Clintons united in Obama support

By David Usborne
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:34

The message from Hillary Clinton to supporters in Denver was as neon as the tangerine pantsuit she wore to the ball. All that she stood for during her historic quest to be American's first woman president - equal rights for women, universal health care and economic equality - Barack Obama stands for too.

All doubts about the Clintons' intentions at their party's convention are now dispelled. With the arena still reverberating from her speech on Tuesday night, Mrs Clinton met with her delegates and formally released them to Mr Obama. And last night it was Bill Clinton's turn at the podium, to recall the prosperity of America under his stewardship but then to proclaim that the time now belongs to Mr Obama.

Whatever their private feelings, the Clintons are now publicly full-square behind the party's nominee and its quest for unity. Even Bill Clinton has crossed into the daylight. As he was arriving in a skybox high in the Pepsi Center, the former President was just in time to hear Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana ask the delegates who they wanted as their next president. "Barack Obama," they roared. And Bill said it too. "Barack Obama". And he did not hold his nose.

No one who spent any time with the Clintons back on the primary trail - with Chelsea too, who introduced her mother to the Denver delegates as "her hero" - need strain too hard to imagine how hard the process of relinquishing the dream to Mr Obama must have been. Hillary came so close, after all, thanks to the now almost mythical 18 million Americans - the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling - who voted for her.

That she would use Denver to insist upon her delegates finally breaking their bonds to her and supporting Mr Obama was always on the cards.

The disunity thing, a gift to the media used to conventions being more predictable, may have been a trifle overplayed. If he wins in November, she will be able to take some of the credit. If he loses, the party cannot turn on Hillary and Bill and place the blame on them.

But the drama in Denver has been real because no one knew how compellingly the Clintons would pass their allegiance to Mr Obama. That mattered a very great deal. Only on Tuesday a poll in USA Today said that 16 per cent of Democrats who supported Mrs Clinton in the primaries intend to vote for John McCain in November. Mr Obama needs that missing slither of the Democratic base very badly.

Mrs Clinton, of course, cannot tell every one of those voters which lever to pull. But in her speech on Tuesday the appeal for her supporters to back Mr Obama was nothing if not emphatic. "Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our president."

"That was excellent, that was a strong speech," Mr Obama reportedly declared after watching it on television in Billings, Montana. He telephoned Hillary herself to tell her so. And he telephoned Bill too.

But a rafter-rattling speech it was not quite. Even James Carville, the former aide to Bill and, as a commentator on CNN, a key Hillary cheerleader, seemed a bit bored half way through, sunk in a couch in the network's sky box suite and turning his attention to prying open a tin of CNN mints.

Mrs Clinton's punch faded for a while when she began listing the reasons she had run for president. While she referred to Mr Obama ten times, the number of "I's" in the speech were double that number. She was a politician keeping the door open for new options. At one point she seemed to put her hand up for a place in an Obama cabinet, running health policy. "I cannot wait to see Barack Obama sign into law a health care plan that covers every single American," she said. (Never mind that that would be her plan for universal health care she was referring to, not Mr Obama's which is a bit different.)

But before it was too late, Mrs Clinton pivoted, declaring that the reasons that made her run had become the reasons she now supports Mr Obama. "Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team."

Some of the greatest applause came in passages emphasising the feminist milestone her quest had represented. And raising the loudest laugh, she christened the women who backed her "my sisterhood of the travelling pantsuits".

The New York Senator demonstrated, moreover, her readiness now to play chief basher of John McCain. "No way. No how. No McCain," she said to loud cheers, before delivering a deft joke about how appropriate it is that Mr McCain and George Bush will be travelling to the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis-St Paul next week for the Republican convention. "Because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart."

It is possible that Tuesday's was the last big Clinton speech on a stage as important as a national convention we will ever see. After years of her family name dominating the Democratic party, it is a shift that remains hard to digest. "We are Americans and we are not big on quitting", Mrs Clinton told the delegates at point one Tuesday night. And nor, famously, are either Hillary or Bill. But, for now, quit she has, because she really had no choice and would have looked much worse under history's eye if she hadn't.

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