The only question was this: would there be a hint of resentment or reluctance in her speech, any sign of holding back? But Hillary Clinton, on the second night of the Democratic convention and in a much-anticipated speech, offered a loud and clear message to her supporters: get behind Barack Obama. In the opening moments of her speech, she identified herself as a “a proud supporter of Barack Obama” and declared,
I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women’s rights at home and around the world…to see another Republican in the White House.
No ambiguity there.
Prior to the speech, a parlor game for the politerati assembled in Denver was to trade gossip and rumors indicating that the Clintons might not be fully with the elect-Obama program. A prominent Obama supporter said she had heard that the Clinton speech would be “bad for us.” A reporter said that he had heard that a top Clinton aide was trash-talking Obama to other reporters. This all fed the only narrative of conflict at the convention: the Clintons versus Obama. But right before the speech, Joe Lockhart, who was a press secretary for President Bill Clinton, said to me that Hillary Clinton would put this subplot to rest.
And it seemed she did–at least for the night. It’s true, as several political reporters near me noted as soon as she was done, that she had not said that Obama would be ready to be president on Day One. There was nothing resembling a retraction of her it’s-three-in-the-morning attack on Obama. She did not announce that she would ask her delegates to vote for him during the roll call on Wednesday night. And she had one slight dig at Obama when she said, “I can’t wait to watch Barack Obama sign a health care plan into law that covers every single American.” (During the campaign, she had blasted him for promoting a health care plan that would not cover every one at the start.)
But much of the speech was addressed to her supporters, and she encouraged them to fall in line. After telling of her campaign trail encounters with individual Americans facing tough times, she said to all those Hillaryites in the hall and at home:
I want to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible.
That passage could be read as a gentle get-over-it.
Clinton took the requisite shots at John McCain, demonstrating she could be an effective critic of him in the weeks ahead. She emphasized the historic nature of her candidacy, paying tribute to the champions of women’s rights who came before her. Drawing on a story about the grit and determination of Harriet Tubman, the antislavery activist, she told her supporters that they had to “keep going…keep going…keep going” and that they had to “get going by electing Barack Obama.”
There will still be media speculation that her heart is not in sync with this rhetoric. Reporters (myself included) will not stop looking for signs that the Clintons are not doing everything possible to put Obama in the White House. And, no doubt, some of the Hillary Hold-ons will continue to complain about Obama and keep alive for the media the story of scorned Hillary supporters. But in the convention hall, before a sea of white Hillary signs and thousands of cheering fans, Hillary Clinton spoke to her people. She gave them clear instructions. She demonstrated her ability to be a forceful and passionate advocate for Obama. She did what was expected of her, producing the best performance of the evening. And now that she has done that, what will counts is what she–and her husband (who will address the convention Wednesday night)–will do for Obama in the intense weeks to come.