Hillary Clinton needed to deliver the speech of her career last night. She needed to deliver the message that not only had she accepted the fact that Barack Obama was her Party’s nominee, but that she was also willing – no, more than willing – excited to endorse and fully support him. Hillary Clinton needed to deliver the message to her supporters that not only was she fully behind Barack Obama, but that anyone who claimed to support Hillary but refused to support Barack Obama is a traitor to her Party and to the ideals for which Hillary Clinton stands. That is the outline for the speech Hillary Clinton needed to deliver last night. That speech must be made by any fallen candidate in favor of the victor. That is the speech that Ronald Reagan failed to deliver for Gerald Ford in 1976, with disastrous results for the Republican Party.
Would Hillary Clinton deliver that speech? The question hung through the thick air in the Pepsi Center like shrapnel the moment after a grenade explosion as Senator Clinton approached the podium. The tension seemed embodied by Michelle Obama’s clinched lips as she stood to give an ovation to Senator Clinton. Clinton would waste no time giving her answer. Standing in front of a sea of “HillaryClinton.com” banners, Senator Clinton cheerfully exclaimed: “I’m here tonight as a proud mother, as a proud democrat, a proud Senator from New York, a proud American AND A PROUD SUPPORTER OF BARACK OBAMA!” She went on to deliver a speech that not only hit on all the necessary points, but that did so with the fervor of an Army general rallying his troops to battle for a cause – and for a person – that that general truly believes in.
With her husband standing in awe and admiration, and on the verge of tears, Senator Clinton struck the chord of unity and of victory both frequently and forcefully. Immediately dispensing with the suggestion that she might “pull a Reagan” at this Convention, Senator Clinton said:
I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches, advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women’s rights here at home and around the world to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise of a country that really fulfills the hopes of our people. And you haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months or endured the last eight years to suffer through more failed leadership.
“No way, no how, no McCain!” She then, a mere three minutes into her speech, and after declaring that “Barack Obama is my candidate, and he must be our president”, delivered to her more ardent supporters – whom she affectionately referred to as “the sisterhood of the travelling pantsuits” – the intro to a powerful soliloquy she would come with later, channeling President Clinton’s oft quoted statement that “during the primaries you fall in love; during the general election you fall in line.” She asked her supporters to “remember what a presidential election is really about.” Then, in case her supporters’ collective recollections were faulty, Senator Clinton stated it bluntly: “I will always remember the single mom who had adopted two kids with autism. She didn’t have any health insurance, and she discovered she had cancer…. I will always remember the young man in a Marine Corps T-shirt who waited months for medical care…. And I will always remember the young boy who told me his mom worked for the minimum wage, [and that] he just didn’t know what his family was going to do.”
I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that young boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?
Turning her sights to John McCain, whom she described as a “friend and colleague”, Senator Clinton sounded a very clear signal that the Democrats were taking the gloves of and engaging the Republicans in a much needed dog fight on the issues. After listing a mere sample of Bush’s failed policies, which include “money borrowed from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis”, Senator Clinton shouted a roll call of John McCain’s finer points of disconnect with the American people, with the audience emphatically shouting NO!!” after every item on her list: (1) more economic stagnation and less affordable health care; (2) more high gas prices and less alternative energy; (3) more jobs getting shipped overseas and fewer jobs created here at home; (4) more skyrocketing debt, and home foreclosures, and mounting bills that are crushing middle-class families; (4) more war and less diplomacy; (5) more of a government where the privileged few come first and everyone else comes last.
John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn’t think 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And in 2008, he still thinks it’s OK when women don’t earn equal pay for equal work.
Contrasting Obama’s platform with McCain’s, and symbolically throwing the weight of her political power and of her millions of supporters behind Obama, Senator Clinton trumpeted the policies put forward by her former rival:
When Barack Obama’s in the white house, he’ll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our times…. And we know that President Obama will end the war in Iraq responsibly, bring our troops home, and begin to repair our alliances around the world.
Leaving no stone unturned, she also co-opted the message that Obama will fight for working people (“Barack obama began his career fighting for workers displaced by the global economy”), praised Michelle Obama (“Anyone who saw Michelle’s speech last night knows she will be a great first lady for America”) and threw her support behind Joe Biden, whom she described as a “strong leader, a good man who understands both the economic stresses here at home and the strategic challenges abroad.”
She ended her speech by turning again to her supporters and to anyone thinking about sitting on the sidelines or casting a retaliatory vote for John McCain, saying:
We don’t have a moment to lose or a vote to spare…. I want you to think about your children and grandchildren come Election Day…. We’ve got to ensure that the choice we make in this election honors the sacrifices of all who came before us and will fill the lives of our children with possibility and hope.
Yes, she delivered. As she progressed through her speech, I fully believed that Senator Clinton had come to terms with her primary loss and that she would rather see Barack Obama elected in 2008 than see herself elected in 2012. Senator Clinton delivered a message that was so strongly pro Obama and pro Democrat, and that was so utterly believable, the no one can now doubt her support for Obama and that no Clinton supporter can now legitimately say he or she will not support Barack Obama.
The full breadth of Clinton’s support will be put to the test tonight, however, when her name is symbolically called for party nomination and all delegates commence a roll call vote for either Clinton or Obama. It remains to be seen whether Clinton will acquiesce to her supporters’ demand for a full roll call, resulting in national evidence of a fractured party, or whether Clinton will, as some have suggested, stop the roll call at New York’s delegates by casting her own vote for Barack Obama and calling for unanimous nomination of Obama from the convention floor. The roll call vote, as well as President Clinton’s speech, will come today.
Here is a transcript of Senator Clinton’s speech.