I watched Hillary Clinton’s speech with a mixture of fascination and repulsion. It was, as everyone knew it would be, all about her. She did not say one positive thing about Barack Obama, except that Democrats should unite to support him. She said “unite” but the placards in the audience all said “Hillary.” They should have said “Obama.” What matters in the television age is not the words but the images on the screen, and the images reinforced the reality of division in the Democratic party. It was a big-time speech, brilliantly written to highlight her and to shunt Obama to the background, and brilliantly delivered. She got straight to the point: “My friends, I stand before you as a proud mother, a proud Democrat, a proud senator from New York, a proud American, and a proud supporter of Barack Obama.” During the applause, the camera focused on Michelle. Her face said she wasn’t buying it. “Whether you voted for me”–look who came first–“or for Barack Obama, my friends, it is time to take back the country we love. We must unite as a single party for a single purpose. This is a fight for the future and it is a fight we must win together.” And that was pretty much the end of the unity part of the speech. Then came the Hillary part. And, for most of the the rest of her time, there wasn’t any other part. She did say a few things about Obama: * We need to elect Barack Obama because we need a president who understands that America can’t compete in the global economy by padding the pockets of energy speculators while ignoring the workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. We need a president who understands that we can’t solve the problems of global warming by giving windfall profits to the oil companies while ignoring opportunities to invest in the new technologies that will build a green economy. * We need a president who understands that the genius of America has always depended on the strength and vitality of the middle class. * Barack Obama began his career fighting for workers displaced by the global economy. He built his campaign on a fundamental belief that change in this country must start from the ground up, not the top down. And he knows government must be about “We the people” not “We the favored few.” * And when Barack Obama is in the White House, he’ll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our time. Democrats know how to do this. As I recall, we did it before with President Clinton and the Democrats. And if we do our part, we’ll do it again with President Obama and the Democrats. There was more, but even here, she turned the spotlight on the Clintons. And there it stayed: 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. And she talked, on and on, about why SHE ran for president: “to renew the promise of America, to renew the American dream, to promote a clean energy economy, to create a health care system that is universal and affordable….” Then she said what I thought was her best line: “Most of all, I ran to stand up for all the people who were invisible to their government.” She mentioned a few of the people she had encountered: a cancer survivor who adopted two autistic children; a man in a Marine Corps T-shirt, and she said–another terrific line–“I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for [the people we were trying to help]. It will be impossible if we don’t elect Barack Obama.” I thought that the talking heads who gushed so effusively at Hillary’s speech forgot a basic rule of evaluating political oratory: Don’t just look at what they say. Look at what they don’t say. And what Hillary didn’t say was that Barack Obama was ready to be president. This was the point of her 3 a.m. ad telephone call ad, and this is the point that the Republicans have been making. It’s fair game, of course, when she is running for president against him, but when she is speaking to the nation, supposedly on his behalf, this was the time to say the magic words. She didn’t say them. And this was duly noted by the Republicans, who made much of the omission on the Larry King show. She did throw some pretty good zingers McCain’s way, after describing him as “my friend”–an appellation she did not apply to Obama: Now, John McCain is my colleague and my friend. He has served our country with honor and courage. But we don’t need four more years of the last eight years. More economic stagnation and less affordable health care. More high gas prices and less alternative energy. More jobs getting shipped overseas and fewer jobs created here at home. More skyrocketing debt and home foreclosures and mounting bills that are crushing our middle class families. More war and less diplomacy. More of a government where the privileged come first and everyone else comes last. Well, John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn’t think that 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. Now, with an agenda like that, it makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart. At the end of her speech, she exhorted the crowd to follow the lead of Harriet Tubman, who before the Civil War helped lead runaway slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they’re shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going. And even in the darkest of moments, that is what Americans have done. We have found the faith to keep going. I’ve seen it . I’ve seen it in our teachers and firefighters, nurses and police officers, small business owners and union workers, I’ve seen it in the men and women of our military. In America, you always keep going. This was the metaphor for the Clintons themselves. They always keep going. They never quit. That was Hillary’s real message. She’ll be back.
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