Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Front Lines of Democracy

Well, this isn’t exactly the party I’d planned, but I sure like the company.

I want to start today by saying how grateful I am to all of you – to everyone who poured your hearts and your hopes into this campaign, who drove for miles and lined the streets waving homemade signs, who scrimped and saved to raise money, who knocked on doors and made calls, who talked and sometimes argued with your friends and neighbors, who emailed and contributed online, who invested so much in our common enterprise, to the moms and dads who came to our events, who lifted their little girls and little boys on their shoulders and whispered in their ears, “See, you can be anything you want to be.”

To the young people like 13 year-old Ann Riddle from Mayfield, Ohio who had been saving for two years to go to Disney World, and decided to use her savings instead to travel to Pennsylvania with her Mom and volunteer there as well. To the veterans and the childhood friends, to New Yorkers and Arkansans who traveled across the country and telling anyone who would listen why you supported me.

To all those women in their 80s and their 90s born before women could vote who cast their votes for our campaign. I’ve told you before about Florence Steen of South Dakota, who was 88 years old, and insisted that her daughter bring an absentee ballot to her hospice bedside. Her daughter and a friend put an American flag behind her bed and helped her fill out the ballot. She passed away soon after, and under state law, her ballot didn’t count. But her daughter later told a reporter, “My dad’s an ornery old cowboy, and he didn’t like it when he heard mom’s vote wouldn’t be counted. I don’t think he had voted in 20 years. But he voted in place of my mom.”

To all those who voted for me, and to whom I pledged my utmost, my commitment to you and to the progress we seek is unyielding. You have inspired and touched me with the stories of the joys and sorrows that make up the fabric of our lives and you have humbled me with your commitment to our country.

18 million of you from all walks of life – women and men, young and old, Latino and Asian, African-American and Caucasian, rich, poor and middle class, gay and straight – you have stood strong with me. And I will continue to stand strong with you, every time, every place, and every way that I can. The dreams we share are worth fighting for.

Remember - we fought for the single mom with a young daughter, juggling work and school, who told me, “I’m doing it all to better myself for her.” We fought for the woman who grabbed my hand, and asked me, “What are you going to do to make sure I have health care?” and began to cry because even though she works three jobs, she can’t afford insurance. We fought for the young man in the Marine Corps t-shirt who waited months for medical care and said, “Take care of my buddies over there and then, will you please help take care of me?” We fought for all those who’ve lost jobs and health care, who can’t afford gas or groceries or college, who have felt invisible to their president these last seven years.

I entered this race because I have an old-fashioned conviction: that public service is about helping people solve their problems and live their dreams. I’ve had every opportunity and blessing in my own life – and I want the same for all Americans. Until that day comes, you will always find me on the front lines of democracy – fighting for the future.

This is how Hillary opened her speech. I provide the extended excerpt to put the anlysis that follows into context.

Some in the pro-Hillary blogosphere are disappointed that she didn't tell the bastards where to stick their Unity Pony, but our girl is both more decent and more politically savvy than us pontificators. She understands the ebb and flow of politics far better than we do. She and Bill have lost before and have come back stronger than ever. Others are even more disappointed that she promoted Obama so strongly. I see this, too, as an example of both her incredible ethical core and of her sharp political acumen. At this point in time, there is no advantage to her and (far more important to Hillary) no advantage to her constituents in being a "poor loser". In practical terms, she has suspended her campaign, has not released her delegates, and is ready for whatever the summer will bring. I anticipate that she and her partners in the party are gearing up for the un-sexy part of the campaign, the battle over platform planks, committee representation, and work on the byzantine rules that govern the operation of the party. That is a front line of democracy.

So, what is going on with this speech?

When I watched this speech, I realized that she was not so much stating her power as showing it. It was spoken by someone who has possession of power, not by someone acknowledging defeat. Read it. At no point does she say that she lost, was beaten, was defeated, not even the hoary old "the voters have spoken". She doesn't even bother with that. 18 million supporters. She talks about who supports her and who she is dedicated to. She makes clear that she has been the recipient of so much support for all the right reasons.

Hillary is the leader of half the Democratic Party. She knows it. The DNC knows it. She commands more loyalty of more people within the party than anyone else, including I strongly believe, the Big Dog himself. (Note to Bill - do not challenge Hillary for public office. You will not win.) This speech makes clear that neither she nor her backers are up for grabs. She calls them out by name, presents their stories, talks about their needs and aspirations, and then she says:

We all want an economy that sustains the American Dream, the opportunity to work hard and have that work rewarded, to save for college, a home and retirement, to afford that gas and those groceries and still have a little left over at the end of the month. An economy that lifts all of our people and ensures that our prosperity is broadly distributed and shared.

We all want a health care system that is universal, high quality, and affordable so that parents no longer have to choose between care for themselves or their children or be stuck in dead end jobs simply to keep their insurance. This isn’t just an issue for me – it is a passion and a cause – and it is a fight I will continue until every single American is insured – no exceptions, no excuses.

We all want an America defined by deep and meaningful equality – from civil rights to labor rights, from women’s rights to gay rights, from ending discrimination to promoting unionization to providing help for the most important job there is: caring for our families.

We all want to restore America’s standing in the world, to end the war in Iraq and once again lead by the power of our values, and to join with our allies to confront our shared challenges from poverty and genocide to terrorism and global warming.

This is what "we", Democrats, want, what we stand for. Those who will not stand up for this are found wanting. She just laid out the standards by which we should judge those who ask for our support. The health care statement for me was the clearest point - no exceptions, no excuses.

The speech also becomes a teaching moment. She shows exactly how the appeal to unify the party must be made. In her endorsement of Obama, at every step, she attaches conditions. Real relief to the struggling middle class. True independence from oil and real actions to combat global warming. Bringing our service men and women home with respect for their service and support for their needs. The biggest moment was her extended meditation on gender and what it means to be equal. She starts with a simple statement: I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us. She then describes concretely what it means for her that others have stood firm in the past, have refused to retreat in the face of defeat or to settle for half-measures, and makes clear the advances that have happened because of determination that it shall be so: "When you stumble, keep faith. When you’re knocked down, get right back up. And never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on. "

(Hmm, I wonder who she was talking about with those final words? I think I could more easily count who she was not speaking of. But I digress...)

After identifying who she represents and explaining what is needed to win over the trust and support of those constituencies, Hillary focuses on power:

You know, I’ve been involved in politics and public life in one way or another for four decades. During those forty years, our country has voted ten times for President. Democrats won only three of those times. And the man who won two of those elections is with us today.

We made tremendous progress during the 90s under a Democratic President, with a flourishing economy, and our leadership for peace and security respected around the world. Just think how much more progress we could have made over the past 40 years if we had a Democratic president. Think about the lost opportunities of these past seven years – on the environment and the economy, on health care and civil rights, on education, foreign policy and the Supreme Court. Imagine how far we could’ve come, how much we could’ve achieved if we had just had a Democrat in the White House.

This is as close as she came to smacking the power brokers in the DNC (and elsewhere) who decided that they just could not countenance her winning. Then again, she doesn't have to. She just needs to point out the ineluctable fact that Bill Clinton, the person they revile, held power for the party and made possible the opportunities to push forward the policies and measures to aide Democratic constituencies. This is what a successful Democratic presidency looks like. I wrote about this issue back in February - that the power of the office must be used proactively in the interests of Democratic agendas, no matter how the MSM and right wing noise machine howl.

And now we get to the heart of the matter. This speech was a concession speech only in a formal sense. Hillary has surrendered nothing. She is being gracious and is directly advocating all Democrats act in the interest of retaking the White House and creating the conditions under which we can seize those opportunities and benefit Democratic constituencies. Hillary has served notice that she will do everything within her power to make this happen.

If it fails, it is all on Obama's head. If he fails to heed her advice and pledge himself to fighting for the concrete material needs of Democratic constituencies, he will lose. If he tries to appease the Right rather than support the Left, he will lose. If he continues to disdain the messy, contradictory, not sufficiently PC particularity of the Democratic base, he will lose. And, should he fail, she will, without rancor and without revenge, pick up the pieces, go on with the fight and never surrender to the foes of democracy. She will always be on the front lines.

All of which is a very long way of getting to the point of this post. In the arguments about "unity", the question, united to what end?, does not get addressed. Or, rather, it is answered in one way only - that Hillary and her supporters need to stop their opposition and get behind Da Winnah.

What this speech does in its performance is provide the other part of the answer. The candidates view unity differently. Obama's calls for unity are for his sake, as supported by his admonition that his supporters should not think of themselves as Democrats or Republicans, but as Obamacans. Hillary's calls for unity are for our sakes, to achieve specific things that make our lives demonstrably better, from equal rights for all to economic sanity to sustainable energy. She does not threaten us with a defeat of Roe v. Wade, but asks us to consider how laws as such can be improved. (I also happen to know that she advocates a constitutional right to privacy, which is really what the Right is fighting against in Roe v. Wade, protection of citizen's privacy from state intrusion.)

With Hillary, unity of the party is for the sake of the constituents, the power to act on behalf of and in the interests others in very concrete ways. Her laundry list of objectives and initiatives so ridiculed by the press corps got people's attention because it addressed their needs and fears. It demonstrated to them that this was someone who gave a damn about their particular issues and really would try her hardest to fix what was broken and create what was missing.

With Obama, he falls into the usual trap of the Stevensonians, praising unity as such, considering it a good in and of itself, and not worrying too much about the messy, grubby, delivering the goods kind of politics that so upsets the technocrats. If we only reform the system and make it all rationalized and fair and formally equal, then what results will be satisfying to the public. Um, no. It is not, as some would have it, that Obama is some kind of false front, a crypto Libertarian/Republican/Communist/Black Nationalist/Islamacist/[Fill in your favorite crazy ass conspiracy boogey monster here] as much as that he does not make delivering the goods to the voters the center of his political cause. It is abstract, formal, reasssuring to those who are already on-board and doing OK, but simply cannot speak to the woman working three jobs and frantic for health insurance.

Hillary has put her claim upon power into a context no politician of any party since Bill has been able to do. I do this for you for these reasons and for this end. She has defined the purpose of the party to be this pledge, defending the front lines of democracy. She also pointed out that we have had this success before, in the 90s, and that the desire of one faction of the party to "move on" and deny the past fails to honor the promises made and the foundations laid during that time.

Finally, her admonition to her supporters not to dwell upon the "if only" or the "what if" can be taken equally well as a warning to her opponents who fantacize about a Left without the Clintons and their formidable powers. Don't go there. That will be the topic of my next post.



Shainzona said...

I couldn't watch HRC today. But I was "hoping" (how audacious of me!!) that she would knock it out of the park.

She did! As you paraphrase....

"Obama's calls for unity are for his sake, as supported by his admonition that his supporters should not think of themselves as Democrats or Republicans, but as Obamacans. Hillary's calls for unity are for our sakes, to achieve specific things that make our lives demonstrably better, from equal rights for all to economic sanity to sustainable energy."

That's what I - and 17,999,999 other Democrats - have seen this primary season. (Still cannot understand why Obama supporters don't recognize the difference!)

And that is what we are so committed to HRC.

Rise. Hillary. Rise (Please!)

Unknown said...

Right to the point. For months I've been replying to Obamacans when they state, 'But Obama can win. He will win!' with...

'Win what, pal?'

Put Hillary, put Obama and the inept DNC leadership aside and ask yourself:

'What does the Democratic Party want?' What is it telling the American People it wants to do for them. What does it stand for?

Can anyone answer that question?

Can you do it in a short punchy way? I can.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

I'm sure Hillary can too. But Obama and the DNC? Apparently not since the Republicans have been beating them like a drum for 40 years.

Time for a change alright. Time for policy people can believe in!

grayslady said...

Yesterday, a commenter at TalkLeft was complaining about having John Kerry as her senator, and how Kerry never responded to emails. Barack Obama is one of my senators, and, guess what--he never responds to emails. Compare this to Dick Durbin, my other senator, and a progressive in the mold of Hillary, who responds to every email or call with responses that are practically position papers. Here is a man who, like Hillary, cares about trying to do some good for the people he represents. Obama, once he got into office, showed that he couldn't care less about me, even though representing me is his job.

Kerry and Obama both come across as elitist/out-of-touch to voters for a reason. They think they can ignore the voters that they are supposed to represent without consequence, but voters pick up the signals, regardless of the rhetoric. In my case, I happen to know that Obama won't deliver, because I've seen that he can't even deliver at the state level. Your description of the calls for unity "for his sake" are exactly right. Sorry, I'm not buying: I already know from experience that I won't get my money's worth.

Pat Newcomb said...

What a powerful exegesis and explication of the care with which Hillary chose her words yesterday. She has read her history (and lived it too!) and has positioned herself to rise again. This commitment to our country's most sacred values and calling as the Great Experiment to provide the best quality of life to the greatest number of us is the mark of the true leader. I am a Clinton Democrat and proud of it.

speck said...

[Insert the usual thanks and praise here.]

Yes - the point of your essay,

The candidates view unity differently. Obama's calls for unity are for his sake, as supported by his admonition that his supporters should not think of themselves as Democrats or Republicans, but as Obamacans. Hillary's calls for unity are for our sakes, to achieve specific things that make our lives demonstrably better, from equal rights for all to economic sanity to sustainable energy.

has been one of the sticking points for me. (The witch-burning of Hillary Clinton is something else again.)

When we refer to Obama as an "empty suit," it may sound like a cheap insult, but the serious point in the epithet is well described above. Obamaism is hollow, empty of most things except faith in a particular person.

What then is to be done? With the suspension of Hillary's campaign, my work on electoral politics is over for now. In hopes of helping to fill the gaping hollow opening up in my (?) political party, I'm dedicating my energies to working for HR676 (single-payer health care). To me this is the best way to honor and support my candidate.

ascutema said...

Agreed with all, with the exception what DNC wants etc.etc.etc.
I think the DNC wants to perpetuate itself.