Last night, Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in North Carolina by a hefty 14 percentage points, and squeaked out a tiny victory by only 2 points in Indiana, which was too close to call until after 1 a.m. She had been hoping to close the gap in North Carolina - indeed, polls going into the primary had shown her doing just that - and to take Indiana decisively. She did neither.
The various pundits have declared the race is basically over. As Tim Russert put it,
"'We now know who the Democratic nominee’s going to be, and no one’s going to dispute it,' he said on MSNBC. 'Those closest to her will give her a hard-headed analysis, and if they lay it all out, they’ll say: ‘What is the rationale? What do we say to the undeclared super delegates tomorrow? Why do we tell them you’re staying in the race?’ And tonight, there’s no good answer for that.'"
Obama and Clinton both made speeches last night that had a certain indication of moving beyond the primaries. Both pledged to support "whoever" got the nomination. This was heartening. Hillary had cancelled her morning television appearances, so it seemed she would be thinking long and hard about whether to continue fighting, especially after having to loan her campaign money in order to keep going.
But no. Today's newspapers declare "Clinton Pledges to Fight On."
"'I’m staying in this race until there is a nominee, and obviously I’m going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee,' Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference in Shepherdstown, W.Va., where she flew in a last-minute change of plans Wednesday."
But her own campaign officials realize that even if all the delegates from disputed primaries in Michigan and Florida were seated at the Democratic convention, Mrs. Clinton would still not have enough delegates to clinch the presidential nomination; she would still be about 100 delegates short.
So what is the point of continuing? Is it so she can go out on a positive note by winning a couple of the smaller states that remain and are likely to go her way? Is it to be able to make a case that she should be Obama's running mate as VP? Or to garner a position in an Obama cabinet? Is she actually delusional and really thinks she can still win?
I am not heartless; I know how disappointing it must feel to her, after all this work and all this effort, to come up short at the end, with a newcomer like Obama stealing her show. But the people are speaking, and they are saying they want something new, a new outlook, a new paradigm. Maybe Obama isn't perfect, as he himself said in his victory speech. But he is trying to do something different. In his own words:
"Yes, we know what's coming. I'm not naive. We've already seen it, the same names and labels they always pin on everyone who doesn't agree with all their ideas, the same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives, by pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy, in the hopes that the media will play along.
The attempts to play on our fears and exploit our differences, to turn us against each other for political gain, to slice and dice this country into red states and blue states, blue collar and white collar, white, black, brown, young, old, rich, poor...
... this is the race we expect, no matter whether it's myself or Senator Clinton who is the nominee. The question then is not what kind of campaign they will run; it's what kind of campaign we will run.
It's what we will do to make this year different. You see, I didn't get into this race thinking that I could avoid this kind of politics, but I am running for president because this is the time to end it.
We will end it -- we will end it this time not because I'm perfect. I think we know at this phase of the campaign that I am not.
We will end it not by duplicating the same tactics and the same strategies as the other side, because that will lead us down the same path of polarization and of gridlock.
We will end it by telling the truth.
We will end it by telling the truth forcefully, repeatedly, confidently, and by trusting that the American people will embrace the need for change, even if it's coming from an imperfect messenger, because that's how we've always changed this country, not from the top down, but from the bottom up, when you, the American people, decide that the stakes are too high and the challenges are too great."
These are the reasons that Obama continues to bring out new voters, to get them to come to the polls. I'm not saying he and Hillary Clinton don't have similar visions for the improvements they want to see in this country. But how they get there are very different. And people are tired of the old way.
David Brooks had an interesting column in the NY Times the other day, comparing their two world views. He sees Obama and Clinton as having two conflicting views of how to get things done: "Combat vs. Composure."
"Thoughtful and conversational, he doesn’t seem to possess the trait that Clinton has: automatically assuming that critics are always wrong.
Obama still possesses his talent for homeostasis, the ability to return to emotional balance and calm, even amid hysteria. His astounding composure has come across as weakness in the midst of combat with Clinton, but it’s also at the core of his promise to change politics. He vows to calm hatred and heal division.
This contrast between combat and composure defines the Democratic race. The implicit Clinton argument is that politics is an inherently nasty business. Human nature, as she said Sunday, means that progress comes only through conquest. You’d better elect a leader who can intimidate. You’d better elect someone who has given herself permission to be brutal.
Obama’s campaign grows out of the longstanding reform tradition. His implicit argument is that politics doesn’t have to be this way. Dishonesty and brutality aren’t inevitable; they’re what gets in the way. Obama’s friend and supporter Cass Sunstein described the Obama ideal in The New Republic: 'Obama believes that real change usually requires consensus, learning and accommodation.'"
Brooks concludes with:
"...amid the storms of the presidency, their basic worldviews would shape their presidencies. Obama is instinctively a conversationalist and community-mobilizer. Clinton, as she says, will fight and fight. If elected, she’ll have the power to take the Hobbesian struggle she perceives, and turn it into remorseless reality."
This is what the voters are realizing, and that is why, when they go to the polls, many are not giving their votes to Hillary Clinton. It's a pervasive feeling that if she wins, this rancor and fighting will go on and on. People are tired of it. Yes, Obama fought back against Hillary when he was attacked; I'm not saying he didn't play the game a bit himself. But it wouldn't have been necessary if she hadn't gone on the offensive in the first place. It isn't his nature to be that way. But it is hers.
Maureen Dowd also had some comments about Obama and Clinton, questioning whether Hillary has sold her soul for the White House prize.
"It’s hard to believe that this Hillary is the same Wellesley girl who said she yearned for a more 'ecstatic and penetrating mode of living.' What would that young Hillary — who volunteered on Gene McCarthy’s anti-war campaign; who cried the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed;...who once returned a bottle of perfume after feeling guilty about the poverty around her — think of this shape-shifting, cynical Hillary?
She’s so at odds with who she used to be, even in the Senate, that if she were to get elected, who would voters be electing?
...As she makes a last frenzied and likely futile attempt to crush the butterfly, it’s as though she’s crushing the remnants of her own girlish innocence."
I think even Hillary's ardent supporters would admit that Hillary has run the gamut of methods to try to win the White House, and these have included saying or doing whatever it takes to get there. Dowd asks the same question I had asked not long ago; if she were to be elected, who would she be?
I think it's time for her to realize that, no matter how hard you try, you can't always get what you want. If Hillary truly wants to help the country and prevent John McCain from "serving out Bush's third term," as Barack Obama said, she needs to do the noble thing and stand aside and support Obama. No, it isn't fair. Yes, she had the experience, she had the bona fides, the credentials, the grit and intelligence. But she is not winning. He is.
If she wants to maintain her standing in the Democratic Party, and have a good chance of an important position in the new administration, it is time to unite the party and move forward. If she really wants universal health care, if she really wants to help the American people, now is the time to help Obama rather than continue to fight a useless and divisive fight. Because now the tide is turning against her and she can only cause harm if she continues.
John McCain is waiting in the wings. He has already announced his intention to appoint conservative "strict constructionist" judges to the courts, including up to three possible Supreme Court nominees. The future of our country depends on defeating him. Now is the time for Hillary Clinton to look at the bigger picture. As Humphrey Bogart said in "Casablanca,"
"I'm not good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three [or two!] little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."
It's time for Hillary to make that speech and gracefully step aside.