THE PLANK JUNE 7, 2008
I'm here at the beautiful National Building Museum in Washington with what by eyeball appear to be a couple thousand Hillary Clinton supporters, waiting for the candidate to make the last speech of her historic campaign. Clinton, of course, is expected to endorse Obama, "suspend" her campaign and to say, well, goodbye for now. Despite some of Clinton's recent rhetoric, her people don't appear to have many specific demands, and--at least the small sample I got--don't feel themselves to be unheard, uncounted, or disrespected. Their outrage is reserved for the idea that Hillary is all of those things, and their expectations for the speech are fairly vague--it's mostly about catharsis. While "Hillary! Hillary!" chants are sporadic, I doubt we'll be hearing any "Denver!" chants, either--though greater surprises have occurred this campaign season.
One woman who drove with her Clinton-supporting son from Massachusetts yesterday was as close to conspiratorial as I found: "It's clear that this was planned for Obama," she said--citing the idea that Nancy Pelosi, of all people, had been "snipping and spying" for Obama. But like the others, she concluded, "I think she wants closure, and wants her supporters to get closure."
The other major question flitting around here: Will Obama show? There are good political reasons for Clinton to share today's spotlight: the endorsement will appear to have real cause-and-effect, as the man about whom HIllary is (almost) sure to say nice things will be there for observation and applause. On the other hand, the feeling in the room is plainly celebratory, if valedictory...this is Clinton's party for a bit longer, and the crowd knows it.
Update: We've heard that Clinton has just now left her home. Check back for details of the speech.
Update II: Clinton is giving a fine effort at reconciliation ("the Democratic party is a family"), with a pronounced refrain: "...That is why we must help elect Barack Obama our President!" The crowd is eating it up, though random--and masculine-sounding--boos emanate from the peanut gallery every time Obama is mentioned.
Update III: I think this was the best speechifying I've heard from Clinton all year. She was crip and logical and calm, made the more-than-fair point about the rarity of Democratic presidents in her lifetime (bringing Bill into the conversation despite his absence low profile), and laid out a forceful case for America's betterment tied to a party and to a president, whom she named repeatedly: Barack Obama. The stuff about women in space was genius. Ironically, some lines, as when she spoke about the world she inherited as a daughter, and the world her daughter sees before her, sounded like throwbacks to her famous Wellesley commencement address wherein she noted: "We arrived not yet knowing what
was not possible."
And while some supporters gave visibly histrionic interviews to television outlets outside, two older Virginia women I spoke to felt at peace: "It sounded like her." "I just don't know what else she could have done," they mused. Angel and Nikki Cannon, two sisters from West Virginia whom I had run into at the front of the line pre-speech, were ecstatic afterward: "It took a lot of guts and a lot of courage to do what she just did," they told me.
A stand selling Obama totes, tees and buttons is doing brisk business just outside the venue.
(Photo courtesy Getty Images)