In defense of the candidate I am not supporting

It’s been some time that people have been clamoring for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race. Ostensibly because it would be best for the party to have a united front. By that logic, though, why not just have one candidate to begin with? Why bother with primaries at all?

I should clarify, for those who don’t know, that Clinton is not my candidate. She was, once upon a time (and I was nonetheless on record being critical of her in many respects). But long after I have changed my mind and cast my primary vote for Barack Obama, I have to go on record pointing out the sheer volume of unfair press and lopsidedly negative analysis she has received over her long campaign.

Let’s start with the characterization of her relentless pursuit of the nomination as somehow unreasonable or inappropriate. It started a while ago, when Obama’s lead was quite marginal. Frankly, it’s STILL pretty narrow. Why should she have stepped aside for someone who hadn’t beaten her yet? Yes, it would be great for the party if she did, but just because the party (or I) might want something from her doesn’t obligate her to give it to us. If Obama wants to lead the party, it’s his responsibility to unite it, not Clinton’s.

Not so long ago, when Clinton (then dubbed the “establishment candidate”) was heavily favored by super delegates, the Obama campaign and others were strongly urging the super delegates not to substitute their judgment for that of the voters. Much was made of the number of “contests” Obama had won and the “will of the people.” Now that Clinton has won a large number of contests and won them BIG, no one seems to have very many qualms about the super delegates ignoring those wins and the pledges that go with them. In fact, each landslide Clinton victory seems to precipitate a proportional super delegate movement away from her, with the talking heads blithely discussing her demise as though it had already happened.

Pundits deride, or dismiss in an offhand way, Clinton’s (admittedly self-serving) arguments (1) that caucuses (which Obama tends to win) are less democratic than primaries (which she does better in); and (2) that the popular vote – not just the delegate count – should matter in picking the nominee. But self-serving or not, are they really such bad arguments? Caucuses are less democratic (they are structured in a way that deters participation particularly among poorer and less educated people.) Typical caucus turnouts are generally a tiny fraction of typical primary election turnouts. This means delegates chosen by caucuses represent far fewer voters than those chosen in primaries. Which leads us to the question of whether the delegate count, when it is unrepresentative of the popular vote, should be paramount in nominating a candidate. In some cases, as in Texas, the candidate with more popular votes (an actual majority in fact) got fewer delegates.

I should clarify also that I think Clinton has – sadly for former admirers like me – sometimes shown herself to be a rather cynical opportunist, donning many masks and telling many politically expedient tales. She has been an unreliable liberal (contrary to what the conservative pundits have said, but all the worse for it in my book). She has adopted too hawkish a foreign policy posture on a number of occasions (although I understand you kind of have to as a woman – but as a woman, I say, if you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t anyway, then why not just do what’s right?). Worst of all: she has at times preyed on racial fears and capitalized on racial divisions when it became opportune. I really think none of these things represent who she is at heart. But they do point to a person with integrity issues. We had eight years of integrity issues. That’s more than enough. Contrast this with Barack Obama, who has emerged from every ugly drama into which he has been drawn with intact dignity, magnanimity, grace, and even nuance and complexity of thought! Though he has not always emerged politically unscathed….

All of these are good reasons to choose him over her. But they are not legitimate reasons to expect those who do support her to just roll over. These are not reasons to call her laugh a “cackle” and to perpetuate the fiction that she “turned on the waterworks” in New Hampshire (no man who has a tinny laugh or whose voice occasionally crackled with emotion would ever be subjected to so much derision over it).

These are not reasons to minimize her accomplishments. The claim that she wouldn’t be where she is today but for her eminent husband is doubly insulting because in a twisted way, it is true. It is true, not because she didn’t have what it took to make it on her own merits – everything in her background bespeaks a smart, ambitious, well-connected, and extremely capable woman. In fact, Bill probably owes as much or more of his success to her as the reverse. The only reason that she needed her husband’s coattails at all is that she is a woman, and even in 2008, a woman must get a man’s imprimatur to be considered credible.

So, those are my ramblings as the votes come tumbling in . . . . Good night.

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