The lady says all the right things. Bubba is saying some of the right things. They’re a hundred percent, maybe more, for Barack Obama.
But you have to be wary of politicians who offer one of those 100 percent promises of fierce, unshakable and enduring support. A hundred percent is 10 percent less than George McGovern promised Tom Eagleton in ‘72, just before he told him to drop dead.
What is becoming abundantly clear in Denver is that the Clintons, her no less than him, are not reconciled to turning the Clinton Party over to Barack Obama, and they don’t intend to be. Neither Bubba nor Hillary ever stops thinking about tomorrow.
Hillary hit just the expected partisan buttons Tuesday night in her eagerly awaited speech, meant, we have been told over and over, to bridge the divisions, to patch the cracks, to heal the wounds. Choose your own cliche; Denver is choking on them. We’re assured, in the therapeutic language that has become the required patois of the sensitive and caring, that Hillary is “reconciled” and Bill “is trying to get to a place where he is happy with himself.” This is the drivel all around us.
Bill arrived in Denver on Tuesday and spent the day talking, not necessarily in conventionspeak. While Hillary was hard at work on her speech to the convention, Bubba posed this interesting hypothetical question to a gathering elsewhere: “Suppose for example 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 person can deliver on anything. Candidate Y disagrees with you on half the issues, but you believe that on the other half, the candidate will be able to deliver. For whom would you vote?
“Of course,” he said, “this has nothing to do with what’s going on now.”
Well, of course not. Why would anything think that? He must have been talking about Chester Alan Arthur or James Garfield. Denver is rife with stories that Bubba is telling anyone who listens that as much as he regrets saying so, he thinks Barack Obama can’t win, though his speech to the convention Wednesday night won’t necessarily be an occasion to expand and extend these remarks. Paul Begala, a former aide, told the Hill newspaper that Bubba’s “solidly behind” the presumptive nominee. “He’s totally for Barack. He’s totally for Barack.” Two “totallys,” though impressive, don’t necessarily make a positive. “Behind” is the operative word here, as in, “watch out behind you.”
The Clinton ambivalence about the Obama prospects, if not about the candidate himself, is not difficult to find in the hotel lobbies and the watering holes where delegates, reporters and advocates of varying prominence gather. The negotiations over how the so-called roll call of ‘08 is to be conducted is a measure of the fear within the Obama camp. The traditional high point of these conventions has always come when the presiding officer turns to the convention secretary - for 12 consecutive conventions, Dorothy Vredenburgh of Alabama - and cries out in stentorian voice: “Madame Secretary, call the roll!”
Not this time. There’s to be no boasts of favorite sons, past glories and no pointing to pride of place (“… Mr. Chairman, the great state of Idaho, home of the world-famous baked potato that graces America’s dinner table …”). Negotiations continue, but the Obama campaign has agreed only to a bobtailed attempt at roll call, with only a few states getting their say before Hillary asks for a vote of acclamation.
Democrats eager to cast the Clintons, and particularly Bubba, as the villains of the piece should look for precedent to the man who brought the crowd at the Pepsi Center to its feet Monday night. Teddy Kennedy defied both custom and party unity in 1980, challenging the incumbent Jimmy Carter, seeking a second miserable term. Teddy was clearly beaten when the delegates arrived in New York City, but he tried to get the convention to overturn the rule binding the Carter delegates to vote for the president. When that didn’t work he forced through changes in the platform, more to irritate the president than to make substantive change.
When Mr. Carter finally prevailed he had to chase Teddy across the stage for a handshake, and he never did get the enthusiastic locked-armed salute that Barack and Michelle Obama can expect from the Clintons on Thursday night.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times. He is filing daily from the conventions.
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