Democratic Party is absolutely, without qualification or caveat, Barack Obama's to command. Hillary Clinton would need to tell her supporters, in so many words, that to support her is to support Obama, and there is no place in her train for those who claim otherwise.

To follow, Hillary would need to do merely the reverse: say that, of course, she supports Barack Obama, because he won and party duty requires her to publicly campaign for him, and then spend the bulk of her address paying tribute to the efforts of those who sought a different outcome.

Finally, Hillary Clinton could make an entirely different choice: to focus not on the campaign just past, but on the future waiting to be won or lost in the outcome of this election. That would entail, of necessity, unqualified support for Barack Obama, but something more, and something greater still: a bona fide vision of what America can become as a result of this historic campaign. In short, she would need to make the speech she planned to make to the convention had she prevailed in the primaries, shorn of "vote for me" and infused, instead, with the promise of what can be if Democrats win up and down the ballot this fall.

Admittedly, such a speech would be a tall order for any politician, and for Hillary Clinton perhaps more than most. But if she were to deliver such an address, she would awaken tomorrow to find herself to be the leader she has always aspired to become.

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