Was Hillary’s speech a turning point?

Many Clinton supporters in Denver swallow doubts, support Obama

Jacob Wheeler

Lauren Fort Miller, a former mayor of Sag Harbor, New York, thinks Hilllary is a better listener than Obama. Nevertheless, she'll support the Democratic nominee.

DENVER – Just about everyone inside the Pepsi Center last night for Day Two of the Democratic National Convention had reason to smile. Hillary Clinton supporters saw their hero at her best: graceful and conciliatory, yet visionary and wise. Gone was the feisty (some would argue, condescending) tone that accompanied the senator from New York whenever she raised her voice against Barack Obama during their primary battle.

Obama supporters breathed a sigh of relief when early in her speech, Hillary left no doubt that she was behind Barack in his bid for the White House.

I’m a proud mother, a proud senator from New York, a proud Democrat … and a proud supporter of Barack Obama!” she said, to thunderous approval, after waiting through three minutes of applause before she could begin her speech.

Democratic Party faithful clenched their fists in gleeful, testosterone-driven rage when Hillary attacked Republican presidential candidate John McCain with witty (for a politician) jabs: No way, no how, no McCain” and How fitting that Bush and McCain will be together in the Twin Cities next week, because these days it’s hard to tell the two apart.” Hillary on the offensive meant that the party could once again count on the Clintons – their best attack dogs against Republicans in decades.

Even His Highness, William Jefferson Clinton – left out of Hillary’s introductory words (she never said proud wife”) and treated as a liability through much of her primary campaign – was reported to chuckle and tear up a bit during poignant moments of the speech. At other times, Bill sat back in his chair, appearing to lip sync entire lines. If he helped Hillary practice her speech, Bill must not have been completely banished from the camp.

These political conventions are all about symbolism, and so it was no mistake that vertical blue banners on sticks (distributed among the delegates during the speech) sported the word Unity” on one side and either Obama” or Hillary” on the other. The family reunion turned out to be a success, with more handshakes and hugs than bitching and shoving.

Leave that to the media – those hordes toiling throughout Denver with backs made crooked by laptop bags, gobbling up free stuff around every corner. The media are always looking for dissent within the ranks: the crux of another story. 

This week they found it in the supposed intra-party Obama-Clinton chasm. Hillary and Bill, and Chelsea, too, are pissed, we’re told. Obama and staff are arrogant and ungrateful for not considering Hillary as a vice presidential candidate. Hillary’s supporters, especially the phantom group PUMA (Party Unity My Ass – The Nations Katha Pollitt wonders if they have been McCain supporters all along, are considering throwing rotten vegetables on stage at Obama and voting for the old man from Arizona in November. And rising above it all (though not quite like a phoenix from the ashes, for that would suggest grace) is John McCain, whose campaign advertisement last week sought to manipulate this rift.

Is it actually possible that these empowered, emotional, angry-as-hell-at-Bush-and-Cheney Hillary lovers would vote against the upstart young black man, and in favor of the neo-cons and tax breaks for the rich this fall? Is their party truly tearing itself apart? 

I’m not getting that impression in Denver this week.

Sure, there are exceptions. Bob Kunst, a self-proclaimed single-issue Florida Zionist, stood near the state capitol building on Tuesday yelling at anyone who would listen that Obama is anti-Semitic. His alleged willingness to consider a Jewish-Arab border in Jerusalem would spell the end for the chosen people, according to Kunst. 

Kunst digs Hillary. He thinks the people behind Obama dig Hamas, and so he’ll vote for Hamas’ self-proclaimed worst enemy, John McCain. Kunst added that Bush and Condi Rice are gambling with Israel too, and that Obama would represent a third-Bush term. But that ain’t chutzpah, that’s ridiculous.

Lauren Fort Miller, a former mayor of Sag Harbor on Long Island, represented a more typical sample of Hillary supporters. She and a friend stood on a street corner in downtown Denver with Hillary signs aloft, slowing down traffic and drawing attention aplenty. 

I think Hillary is definitely the most qualified person,” said Fort Miller. How fitting that she’s the first woman to reach this level. I admire her because I’ve dealt with her personally, on a community level in which she really listened to people. That’s such an incredible challenge for a person. Mostly they want to talk. Obama is a talker. Hillary is a listener.”

How does Fort Miller feel about Hillary asking her to vote for Obama?

She has to do that. What else is she gonna do? I’ll vote Democratic because I’m born to do that. But I have severe doubts about Obama, what he’s going to do and where he’s going to take us. He lacks experience. Hillary knows everybody and everything… She’s been studying and learning for this job her entire life. And where did he come from? He hasn’t even done the job [in the Senate] he was elected to do.”

Tammy Tesky, a delegate from Minneapolis who sported two pins on her shirt at the convention last night – one that read Hillary Supporter” and another that read Minnesota Delegate for Obama” – echoed some of Fort Miller’s fears, but is ready to support Obama.

I’m a supporter of Hillary, and I will cast my vote for her at the convention. It’s been an historic campaign and we want to honor that with a vote. But as soon as I go home I’ll put an Obama sign in my yard and I’ll vote for him in November,” Tesky said.

She was hurt by Hillary’s loss in the primaries, and that the metaphorical glass ceiling withstood the 18 million cracks” it suffered. Tesky also regrets that the Obama camp didn’t at least vet Hillary, out of respect, for vice-presidential consideration. I don’t even know if she wanted it, but I would have wanted her to have the opportunity.

I bawled when she offered her concession speech,” she said. I worked for two years on her campaign.”

But Tesky doesn’t believe that Hillary supporters are in danger of voting en masse for McCain. She thinks that scenario was cooked up as media spin – or by the enemy camp. As for McCain’s commercial last week that sought to draw Hillary supporters over to the other side, Tesky and Fort Miller both found the idea ridiculous.

The only way I’d be afraid of McCain [winning the votes of Democratic women] was if he chose a woman as his running mate,” concluded Tesky. I’m 100 percent Democrat. I’d never vote for a Republican.”

Fort Miller echoed, I want someone who will at least answer to the Democratic Party and for democratic values.”

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Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at In These Times.
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