Politics & Policy

Hillary, Supporting Actress

There was a reason Sen. Hillary Clinton won Democratic primaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky (the last two by landslides). And the reason was: She connected better with the working class and offered the prospect of more responsible, substantive leadership and a more assertive foreign policy than her inexperienced and sometimes lighter-than-air opponent, Sen. Barack Obama.

Those positions won her 18 million votes and put her in a virtual tie with Obama for the Democratic popular vote. And even though Clinton’s supporters are often portrayed as women of a certain age — die-hard feminists determined to elect the first woman president — the fact is that those 18 million votes represented the entire spectrum of the Democratic electorate. And that includes a lot of moderates.

Of course, it wasn’t enough. Taking full advantage of Clinton’s disastrous decision to ignore smaller caucus states, Obama won the nomination. But now, with all of the hoopla surrounding Sen. Clinton’s speech to the Democratic National Convention tonight, we are hearing much about the divisions within the party that remain from the nomination battle.

There are a couple of things to say about this. One, although no one should ever underestimate Bill Clinton’s capacity to discover new slights (the latest is that he doesn’t like the theme he’s been assigned for his speech), Republicans shouldn’t get their hopes up for a lot of Clinton-Obama fireworks. Part of what is going on is that the press is setting up the Democrats to beat expectations. Indeed, reports are already circulating of a deal on the roll-call vote that would cut it short and have Obama nominated by acclamation.

Two, Republicans shouldn’t spend too much time on the alleged personal mistreatment of Hillary. She doesn’t matter. Her most gettable voters for McCain are not owned by her; they are not even personally committed to her. The punditocracy is paying the most attention to the disaffected Hillary loyalists, especially the women. But outside the boundaries of Denver’s Pepsi Center — and the ranks of the rechristened People United Means Action — there are all those other Hillary voters out there who didn’t vote for her because she was a woman, but they worried that Obama is weak, inexperienced, and extreme.

It’s hard to say exactly, but it appears that about one quarter of Mrs. Clinton’s voters have not, or at least have not yet, decided to support Obama. Some of them probably never will. Where are they going to go? Perhaps they’ll choose to stay home on Nov. 4. But for those who are determined to vote and who were — to take one example — appalled by Obama’s willingness to meet the world’s most notorious and anti-American dictators without preconditions, McCain is a real alternative. For those who worried about Obama’s inexperience, McCain is a real alternative. And for those who were put off by the vaporousness of “change we can believe in,” McCain is a real alternative.

If Obama is going to win these voters, he’s going to have to avoid his party’s worst excesses on social issues, sound tougher on foreign policy, and be more convincing on the economy. Hillary can’t help him with any that, although he would do well to learn from her primary campaign. Hillary is in the position to be the focus of so much attention tonight for a reason.

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