Hillary’s speech

She was at her best. It was a fine speech, an urgent call for unity, and the delivery was phenomenal: passionate, forceful, and not the least bit false. (There was humour too: the twin-cities joke was great, and will linger in people’s minds next week.) From the various personalities she tried on during the campaign, she selected tough, resolute, never-give-up Hillary, and the tone did not deviate. This is much the best and most convincing of the Hillaries: one imagines, in fact, the real thing. If she had stuck with her throughout the primaries, she might have been giving a speech like that on Thursday night instead.

A lot of previously wavering Democrats will be wondering if they have chosen the wrong nominee; even more will be wondering if it was a mistake to deny her the VP slot. But one can hardly blame her for that. The convention wanted a great rousing speech and it got one.

Was it a whole-hearted endorsement of Obama? Having watched an hour or so of instant commentary–which for the most part said yes, it was–I find I disagree. Certainly, there was nothing mean in the speech (though I wondered about the repeated reference to “universal” health care: a coded rebuke, maybe, since her campaign continually stressed that Obama’s plan falls short of that). And she certainly told her supporters to vote for him. That was crystal clear. She did not give them tacit permission to stay at home, still less vote for McCain.

So she cannot be accused of sabotaging Barack. If he fails, after this, she will be available in 2012. But there was almost no praise. (Compare Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney on John McCain.) She made the case for a Democratic president, but not for Obama. What she said, in a superbly effective way, was that another four years of Bushism made voting for Obama necessary–in so many words, whatever reservations one might have about him.

I’m sure the speech helps Obama. Much as Hillary still wants to be president, she erred in that direction. Maybe she will get her reward in four years. But it was not an entirely selfless speech. I think she could have helped him more, had she chosen to.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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