The Democrats in Denver are thoroughly enjoying themselves, and why not? This year’s convention is one of those rare gatherings that transcend current events to become part of the nation’s historical narrative. The ratification of Barack Obama as the party’s nominee is a moment none of us will forget, one that historians will cite as a political and cultural milestone.
The moment surely belongs to Mr. Obama, but Senator Hillary Clinton would seem to rate more than a footnote in any discussion of this year’s remarkable presidential campaign. She was a formidable candidate who paved the way for other women politicians with ambition and talent, and she faced adversity with grit and determination.
But the primaries have been over for weeks, and the results were not what Mrs. Clinton wanted and what many pundits expected. Mrs. Clinton lost; Mr. Obama won. End of story.
The time has come for Mrs. Clinton’s supporters, especially those in New York, to close ranks behind the party’s nominee. They may be bitter; they may feel wronged; they may believe that Mrs. Clinton was the better candidate. But they need to remember that they are not the first political activists to suffer disappointment, and Mrs. Clinton is not the first well-qualified, intelligent candidate to finish in second place.
Even as Michelle Obama delivered her opening-night address, pundits were talking about Mrs. Clinton’s supporters in the hall. Would they put aside their bruised feelings, would they get beyond their disappointment, would they leave Denver energized and unified behind the Obama-Biden ticket?
It was extraordinary that such questions were being asked on the opening night of the Democratic convention. It speaks to the short-sightedness of many Clinton supporters that they continued to grumble about the primary results even as they filed into the Pepsi Center.
It is up to Hillary Clinton—and her husband—to persuade supporters that nothing good can come of continued grousing. If they believe, as surely they do, that the nation needs change, they cannot indulge their hurt feelings and disappointment to the detriment of their party’s chances in the fall. Otherwise, their fellow Democrats and rank-and-file voters will rightly conclude that they are more interested in the fortunes of the Clinton family than they are in the plight of the nation.
Neither Clinton will ever be accused of graciousness in defeat. That’s not such a bad thing in the highly competitive world of national politics. Nice people rarely finish first on Election Day. Nevertheless, there is a time and a place for a magnanimous gesture, and surely that moment is here. Mrs. Clinton can spend the next weeks transforming her image from sore loser to party leader. She needs to tell her supporters that while she appreciates their loyalty and devotion, they have to get over the hurt and disappointment for the good of the party and the nation.
New Yorkers know that Hillary Clinton is a serious, substantive, tough and intelligent lawmaker. She remains one of the Senate’s stars and one of New York’s finest advocates.
Her party needs her. Senator Obama needs her. And she needs to recognize that the time for recriminations is over. She need look no further than Ted Kennedy’s heroic prime-time moment in Denver to see how those political giants who fail to gain the White House sometimes end up gaining an even bigger stage.