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It's All About Me By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How can a self-congratulation double as a paean to someone else? That was the question observers asked of Hillary Clinton’s bout of rhetorical self-preoccupation last night. Her speech, bumped out of primetime at the last minute, had been billed as the speech that would close party ranks around Obama and end the most fractious primary debate in decades. But as usual, the Clintons looked out for themselves above all.

This proved unfortunate for Barack Obama, who is yet to score any discernable bounce after Monday's widely panned convention kickoff. According to the latest Rasmussen tracking poll, Obama and McCain remain tied at 44 percent as of Tuesday morning; Gallup gave McCain a slight edge. Furthermore: 

Obama is supported by 78 percent of Democrats while McCain gets the vote from 85 percent of Republicans. The GOP hopeful also has a slight advantage among unaffiliated voters. 

Worried Democrats looked to Hillary Clinton to come to the rescue on Tuesday night. However, in a National Journal poll of “Democratic insiders” that day, only 52 percent felt confident that Clinton would deliver a gracious address designed to unite the party. One conservative pundit blogged Tuesday morning: 

This is a dream come true for Hillary, no? She gets her big moment tonight with two major national polls pointing squarely at the idea that she should have been named VP and that she, perhaps, alone can deliver the election to the Dems by rallying the PUMAs. 

“PUMA.” That’s the Hillary loyalists’ adopted moniker, standing for “Party Unity My A**.” Almost a third of them say they’ll vote for McCain this November rather than Obama. The PUMAs are considered the convention’s wild card, too; rumors have swirled for weeks that they’ll stage an embarrassing pro-Hillary stunt on live TV, perhaps during the nomination itself. "It seems to be a little more of a problem than I anticipated," admitted Democratic Party chairman Don Fowler just hours before Hillary Clinton stepped behind the podium. "All you need is 200 people in that crowd to boo and stuff like that and it will be replayed 900 times. And that's not what you want out of this."

At least an undisciplined floor demonstration might improve the ratings. Meagan McArdle blogged the bad news about Day One at TheAtlantic.com: 

According to Nielsen, none of you are watching the conventions.  An even lower none than in 2004, which was itself a dramatic decline from the lackluster ratings of 2000.  And why would you?  You could replace all the speeches with the following template:

Blather, blather, blather, American dream, blather, blather, hard working American families, blather, blather, future, blather, blather, anecdote about how the candidate comes from a hardworking American family, blather... 

Arguably Hillary’s most formidable supporter, her husband and former President Bill Clinton, definitely didn’t follow that tedious “blather” template on Tuesday afternoon, and it may come back to haunt them. Mr. Clinton doesn’t officially address the delegates until tomorrow; it was his unscripted remarks to an international affairs forum that made news yesterday afternoon: 

He said: "Suppose you're a voter, and you've got candidate X and candidate Y. Candidate X agrees with you on everything, but you don't think that candidate can deliver on anything at all. Candidate Y you agree with on about half the issues, but he can deliver. Which candidate are you going to vote for?"

 Then, perhaps mindful of how his off-the-cuff remarks might be taken, Clinton added after a pause: "This has nothing to do with what's going on now." 

Protests aside, that hypothetical musing was clearly aimed at Obama, whose supporters have complained about the Clintons’ tepid support, if not outright disrespect, for the presumptive nominee:

Throughout the 2008 primary season and beyond, Clinton has made no secret of his exasperation with Obama’s success. He called Obama’s anti-Iraq war message a “fairy tale,” and after facing accusations that he had played the “race card” in the run-up to the South Carolina primary, Clinton later accused the Obama campaign of “playing the race card on me.” When asked in a recent ABC-TV interview if Obama was ready to be president, Clinton replied: “You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president.” 

Hillary Clinton, in turn, energized her loyal supporters throughout the campaign by almost any means necessary, arousing sympathy from them (and ridicule from others) with her famous on-camera crying jag, for example. It doesn’t help that a new McCain campaign ad replays Hillary Clinton’s stinging dismissal of her one-time opponent for the nomination:

"I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002." 

Clinton wasn’t above playing the sex card, either: for millions of women, Republican and Democratic alike, the prospect of electing the first female President evoked powerful emotions. A deferred dream that compelling won’t die after a single speech by Hillary Clinton, no matter how brilliantly crafted and delivered. And this speech was cultivated to do anything but bury them. 

Take two battling personality cults nursing simmering resentments about money and power, add mostly unspoken (perhaps even subconscious) divisions related to sex and race, and the result is a potentially explosive situation. The word “unity” doesn’t fit comfortably in that equation.

In the end, Hillary Clinton valiantly squeezed that word in more than once, and put on a fairly convincing show of sincerity, complete with a little self-deprecating humor. But the focus remained on her own accomplishments, and her hopes for the country, rather than the personality and platform of the nominee.

Clinton stepped onto the stage clad in a startling neon orange pantsuit, and received a passionate ovation. A tearful Bill Clinton repeatedly mouthed the words “I love you” from his box high above the crowd. Hillary Clinton drew another round of applause by describing herself as “a proud supporter of Barack Obama.” She bracketed her praise for the presumptive nominee with tame, generic political boilerplate about “teamwork” and “opportunity.”

“Barack Obama is my candidate, and he must be our president,” Clinton concluded. But he barely rated a mention beyond that. Clinton briefly attacked the other ticket – the one she had praised during the primaries – trying out a somewhat awkward new slogan: “No way, no how, no McCain” and taking a pointed jab at “a Supreme Court in a right-wing headlock” (whatever that might be). An Obama presidency on the other hand will deliver “millions of green collar jobs,” “universal, high quality health care,” “make college affordable again,” and “promoting unionization.”

Missing in all of this was any discussion of the candidate’s character, the experiences that made him uniquely qualified to run the government, or a perfunctory call for her delegates to vote for him instead of her during the nomination roll call.

Instead, Hillary's speech dwelled on her own campaign, her hopes and dreams, and how Barack Obama frequently agreed with her prescriptions for America. She included a number of anecdotes about herself, including a touching story about a cancer stricken woman who greeted her with the word “Hillary” “painted on her bald head.” In fact, she mentioned the deceased leader of the Arkansas Democratic Party and a relatively obscure Ohio Congresswoman before spending much time on the star of the convention, the man she was allegedly urging her voters to support in November.

The speech only hit its stride when discussing – wait for it – Hillary. The most stirring sections of Clinton’s address likened Hillary ’08 to Underground Railroad conductors and suffragettes, harkening back to the historical accomplishments of Harriet Tubman and the women’s rights proponents of Seneca Falls. (Naturally, Clinton neglected to mention that Tubman was a registered Republican, as were many early feminists.)

The crowd tried to make the best of the Hillary 2012 campaign. As she spoke, tall vertical signs throughout the rapturous crowd read “OBAMA” on one side and “UNITY” on the other. With their bold capital letters and sheer enormity, the signs seemed more like a totalitarian order than a friendly call to come together. On Tuesday night at any rate, the assembled Democrats seemed ready to follow orders. If there was an outburst, the cameras didn’t catch it. But nearly 18 million Clinton voters weren’t at the convention last night, and their reaction to Hillary’s speech remains to be seen.

Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.

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