Two worthy candidates

I watched all of the Democratic debate last night. I think you could discern the story of the evening by following the reaction of the studio audience.

Clinton received rousing applause during her opening statement. At that point, I thought the applause was partisan — I assumed it came from Clinton’s half of the audience.

But when Obama found his feet (his opening statement was halting; I gather that he’s suffering from a head cold), the applause was exactly the same. And then I realized:  the studio audience understands that the nomination battle is effectively over.

This has been a remarkable, historic campaign, between two very impressive candidates. The applause wasn’t partisan. The audience was paying tribute to both Obama and Clinton, and to the Democratic Party.

Clinton had the worst moment of the night, with her canned “Xerox” line. The line didn’t just fall flat; the audience rebuked her for it (check out the video).

Clinton also had the best moment of the night:

No matter what happens in this contest — and I am honoured to be here with Barack Obama — we’re going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends.

The line, “I am honoured to be here with Barack Obama,” was emphatic and heartfelt. Obama responded by touching Clinton on the shoulder and shaking her hand. And the audience rose to give both candidates — but especially Clinton — a standing ovation. (Video here.)

CNN later discussed whether this was Clinton’s “valedictory” moment. And indeed, I think she was effectively conceding that Obama has secured the nomination.

Clinton has passed through Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. We have seen flashes of anger and depression, and a sustained period of denial and bargaining (i.e., for superdelegate support). Clinton has now reached the acceptance stage:

The puzzler of the night, to me, is why Clinton refused to answer a simple question that she clearly has an answer to: And that is: Is Barack Obama ready to be commander in chief? Clearly — the answer, for Clinton, is “yes.” It’s her best argument against him. But twice she avoided it and instead recapitulated her own resume.

At this point, she has nothing to lose by making that argument. The fact that she did not suggests to me that she is thinking, already, about life as a Senator from New York supporting Barack Obama and did not want to give John McCain the soundbite that could doom Obama’s candidacy. I don’t think she’s conceded the nomination in her mind, but I do think she had two temporal audiences in mind when she answered: Democrats now and the nation in the fall.

For that moment of statesmanship, Clinton deserves commendation. I really worried that she would refuse to accept defeat; that she would make things ugly for Obama and the Democratic Party. Instead, she chose the high road last night.

Thus she earned her standing ovation. At her best, Clinton was worthy of the nomination — as Obama surely is.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jack
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 10:20:08

    I like Obama, but I can’t get behind him as POTUS. The following is from a column by Robert Samuelson.

    The subtext of Obama’s campaign is that his own life narrative — to become the first African American president, a huge milestone in the nation’s journey from slavery — can serve as a metaphor for other political stalemates. Great impasses can be broken with sufficient goodwill, intelligence and energy. “It’s not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white,” he says. Along with millions of others, I find this a powerful appeal.

    But on inspection, the metaphor is a mirage. Repudiating racism is not a magic cure-all for the nation’s ills. The task requires independent ideas, and Obama has few. If you examine his agenda, it is completely ordinary, highly partisan, not candid and mostly unresponsive to many pressing national problems.

    By Obama’s own moral standards, Obama fails. Americans “are tired of hearing promises made and 10-point plans proposed in the heat of a campaign only to have nothing change,” he recently said. Shortly thereafter he outlined an economic plan of at least 12 points that, among other things, would:

    • Provide a $1,000 tax cut for most two-earner families ($500 for singles).

    • Create a $4,000 refundable tuition tax credit for every year of college.

    • Expand the child-care tax credit for people earning less than $50,000 and “double spending on quality after-school programs.”

    • Enact an “energy plan” that would invest $150 billion in 10 years to create a “green energy sector.”

    Whatever one thinks of these ideas, they’re standard goody-bag politics: something for everyone. They’re so similar to many Clinton proposals that her campaign put out a news release accusing Obama of plagiarizing. With existing budget deficits and the costs of Obama’s “universal health plan,” the odds of enacting his full package are slim.

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Mar 03, 2008 @ 20:46:06

    • Jack:
    I wonder what you think of McCain’s cozy relationship with Rev. Hagee.

    Reply

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