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Archive for Sunday, May 18, 2008

Clinton’s defeat not a sign of disrespect

May 18, 2008

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— Women, we are told by some people who say they know them, are not amused. Women, or at least those whose consciousnesses have been properly raised, supposedly think that the impatience being expressed about the protracted futility of Hillary Clinton's campaign is disrespectful. They say that if the roles were reversed - if Barack Obama's delegate arithmetic were as hopeless as hers - people would not be so insensitive as to try to hurry a man off the stage.

But they would. And some people, claiming to speak for African-Americans, would be explaining that African-Americans find it all disrespectful. In identity politics, ritualized indignation about imagined affronts is highly choreographed and hence predictable.

In America, however, nothing ages as fast as novelty, and efforts to encourage Clinton to pack it in are heartening evidence that the novelty has worn off: The female candidate is like all other candidates. This is what equality looks like - life as an equal opportunity dispenser of disappointments.

When, in 1975, Frank Robinson became major league baseball's first African-American manager, with the Cleveland Indians, that was an important milestone. But an even more important one came two years later, when the Indians fired him. That was real equality: Losing one's job is part of the job description of major league managers, because sacking the manager is one of the few changes a floundering team can make immediately. So, in a sense, Robinson had not really arrived until he was told to leave. Then he was just like hundreds of managers before him.

Some of Clinton's supporters seem to be cultivating, for a purpose, a permutation of the entitlement mentality that many voters thought they discerned in her candidacy and found off-putting. She seemed to feel entitled to the Democrats' nomination, and having been denied it, she may feel really entitled to be Obama's running mate. But for him, choosing her would be even more dangerous than Bosnian sniper fire. She would solve none of his problems, and would create others.

Because Democrats are desperate to win in November, they will support Obama, so his most pressing priority should be to compete with John McCain for independent voters, or for people lightly attached to the Republican Party. Almost all the people who like Clinton are Democrats, and a recent poll revealed that only 39 percent of Americans regard her as "honest and trustworthy," down from 52 percent in May 2006. Furthermore, if Obama cannot win New York without her, he is going to lose almost everywhere else.

On several occasions presidential nominees have felt the need to choose as their running mates the persons who were their strongest competitors for the nomination. But two successful occasions were quite unlike Obama's situation.

On the eve of the Democrats' 1960 convention in Los Angeles, the campaign of Lyndon Johnson, who was decisively behind John Kennedy in the delegate count, intimated - correctly, we now know - that Kennedy's health was much more precarious than was then understood. Ten days later, Kennedy asked Johnson to be his running mate. The "solid South" was no longer solidly Democratic - in 1952 Dwight Eisenhower carried Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida, and in 1956 he added Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia - so Kennedy needed Johnson.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan, who was cool toward George H.W. Bush, chose him partly to assuage the disappointment of the Detroit convention that had become giddy with enthusiasm for the silly idea of recruiting former President Gerald Ford as Reagan's running mate. Reagan did not select Bush to attract November votes that Reagan thought he could not win.

Clinton has been carrying categories of voters that Obama has had trouble attracting. But it is implausible that she is the only Democrat who would enhance Obama's appeal to white, blue-collar Democrats.

Finally, Clinton is not entitled to a consolation prize. Robert Frost provided a warning for those who become too accustomed to the limelight:

No memory of having starred

Atones for later disregard,

Or keeps the end from being hard.

Harder than, say, working the night shift as a short-order cook at a truck stop out on the interstate? Or being a nurse in a pediatric oncology ward? Maybe not.

More than 300 million Americans living at this hour will never be president. They will never even be senator from New York. That office is not chopped liver. Neither is it a form of disregard.

George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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