Questions for the Zealots

As the Democrats convene in Denver to celebrate Hillary Clinton and nominate Barack Obama, a minority of her supporters continues to behave petulantly. They whine, they bluster, they agitate themselves and each other. But what is it about Senator Clinton’s repeated endorsements of her former opponent that they cannot understand? How do they honor her by undermining him?

No doubt many of her friends still feel robbed, months after her gracious concession. With considerable justification, they believe that their woman ought to be accepting the nomination of their party this week, rather than the man who took it from her. She certainly possesses the talent and experience to be a formidable national candidate, and during her life in politics she has worked very hard to earn that prize. She entered the campaign almost two years ago as a prohibitive favorite.

It is past time for the zealots to face honestly why she lost what might have been hers. Her defeat cannot be blamed on outdated or unfair party rules, on the rhetorical manipulations of the Obama campaign or even on the reflexively hostile coverage of the Clintons in the mainstream media—because a competent campaign would have accounted for all those utterly predictable factors. Those angry donors and voters should be brandishing their pitchforks at the well-compensated consultants who wasted tens of millions of dollars without developing an inspirational theme or an effective plan.

Dwelling on blame, however, is not what Senator Clinton has urged her fellow Democrats to do.

To take her at her word—as those who constantly proclaim their devotion ought to do—means joining her behind the new Obama-Biden ticket. Rather than sulking over the slights and stupidities of the primary, she speaks about the disastrous implications of a Republican victory as well as the policies and values she holds in common with Senator Obama. Do the rejectionists think that her campaign speeches on his behalf are insincere—that when she says she wants him to win, she is being false? Such assumptions are an insult to her.

Still more confounding is the threat by some of her supporters to defect to John McCain. His campaign’s latest commercial features a grinning Clinton supporter who praises his “maverick, independent streak” as well as his "experience and judgment," and promises that “it’s ok, really” to vote for the Republican. Is this the politics of revenge? Is it the cult of personality? Is it stubborn idiocy?

Whatever else it may be, it is not OK. No, it is emphatically not OK to mislead Senator Clinton’s supporters into lining up behind a candidate whose positions are the opposite of hers, whose judgment on many issues is woefully deficient, and whose maverick independence is no more than a memory.

Senator McCain too deserves to be taken at his word—which makes it all the more astonishing that anyone who claims to have voted for Senator Clinton would consider voting for him. He has declared his firm opposition to reproductive rights and promised to appoint Supreme Court judges who would restrict those rights. He would continue the US occupation of Iraq and may well expand the war to Iran and beyond. He opposes universal health care and denounces Social Security as a “disgrace” that should be privatized. He dropped his principled opposition to the regressive Bush tax cuts and his support of immigration reform to pander to the Republican right.

Speaking of right-wing Republicans, their encouragement of the intransigent Clintonites is a clue for the clueless. The sudden affection lavished on Senator Clinton by neoconservatives and other assorted wingnuts could hardly be more transparent or insincere—or predictable as soon as Senator Obama, their erstwhile favorite, secured the Democratic nomination. Pundits who beseeched Democrats to join the Obama campaign as a crusade to destroy the Clintons now demand respect for her. But their insincerity is blatant. They merely want to exploit her most disappointed supporters, whose eagerness to cooperate in that strategy is mystifying.

Private opinions about Senator Obama and his chances of victory notwithstanding, Senator Clinton now seems to understand that her own political future, her family’s political legacy, and the causes she holds dear will all depend on the vigor of her support for the Democratic ticket this fall. And despite persistent hisses of complaint from both the Obama and Clinton camps during the convention week, she evidently knows there is no upside in recalcitrance and no downside in enthusiasm. As a lifelong advocate of racial and gender equality, she should appreciate the historic moment that she and Senator Obama have the privilege to share on the public stage. None of her supporters should stoop to tarnish it.

Questions for the Zealots