Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary's half-hearted endorsement

With the exception of Fox News, the pundit class appears to be highly impressed with Hillary Clinton's speech tonight, believing it was an incredibly amazing display of graciousness and unity, a remarkable rhetorical achievement, and an enthusiastic endorsement that no one could possibly find any fault with. Afterward, CNN's analysts were falling over themselves to praise the speech. Marc Ambinder compared it to Obama's rousing, career-changing convention speech in 2004. Tom Bevan declared, "Obama supporters should be more than happy with Clinton's speech." TPM said "it can't be overstated how badly Democrats, at this juncture in the campaign, needed an adrenaline boost like the one Hillary provided tonight" with "her full-throated and unequivocal endorsement of Obama." The current Huffington Post headline is: "HILLARY DELIVERS -- AND THEN SOME." From what I've seen, this appears to be the nearly universal opinion in the media.

Well, the media is a cheap date.

As I mentioned in my Twitter liveblog, Hillary Clinton basically told her supporters tonight that they should vote for Barack Obama in November because he's not John McCain. She said that loudly, clearly, unequivocally and repeatedly. But that's all she said.

She conspicuously didn't tell her supporters -- many of whom personally dislike Obama -- that they should vote for Obama because of anything in particular that's good about Obama. She didn't talk about his ability to inspire people, his remarkable life story, his own "historic candidate" status, his reaching-across-the-aisle cred, or anything like that. Nothing. Not a word. Heck, she didn't even call him a "friend" (something she did call McCain, albeit as the setup for an attack).

She praised Obama only as a generic Democrat, and as an alternative to four more years of Republican rule. She really didn't mention anything specific that makes him, or his positions on the issues, particularly appealing. Again, mostly just that he's not McCain. Her speech could have just as easily referred to practically any Democrat. It was not Obama-specific.

Most importantly, she didn't repudiate any of her earlier remarks -- now being used in campaign ads by McCain, and cited by many PUMAs as their rationale for remaining dubious of Obama -- about his inexperience, lack of readiness from Day One, failure to "pass the commander-in-chief test," and so forth. The McCain campaign gleefully pointed this out in an insta-response via press release:
Sen. Clinton ran her presidential campaign making clear that Barack Obama is not prepared to lead as commander in chief. Nowhere tonight did she alter that assessment. Nowhere tonight did she say that Barack Obama is ready to lead.
The McCain campaign is right. Moreover, as Michael Crowley says, the argument that Obama was unprepared "was always her central critique of him," so the lack of any attempt to "alter that assessment" is a pretty glaring omission. By choosing not to alter it, Hillary not only failed to help quell swing voters' doubts about Obama's readiness to be president; she also failed to help heal the festering wounds of those feminists who resent Hillary's loss to a "less qualified man." On that front, her speech will have done nothing to appease the most irrational and intransigent of the PUMAs.

Maybe Hillary couldn't, in all honesty and good conscience, walk back her "inexperience" talk. Of course, moral scruples never stopped her from being dishonest before... but leaving that aside, even if she just couldn't bring herself to explicitly retreat from the "not ready from Day One" stuff, at least she could have supplemented her attacks on McCain, and her generic praise for Obama-as-Cardboard-Democrat, with some kind of specific, individualized praise of Obama as a person and candidate and potential president! As a woman who once said she was "honored, absolutely honored to be here with Barack Obama," surely she could have thought of something. But no.

It wasn't a terrible speech. Yeah, she clearly and loudly endorsed him, and asked her supporters to vote for him. But let's be clear. Hillary did the bare minimum she "had to do," and not the slightest bit more.

P.S. Jonathan Chait makes an argument that I can sort of buy, certainly moreso than this phony-baloney "full-throated endorsement," "AND THEN SOME" nonsense:
Hillary Clinton obviously doesn't like Barack Obama, and she's clearly hesitant about the prospect of him as president--either because she doesn't trust him, because his victory would probably bar her path to the presidency, or because she's convinced herself of the former in service of the latter. But she delivered the best speech she could honestly give for him. ...

[G]iven all [her] clear reservations, Clinton managed to deliver a strong and coherent case for her supporters to elect Obama. ... If she was more enthusiastic, it probably would have sounded phony. But Clinton did seem to realize that politics is about more than herself, and she did her best to persuade her supporters of the same.
UPDATE: Marc Ambinder writes:
There's a debate about whether Hillary should have vouched for Obama's commander in chief credentials.

Here is why, according to an aide, she did not.

Had she done that, all the media would focus on is the disparity between her convention praise and her primary criticism. And she would not have sounded genuine. It would have been contrived.
Ambinder says that Biden's speech, tonight, is the one tasked with "vouch[ing] for Obama as a commander in chief."

Meanwhile, Josh Green writes of Clinton's speech that "true sentiment toward Obama was hard to detect. Clinton does magnanimity like Robin Williams does understatement: it doesn't come naturally." Heh.

Bonus: Green refers to Dennis Kucinich's speech thusly: "[he] hopped and screamed like a meth-addled Smurf." LOL!!

UPDATE 2: Mickey Kaus points out something else Hillary didn't say last night: "Obama won fair and square." He's right. I hadn't thought of it, but that, too, is a gaping, glaring omission, given all the anger that she willfully (and dishonestly) whipped up among her die-hards on that point.