Hillary Clinton needs to start making some campaign appearances for Barack Obama. She needs to give a speech to voters which clearly lays out why they should vote for Obama over the Republican candidate. And she needs to start giving this speech soon. Because there is still a division in the Democratic Party, and we only have a few months to rally the base. And Hillary Clinton's strong endorsement of Barack Obama in front of crowds of people is the best way to heal this division.
A lot has happened in the last two weeks. Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination for president two Tuesdays ago. Hillary Clinton did not give a concession speech that night. Four days later, on one of the slowest news days of the week, she did deliver a great concession speech. Not exactly "ready on Day One," but everyone cut her slack because of the length and intensity of the campaign. And because it really was a good speech. Her endorsement of Obama was sweeping and wholehearted. To quote just some of her praise for Barack Obama:
The way to continue our fight now -- to accomplish the goals for which we stand -- is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next President of the United States.
Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him, and throw my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me.
. . .
I understand that we all know this has been a tough fight. The Democratic Party is a family, and it's now time to restore the ties that bind us together and to come together around the ideals we share, the values we cherish, and the country we love.
We may have started on separate journeys -- but today, our paths have merged. And we are all heading toward the same destination, united and more ready than ever to win in November and to turn our country around because so much is at stake.
. . .
Together Senator Obama and I achieved milestones essential to our progress as a nation, part of our perpetual duty to form a more perfect union.
Now, on a personal note -- when I was asked what it means to be a woman running for President, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I'd be the best President. But I am a woman, and like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious.
I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.
I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of. I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter's future and a mother who wants to lead all children to brighter tomorrows. To build that future I see, we must make sure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their grandmothers and mothers, and that women enjoy equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal respect. Let us resolve and work toward achieving some very simple propositions: There are no acceptable limits and there are no acceptable prejudices in the twenty-first century.
. . .
So I want to say to my supporters, when you hear people saying -- or think to yourself -- "if only" or "what if," I say, "please don't go there." Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward.
Life is too short, time is too precious, and the stakes are too high to dwell on what might have been. We have to work together for what still can be. And that is why I will work my heart out to make sure that Senator Obama is our next President and I hope and pray that all of you will join me in that effort.
Since she gave this speech, two things of note have happened. The first is the Obama campaign hired Patti Solis-Doyle, who used to be Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. The second story broke today, about Clinton calling her big donors together for a meeting to enlist their help in supporting Obama for president.
Those are the facts. Now, the perceptions -- from hardcore Obama supporters, and from hardcore Clinton supporters.
The Solis-Doyle hiring was seen by the Clinton camp as a serious slap in the face, and a serious impediment to Hillary's chances of being named running mate on an "Obama/Clinton 08" ticket. Solis-Doyle used to be Clinton's campaign manager, it's true, but then she was fired from that position back in February. There may be lingering animosity between the two. But what really annoyed the Clinton camp is that Solis-Doyle was hired to be the chief of staff to the vice-presidential nominee (whomever that turns out to be). The Clinton supporters put it succinctly: either Hillary is the VP choice and Obama will have to fire Solis-Doyle, or Hillary's not going to be VP. Like I said, a slap in the face, as they see it.
This is really a bad move on the Clinton supporters' part, even if Obama did provoke it. Obama explained Solis-Doyle's new position by stating that the campaign already was a tightly-run ship and there just weren't that many executive positions left to offer Solis-Doyle. Sounds reasonable enough, but it's also provocative that Obama, by this choice, is broadcasting loud and clear: "This is my campaign, and I will make my own personnel choices." Especially when it has anything to do with the vice-presidential spot on the ticket. Hillary supporters, perhaps rightly, see this as an indication that she's not going to get that spot.
But they are mistaken if they think that the "she's inevitable" argument is going to work to get her on the ticket. That didn't work out so well for her before in this campaign, and a sense of entitlement and a chip on the shoulder is just not the way to convince Obama that she's the one for the job. There's a better way to do that, and the path to it lies out there on the campaign trail. Because at this point, the only way Hillary is going to be considered as running mate is if she proves to her voters and the world that she is Obama's number one supporter. Who clearly spells out such support is selfless and unconditional -- that she will support him no matter whom he picks for VP.
Which brings us to the second story. Clinton has been conspicuously absent from the public eye ever since her concession speech. Think about it -- it's been a week and a half, and she has not given a single speech or appeared at a single campaign event. Now, I do not blame Clinton for this, for two reasons. First, it may not be her fault. It is now Obama's decision where to send her (and her husband) to campaign events. Obama may have decided that a pause was necessary, not her. He may be drawing up plans for where exactly (which states and districts) Hillary and Bill would be best received, to compliment his own campaign schedule. Fair enough. Secondly, she may have spent the entire time lining up the donors' meeting. This is entirely reasonable, since getting the Clinton donors on board is a good thing for Obama, and will help his campaign.
But this timing is seen as contentious as well, within the two supporters' camps. By not campaigning at all before this donor's conference, Hillary (as the Barack hardcore supporters see it) is using extortion on Obama by saying (in essence): "once you pay off my campaign debts, then I'll go campaign for you." Once again, this is perception, which may indeed be wildly unfounded. Obama may have personally agreed to do this before Hillary even gave her concession speech -- only the two of them know this for sure. But again, the way the story was received merely added fuel to the fire of division in the party.
Obama, it should be noted, is doing pretty well right now in the polls, even without Clinton's personal voice. Right-wing commentary has tried to spin how well he's doing by saying "his bump isn't as big as it should have been." But Obama continues to climb in the polls, and a new poll out today puts him up in the key "battleground" states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and (gasp!) even Florida. Watch for Obama's Florida numbers to go even higher as McCain's new "let's drill off Florida's coast" philosophy is absorbed by Floridians.
But Hillary Clinton needs to get on board the Barack Obama bandwagon, and help this process along. She needs to start pointing out the stark differences between the parties, and between the candidates, every chance she gets. As an example, just from the past week, here is the sort of thing it would be refreshing to hear her say in public:
"The news media was sexist towards my campaign, but they're now being both sexist and racist at the same time towards Michelle Obama. Fox News recently called her 'Obama's Baby Mama.' That is insulting and disrespectful on so many levels, as well as proving that they don't even know the definition of the term 'baby mama.' And John McCain recently canceled a fundraiser from a supporter who is a mainstream Republican and ran for the governorship of Texas. While campaigning, he compared the bad weather at a campaign event to rape. His exact words were, and I quote, 'If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.' He later said that he was just joking. John McCain canceled his appearance at this misogynist's house, but you know what? McCain now says he's going to keep the money raised anyway. That is who Barack Obama is running against. If you don't think rape is a joke, how can any woman -- or man, for that matter -- vote for John McCain? I call on all my supporters who have a little more respect for women than that, to stand with me in supporting Barack Obama for president."
Because, since Hillary Clinton's concession speech, her voice has been muted. Her website has been virtually silent (with the exception of a letter praising Tim Russert) since her speech. There is one blog entry on her site since then, which (two days ago) posted a fundraising letter to her supporters. This letter, in full (although I did cut the big "Donate" button), reads:
Together, you and I changed America forever. We touched so many lives over the course of this campaign, and I can't thank you enough for the support you showed me. I met so many wonderful people out on the trail, and I wanted to share some of those memories with you.
I hope you'll take a moment to view our online album with some favorite photos from the campaign.
Thank you so much -- I'll be in touch soon.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Notice the omission of any mention of Barack Obama. This is just not enough. Now, I take Hillary at her word -- that she is going to "work my heart out to make sure that Senator Obama is our next President." But she needs to start doing this work out in public, soon. She needs to show she can be Obama's biggest voice on the campaign trail, and that she is doing everything possible to bring those 18 million votes she talks about over to his side in November. Now, it's true that some of these voters just will not support Obama -- no matter what. But a much larger percentage of them are open to the idea, and waiting to be convinced. By Hillary. Herself. And soon.
Party unity demands it. Because (again, in her words), "Life is too short, time is too precious, and the stakes are too high."
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com