Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clinton's Speech

In an age when political partisanship is routinely dismissed as a vice, Hillary Clinton's address to the Democratic Convention was an example of healthy partisanship at its best. She argued convincingly that her cause was not her own career, but the good of her country and its people. And that cause, she made emphatically clear, is best served by electing a Democrat, Barack Obama, president of the United States.

Clinton's address was surely the product of her own judgment and character. But it was also the product of a political party working at its best. The demands of the party, the convention and the election pushed her to subordinate her own career to the highest demands of a larger good. Eighteenth century Americans called that virtue. Then and now, virtue is something rare in politics,

Like other great speeches, it looked to the future with a firm sense of history. She invoked the women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and her own experiences on the campaign trail.

Clinton described the proud but battered Americans she met in the primaries and asked her supporters a vital question: are you in this for them or for me? With that question in mind, the only honorable response from a Clinton supporter is a vote for Obama. Again and again, Clinton made that point clear.

As my late professor Carey McWilliams observed, politicians should remember that the causes they serve are more important than their own careers.

Perhaps defeat makes that clear to a politician, because the only other political speech that I have heard that was moving as Clinton's was Ted Kennedy's speech before the 1980 Democratic convention. In that speech Kennedy ended his own candidacy against Jimmy Carter but reminded the delegates that the Democratic party's dream would never die.

This convention's televised sense of stagecraft can make the party system seem like an empty shell. Clinton's speech, however, was a testament to the value of political parties that bring people together, discipline their ambitions, and direct them towards larger goals.

I voted for Obama in the primary, but with the exception of a few episodes retained respect for Clinton. Her speech raised my opinion of her. It also roused in me an emotion that I hadn't anticipated: pride in being a registered Democrat.

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