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|August 28-September 3, 2008
Back to Letters
by Stewart Sallo
Having viewed election-year conventions dating back to 1964 on television, and now witnessing this year’s Democratic National Convention in person, it is clear to me that this is one event that loses something in the translation from the venue to the box. There is a fundamental energetic difference that is palpable in the room that magnifies both ends of the emotional spectrum.
The boredom evoked by the endless repetition of “we can’t afford another four years of the status quo, which is why we need to elect Sen. Barack Obama as the next President of the United States” resides on one end of the spectrum. And the excitement inspired by the relatively rare speaker who touches the hopes and dreams of those who care enough to suffer through the ubiquitous inconveniences and annoyances to be part of this auspicious event is, thankfully, found at the other.
Perhaps aside from the speech yet to come from the nominee himself, the 25 minutes during which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ignited the standing-room-only crowd at the Pepsi Center will be remembered as the defining moment of the 2008 DNC. Simply put, Clinton delivered — big time. And even though she accomplished her mission of placing her formidable support firmly behind Obama and uniting the Democratic Party, she did it so brilliantly that the question of whether she should have been the nominee herself looms larger than ever.
Of course, there is little point in opening that particular can of worms, as the question is moot. Barack Obama is the nominee, and if Clinton herself can exemplify her acceptance of that by subordinating what must be her own profound sense of disappointment and betrayal to serve the greater good, so should her supporters. But again, did she have to do it in such a way as to provide irrefutable proof that she herself is exactly the kind of selfless public servant that the last eight years have left us thirsting for?
What does merit examination against the backdrop of Clinton’s first official concession is the nature of the political stage upon which her defeat was played out, a stage that was set by George W and Co. And the trimmings of economic decline and governmental misbehavior with which the present administration has adorned that stage have everything to do with whom the casting committee — we the people — will choose to play the role of President of the United States.
The reality of the extraordinary campaign of the candidate who many believe should rightfully be the first woman to serve as our president is that the casting committee has something else in mind: someone very different; someone who can’t be linked in any way, shape or form to Washington politics as usual; and certainly someone who doesn’t have one of the same two last names that have been the addressees of the White House for the past 20 years!
History, as they say, repeats itself. And in 1976, on a similar stage also set with the dressings of economic decline and governmental misbehavior, a Washington outsider named James Earl Carter became the Democratic nominee. Virtually unknown at the national level, Carter capitalized on the public disgust that was felt toward the Nixon-Ford administration and defeated an incumbent president (Ford), portraying himself as fresh, honest and disconnected with the corrupt Washington political machine.
Carter, who was merely a former governor of Georgia during his campaign for the presidency, ran against a formidable field of U.S. senators and governors far more experienced than he was, including Sen. Hubert Humphrey (who was also the 1968 Democratic presidential nominee), Gov. Jerry Brown (Calif.), Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (Tex.), Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Sen. Walter Mondale (Minn.) and Gov. George Wallace (Ala.). But the political stage was set, and Jimmy Carter was perfectly cast as the antidote for the mistrust the American public felt at that time toward its leadership.
There is no question that Hillary Clinton brought a far more impressive resume into the campaign than Barack Obama. And to anyone who has witnessed her impressive campaign, which officially ended on Tuesday evening at the DNC with what will certainly be remembered as one of the most dynamic and impassioned speeches in American political history, it is clear that she could have been a great president. She deserves all of the respect and admiration that was clearly felt for her by the emotional and demonstrative crowd at the Pepsi Center that night. It is truly unfortunate that the timing of her campaign was out of sync with the particular thirst being felt at this exact moment in history by the American people.
But as Shakespeare said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune.” And much like Jimmy Carter took the flood in the tide of public mistrust in government to the presidency, so it will be with Barak Obama. We are similarly disgusted with the corruption in our government as we were in 1976, and Obama represents the same fresh, honest persona that we found so appealing in Carter.
The Republicans have a tough road ahead with their candidate of choice, John McCain, especially if they continue to campaign against Obama as an inexperienced outsider. For these are exactly the qualities that helped him take the Democratic nomination from Clinton, and McCain is even more closely linked than she is to the status quo to which the electorate is so averse.
For those of us who supported Clinton, our sadness should be quelled with the knowledge that our democracy may not be as broken as many of us fear. It is the will of the people that lies at the hub of the principles of democracy, and it is the will of the people that has led to this outcome. And in a world more rife with shouldn’t-be’s than ever, that’s as it should be.
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