Barack America!

DENVER—Walking into the Pepsi Center here on the morning of Aug. 25, the first day of the Democratic National Convention, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia had a message for the supporters of Hillary Clinton.

“I think they ought to do whatever she wants them to do,” said Mr. Webb.

 It seemed a little late for that.

By the time of Mrs. Clinton’s Tuesday night prime-time convention speech, which her senior aides said would honor her supporters but strongly make the case for Barack Obama, it all seemed a little beside the point.

The story of the convention, as broadcast to the nation over its first two days, had not been a tale of unity. Instead, it was one of rogue Clinton supporters, the wounded pride of a former president, messy negotiations between two campaigns over convention roles, and ambiguity about when and whether Mrs. Clinton would release her delegates that persisted to the eve of her speech.

Clinton aides and supporters say that characterization is deeply unfair. One senior Clinton official argued that the Obama campaign “asked too much” of Mrs. Clinton, who won 18 million votes during the primaries. Other aides sought to shift the blame to the Obama campaign, arguing that the reluctance to give Mrs. Clinton a major role in the convention until relatively late in the game resulted from their failure to appreciate that she had little or no control over the supporters protesting Mr. Obama. And Mrs. Clinton herself has often argued that she had done more for the nominee than anyone in her position ever has.   

“Hillary completely understands that our fates are all tied together,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. “What is good for the country and what is good for Barack is good for her. I think she knows that.”

“I went down with her to New Mexico with [Gov. Bill] Richardson on the 17th,” said Hassan Nemazee, a Clinton campaign finance chair who is attending the convention as a guest of Mrs. Clinton and Joe Biden. “The Obama campaign asked her to do an event in Espanola, a predominantly Spanish-speaking area which she carried. And she did the event and Richardson told me, ‘She did more than I ever expected her to do.’”

But by the Sunday morning before the convention, when members of the New York delegation checked into their Sheraton hotel rooms, it appeared that she had not done quite enough.

Many delegates said they had not received any guidance on whether to cast a symbolic vote for Hillary Clinton during roll call on Aug. 26—leading to the counterproductive spectacle of a party still not reconciled to supporting its nominee—or vote directly for Mr. Obama.

“I don’t know if any decisions have been made,” said New York State Senator Thomas Duane on Sunday morning. The other delegates were similarly in the dark.

Things got even more confusing that evening during a gala welcoming New York delegates to Denver in a Sheraton ballroom, when the dean of the Congressional delegation, Representative Charlie Rangel, told The Observer that days earlier “Clinton told me to tell everybody that they are released and to vote for Obama.”

Barack America!