It is the most amazing thing that a young black man who was just a few short years ago unknown to most of his countrymen—really, unknown—could, this week, win the presidential nomination of one of our two great political parties. It is even more amazing that this historic news could be overshadowed by the personal drama and spite of the woman who lost to him.
I like it that she spent the campaign accusing America of being sexist, of treating her differently because she is a woman, and then, when she lacked the grace to congratulate the victor, she sent her stewards out to tell the press she just needs time, it’s so emotional. In other words, she needs space because she’s a woman.
A friend sent, by instant message, the AP flash that ran at 16:56 ET on 06-03-2008. There it was suddenly on my screen:
* * *WASHINGTON (AP)—Obama clinches Democratic nomination, making him first black candidate to lead his party.”
A great old-school bulletin, and of course it carried a huge and moving message. It is good when barriers fall; it’s good when possibilities seem to open up to more people, especially the young, who are always watching. (That’s what’s wrong with them, they’re always watching, and we’re always doing terrible things, like, say, not congratulating the winner on the night he won.)
But what I thought of when the friend sent the flash was something another friend told me months ago. It was the night Mr. Obama won Alabama. My friend was watching on TV, in his suburban den. His 10-year-old daughter walked in, looked, saw “Obama Wins” and “Alabama.” She said, “Daddy, we saw a documentary on Martin Luther King Day in school.” She said, “That’s where they used the hoses.” Suddenly my friend saw it new. That’s the place they used the water hoses on the civil rights marchers crossing the bridge. And now look. The black man thanking Alabama for his victory.
What kind of place makes a change like this? Only a great nation. We should love it tenderly every day of our lives.
* * *
We will hear a lot of tasteful tributes this weekend to Hillary Clinton’s grit and fortitude. The Washington-based media may go a little over the top, but only out of relief. They know her well and recoil at what she stands for. They also know they don’t like her, so to balance it out they’ll gush.
But this I believe is the truth: America dodged a bullet. That was the other meaning of the culminating events of this week.
Mrs. Clinton would have been a disaster as president. Mr. Obama may prove a disaster, and John McCain may, but she would be. Mr. Obama may lie, and Mr. McCain may lie, but she would lie. And she would have brought the whole rattling caravan of Clintonism with her—the scandal-making that is compulsive, the drama that is unending, the sheer, daily madness that is her, and him.
We have been spared this. Those who did it deserve to be thanked. May I rise in a toast to the Democratic Party.
They had a great and roaring fight, a state-by-state struggle unprecedented in the history of presidential primaries. They created the truly national primary. They brought 36 million people to the polls, including the young, minorities and first-time voters. They brought a kind of dogged brio to the year.
All of this is impressive, but more than that, they threw off Clintonism. They threw off the idea that corruption is part of the game, an acceptable fact. They threw off the idea that dynasticism was an unstoppable dynamic in modern politics, that Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton could, would, go on forever. They said: “No, that is not the way we do it.”
They threw off the idea of inevitability. Mrs. Clinton didn’t lose because she had no money or organization, she didn’t lose because she had no fame or name, she didn’t lose because her policies were unusual or dramatically unpopular within her party. She lost because enough Democrats looked at her and thought: I don’t like that, I don’t like the way she does it, I’m not going there. Most candidates lose over things, not over their essential nature. But that is what happened here. For all her accomplishments and success, it was her sketchy character that in the end did her in.
But the voters had to make the decision. So, to the Democrats: A nod. A bow. Well done.
May this mark the beginning of the remoralization of a great party.
* * *
Should he make her his vice president? He shouldn’t, and he won’t.
The only ones who could force him to do it are party elders, and they don’t like Mrs. Clinton. They’re the ones who finally forced her from the race. Their antipathy was not apparent when she was inevitable. It is obvious now.
She would never be content to be vice president. She’d be plotting against him from day one. She’d put poison in his tea.
She brings Bill.
She undercuts the cleanness of Obama’s message. She doesn’t turn the page, she is the page.
She would give Republicans something to get excited about. She will revivify them. They’re not excited about Mr. McCain, but they could become excited about opposing her.
Her presence on the ticket would force the party to have two breakthrough moments when a rule of political life, and life in general, is: one breakthrough at a time.
He doesn’t need her. He needs a boring white man. Because he’s an interesting black man. He needs a sober, experienced, older establishment player who will be respected by the press, the first responders of the political game. They’ll set the tone in which the choice is celebrated, or not. He needs someone like Sam Nunn. Or, actually, Sam Nunn. He could throw a wild pass at Jim Webb because he has a real-guy, Southern, semi-working-class persona, and a Scots-Irish grit and chippiness. He is from important Virginia, has Vietnam boots and is moderate.
Choosing Mrs. Clinton would make Mr. Obama look weak. No one would believe he picked her because he respected or liked her. They’d think he was appeasing her. This is not something he can afford! And in any case some people cannot be appeased. Voters would assume she and her people did their voodoo—I have 18 million voters!—and he fell for it. She doesn’t have 18 million voters, she got 18 million votes. It is telling the way she thinks of them, as if they are working-class automatons awaiting her command.
As for reports of their rage, there are always dead-enders, and frantic lovers of this candidate or that. This goes under the larger heading “lonely people.” But there’s reason to think, and some Democratic insiders do think it, that a lot of the supposed pro-Clinton furor is ginned up on Web sites by the Clinton campaign, and even manufactured by the Clinton campaign, to prove Clinton loyalists are real and their demands must be met. In any case, you can see how Mrs. Clinton views her supposed working-class heroes by what she is doing with them now: using them as a bargaining chip to get whatever she wants.
Democrats this year have the winning fever, and Democrats will come out. By November they will be united.
Also, he doesn’t like her. He recoils. Just like his party.