By Gil Troy, HNN, August 15, 2008
The news that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name will be placed in nomination at the Democratic National Convention not only cheered her still-disappointed supporters. It also delighted television network executives saddled with the task of attracting viewers to the Democratic National Exercise in Rubber-Stamping. All of a sudden, the drama of the Obama-Clinton battle may be repeated. All of a sudden, both Bill and Hillary Clinton are back where they love to be, where they need to be – front and center, even if this convention was supposed to be Barack Obama’s star-turn.
The roll call charade will evoke conventions of yesteryear when these quadrennial gatherings actually made a difference and designated an often surprising nominee. But the modern message underlying this traditional ritual will be quite clear. After months in the spotlight, Hillary Clinton virtually disappeared from the public radar screens once Barack Obama eked out his victory over her. But Senator Clinton – and her ex-president husband – want to remind the American people that she won more than 17 million votes, and many of those votes came from enthusiastic women devastated by Hillary’s loss.
Whatever Hillary Clinton loses by appearing too brazen, she gains much more with this power play. Just as fighting to the last primary battle boosted her standing – and illustrated the depth of her support – the successful demand to star in this convention psychodrama underscores just how significant a role she and her husband continue to play in the Democratic Party.
Obama’s is the riskier move here. He cannot appear to be cowed by the Clintons. He has to be magnanimous without being swept up in the Clinton cyclone. Obama cannot play the stolid William Howard Taft to the charismatic Theodore Roosevelt. He cannot allow former-President Bill Clinton to undercut him as Dwight Eisenhower undermined Richard Nixon in 1960, by asking for a week’s time to remember any of Nixon’s Vice-presidential accomplishments. Obama also cannot allow Hillary Clinton to give the kind of soaring consolation speech which steal delegates’ hearts, as Ronald Reagan did in 1976 or Ted Kennedy did in 1980.
Of course, the alluring Obama is no Taft. He is banking on the fact that the renewed excitement and drama will redound to his benefit – after all, the conclusion is pre-determined (warning: spoiler ahead): Obama has enough delegates to win the nomination. Moreover, he is banking on the same constellation of forces that helped him win in the first place. He – not Hillary – is more likely to steal the show – and American hearts – with a dazzling display of eloquence. If Hillary Clinton had those skills, she would be the one doling out convention slots and figuring out how to satisfy her rivals – and would be well on her way to the White House.