Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Clinton Soap Opera, R.I.P.

NYT Editorial Board

One of the hardest-to-kill story lines of this convention has been about the Clintons: that they do not accept Barack Obama’s victory and that they are scheming to make trouble for his candidacy.

We have no doubt that defeat did not come easily to either of the Clintons — or that they kept fighting to the end. But we also saw this week that Hillary and Bill did not play the obstructionist role that critics were assigning to them.

Hillary Clinton did her part to bury the story Tuesday night with her stemwinder of a speech in support of Mr. Obama. Wednesday, Bill Clinton drove a dagger through it.

Mr. Clinton’s speech was first-class eloquence — the kind of charismatic presentation that carried him to the White House in 1992.

The speech did everything Mr. Obama could have hoped for.

He threw aside any doubts right away by saying that his first purpose in being there was to “support Barack Obama.” And he made clear that the entire Clinton family and campaign were in accord. Hillary had already said she would do everything she could to see that Mr. Obama was elected. “That makes two of us,” Mr. Clinton said. “Actually, that makes 18 million of us.”

But Mr. Clinton did more. He invoked his own experience as President to say that he knew what it took to lead the country — and that Mr. Obama had it.

Most powerful of all, he expressly drew the connection between himself and Mr. Obama that many observers have been drawing for some time. Back when he ran for President in 1992, he recalled, “The Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander-chief. Sound familiar?”

It was also a strikingly unegotistical speech. Mr. Clinton has been criticized for using this campaign to dwell on his own accomplishments as President. He did not lapse into self-congratulation or try to re-fight old battles. It was a speech about why the Republicans’ hold on the White House has to come to an end — and why Mr. Obama is the right man to take their place.

It would be naive to think that Mr. Clinton, who was glacially slow about endorsing Mr. Obama, will completely abandon the drama — or the ego. Now that his big speech is behind him, Mr. Clinton may not be as quick to hit the campaign trail as the Obama campaign would like, and he may even throw some potshots from the sidelines.

If he does any of these things, the media, which loves the Clintons-vs.-Obama story, will be quick to pounce.

For now, though, Hillary and Bill came through with back-to-back speeches that made the case for Mr. Obama with rare passion and eloquence.

John McCain has been hoping to peel away dissaffected Clinton supporters. He has even gone up with an ad featuring a Clinton delegate who said she would be voting for Mr. McCain. The Clintons threw a wrench into that strategy this week.

The biggest difference between a successful convention and an unsuccessful one is usually how united the party is when the final gavel comes down.

Bill Clinton has done his best, with a great speech, to put the Democratic National Convention of 2008 in the history books as a success.

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