Sunday, August 10, 2008

Calling All Votes

Calling All Votes


NEARLY everyone in the Democratic Party seems to think that officially entering Hillary Clinton’s name into a roll-call vote for the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention would be a dangerous show of disunity. It’s true that having America watch as some portion of Mrs. Clinton’s 1,640 pledged delegates thumb their noses at Barack Obama would disrupt the party’s vision of a carefully scripted Denver love-in. But finding a constructive way for Mrs. Clinton’s seriously aggrieved loyalists to channel their anger and disappointment could wind up being the path of less destruction for Mr. Obama’s campaign. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

You don’t have to be a die-hard Clintonite, or even much of a feminist, to be moved by the significance of her presidential campaign. In 1972, the Democratic presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm made history by having her 151.95 delegates entered into the convention record. Mrs. Clinton amassed more than 10 times that number. Her achievement deserves an official salute.

Symbolic gestures and signs of respect always hold a larger meaning for the campaign that came in second. More than a few of Mrs. Clinton’s devotees, including plenty headed to Denver this month, are in need of catharsis and a bit of closure. They remain convinced that their gal got a raw deal, that she was treated unfairly by the news media, that she was cheated out of her Florida and Michigan delegates by hostile power brokers like Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi, that she was a victim of sexism, that the historic nature of her candidacy was callously dismissed in all the hullabaloo over the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s, and on and on and on.

Some of these allegations ring truer than others. But many of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters believe them intensely enough to want to make trouble for Mr. Obama. Discouraging Mrs. Clinton’s name from being entered into a roll-call vote would give her legions yet one more opportunity to feel that their candidate had been snubbed.

Giving them the chance to see their beloved candidate honored in a highly public forum could, just maybe, help release a little steam from the pressure cooker. Beyond that, there could be other, more direct benefits for Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

A roll-call vote for Mrs. Clinton could help Mr. Obama look magnanimous instead of messianic. Fair or not, the man has earned himself a reputation as arrogant. These days, John McCain’s campaign spends much of its time watching for the tiniest show of self-importance by Mr. Obama to exploit. By making a grand gesture, inviting (even publicly urging) Mrs. Clinton to sign the (already circulating) petition to have her name submitted for nomination would help Mr. Obama look like a swell guy.

Yes, we would all be reminded of how close the Democratic race for president was when, on the convention floor, delegation after delegation rose to cast its votes. (A few die-hards for Mrs. Clinton might even get mouthy.) But in the end, the tally would indicate that Mr. Obama won. He beat Mrs. Clinton, the inevitable nominee who drove far-more-experienced politicians than Mr. Obama from the race before it even began, and who beat every other guy in the race.

He did it. And he could demonstrate that he is now so comfortable with his victory that he is willing to let Mrs. Clinton tout her achievement as well. (Better still, the delegate total for Mr. Obama would almost certainly be higher than it stood at the end of the primaries, because many of Mrs. Clinton’s superdelegates — and probably even a few of her pledged delegates — would decide to cast ballots for Mr. Obama.) Sure, some portion of Mrs. Clinton’s delegates will never be satisfied with any gesture. They are determined to sink Mr. Obama in the hopes that their candidate can come back and win this thing in 2012.

But the kamikaze cohort is just one, admittedly very noisy, subset of a larger pool of wounded supporters. The trick is to find a big, public way to separate the zealots from those who just want a concerted effort by the party and its candidate to show a scrupulous commitment to respecting every vote cast.

Is this desire reasonable? Sensible? Logical? Maybe not. But in presidential campaigns, reason and logic rarely carry the day.

Michelle Cottle is a senior editor at The New Republic.

NY Times Aug. 10

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