Hillary Clinton’s concession speech had all the elements of the Clinton speechmaking tradition: She showed up late, the speech was long, the historic struggles of the poor and the oppressed were made to relate to the Clintons’ personal ambitions. Nevertheless, it was the speech many people were expecting Tuesday night. It was reasonably well delivered and, for Hillary, gracious in parts. Although the litany of good things that would happen if we elected another Democratic president — “Elect Barack Obama!” — sounded hectoring by the end, it was a strong endorsement of Obama that I think might help some of the Hillary dead-enders come to terms with her defeat.
Obama’s nomination and Clinton’s near-nomination are indeed historically significant and likely to inspire millions of blacks and women across America. Yet Clinton sometimes unwittingly played up the African American/woman alternative in a way that showed how much the Democratic Party has become a squabblng set of identity-politics interest groups. Reinstating the Clinton dynasty is Good for Women.
The crowd looked less Republican than the one watching her New York speech Tuesday: younger, more racially diverse, heavily female. Clinton alternated between celebrating her best shot at the presidential “glass ceiling” and trying to persuade these women that the causes they believed in would best be advanced by electing Obama. Aside from maybe some pitches on health care, there was relatively little that seemed aimed at the socially conservative white working-class voters who kept Clinton’s candidacy alive in the final round of primaries. Perhaps she will revert back to her roots as a McGovern Democrat after briefly playing a Hubert Humphrey Democrat.
While Hillary said of looking backward “don’t go there,” the Clintonites have to have some regrets given how close they came to another “Comeback Kid” story. If they had taken Obama seriously earlier, if they had organized in the caucus states, if they hadn’t allowed Obama to build an almost insurmountable delegate lead in February, if Florida hadn’t moved up its primary date — any of those “ifs” could have meant a victory speech rather than a concession. As liberal as Obama is, the Clintons’ setback is something conservatives should enjoy. But based on the tone of Hillary’s speech and Bill’s enthusiasm working the crowd afterward, I would bet that we haven’t heard the last of the Clintons.