DENVER–My bottom line reaction to Hillary Clinton's speech Tuesday night: Good, but not quite very good, for Barack Obama in 2008. Even better, if things should turn out like they might, for Hillary Clinton in 2012.
Clinton's speech was carefully tailored, like the very attractive orange pants suit she wore. It was tailored to her need to speak directly to those who supported her, especially those unreconciled to Obama's nomination. It was laden with references to feminist advances—the Seneca Falls conference of 1848 got hearty applause, the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was duly noted, Harriet Tubman was cited as advice to all (keep going). She saluted thereby her own persistence through the primaries and noted that America does not like a quitter. So much for those Obamaites who kept urging her to get out of the race.
My sense is that many of the women—at the convention and out in America—who are heartsick over Clinton's defeat and see it as somehow illegitimate are women of a certain age, like Hillary, women who made choices over and over again to do things they were told growing up they shouldn't do (live with a man before marriage, work outside the home after having children), women who are disappointed that the young women of today don't share their fervor and sense of outrage (because those women were never told not to do those things). An increasing percentage of mothers with children under 5 are choosing not to work outside the home. Michelle Obama, as Danielle Crittenden notes, spoke on Monday night more as a wife and mother than as a career woman (and indeed quit her $321,000 job to campaign for her husband). The Hillary feminists sense that time has passed them by. Time and the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton addressed their grievances and gave them visibility and legitimacy.
In contrast, the argument for supporting Barack Obama was far more abstract. Clinton voters supported her because she could help those unfortunate souls out there (the requisite lugubrious stories follow). Barack Obama would help those unfortunate souls, and John McCain wouldn't, not at all. He'd just be four more years of George W. Bush. Ergo, logic requires you to support Barack Obama. But Clinton's affect was chilly, or at least seemed so to me; I could see the back of her head as she spoke from my press seats and could watch the Fox News feed on Chris Wallace's TV on the podium two rows in front of me. Yes, she smiled, but not a lot, and at moments when it was she (or her husband) she was spotlighting.
What was missing was much in the way of description of Barack Obama. What kind of man is he? One who supports the same positions she does. Has she looked deep into his heart and found something worthy? No evidence here that she had. Would he be a good commander-in-chief? Not a word on that, as the McCain campaign quickly and gleefully noted.
Clinton can tell Obamaites that she made the case for Obama and brought the convention cheering to its feet. She can say that she told her supporters in the most explicit language possible to work hard for his election. She can make this claim whether he wins or (the more tantalizing case) he loses. In the latter case, she's made a good start on her own 2012 campaign. She'll be only 64 that year, the same age as George H. W. Bush when he was elected in 1988.
I ran into an Obama adviser leaving the hall. His take? "She did well." The speech "played a role." Pretty chilly, chillier than Clinton's affect. These people still don't like each other.