By MICHAEL A. COHEN From Nytimes.com/campaignstops Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.)
DENVER – “Know your audience.”
These are the first words drilled into the head of any budding speechwriter. Figure out who your audience is, then draft a set of remarks directly tailored to them. Last night Hillary Clinton offered all the young scribes out there a clinic in precisely how it is done. Speaking directly to her millions of former supporters who remain hesitant about voting for Barack Obama, her message was clear and unambiguous: Get over it and get on board the Obama bandwagon.
Last night’s address at the Pepsi Center was not only the most eagerly anticipated speech of the convention so far, but it was the most important. With Obama still showing weakness among some Democratic voters, he desperately needed a helping hand from Clinton in ensuring their support.
Anything less than an emphatic endorsement of his candidacy would have been seen by the pundit crowd as a sign of continued tension in Democratic ranks and might have been used as an excuse by committed Clinton supporters to stay home on Election Day. In the end, it’s hard to imagine Obama asking for much more then he received last night.
Hillary’s appeal to her voters was unusually direct: “Were you in this campaign just for me?” she pointedly asked. “Were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?”
There is practically a shaming element to these words: “How can you say you care about these issues and these people and not vote for Barack Obama?” Clinton made clear that a vote for John McCain over Obama would be not simply foolish, but a betrayal of Clinton herself and the issues that defined her candidacy. “Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose,” she insisted. “We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines ... 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 at home and around the world to see another Republican in the White House squander the promise of our country and the hopes of our people.”
What was most interesting about Clinton’s remarks is that she did not offer a personal endorsement of Obama; in other words she didn’t tell her supporters why her primary rival is necessarily qualified to be president or that she was wrong about some of the more striking attacks she made against him in the primaries. Indeed some pundits have continued to harp on this point and argue that it shows Clinton is not truly over her bitterness about losing the Democratic primary.
They’re right; this was no Democratic lovefest. But does anyone really think this was the way to the heart of a committed Clinton supporter? The Democratic primary was not an ideological struggle; it was a challenge of personality. And if a committed Democrat continues to express reservations about the party standard bearer – nearly three months after the last primary – it’s difficult to imagine that an endorsement of Obama based on his personal attributes would have had much impact. In fact, Clinton seemed to be indirectly suggesting in her remarks that even if you don’t like Barack Obama; even if you have to hold your nose as you cast your ballot on Election Day ... as the ad slogan says, Just Do It.
Instead of the arm around the shoulder approach to persuasion, Clinton chose the slap across the face. This wasn’t wide-eyed idealism; but gimlet-eyed pragmatism as she told the voters who supported her in no uncertain terms that their choice on Election Day is crystal clear:
“Before we can keep going, we have to get going by electing Barack Obama president. We don’t have a moment to lose or a vote to spare. Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hang in the balance.”
With words like these it is hard to imagine the rationale of any Clinton supporter who continues to oppose Barack Obama.
Aug. 27, 2008