Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The speech I wish she'd given back then

[This is Old News. It appears exactly as I wrote it on May 11, 2008.]

I wrote this mentally last night and refined it after listening to the talking heads discuss some of the same issues this morning. I am particularly indebted to Cokie Roberts for her validation of my niggling little sense that there was a women’s side to this.

Here’s the speech I wish Hillary Clinton could give:

Many people are speculating about why I continue to run for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination. Some of the speculation is pretty wild but the real answers are very simple. Let me spell them out for you. Partly I continue to run to honor the women who support me. Not just the women who have voted for me over the last five months - although I owe them special honor - but also the women who have supported me my whole life either directly by being in my life or indirectly by coming before me and paving the way. Many people forget how very far women have come just in my lifetime; even more people forget how very far women have come in the history of this country. I remember every day and I believe I honor that historical perseverance with my own refusal to concede defeat.

Partly I run because I truly believe I am the Democratic candidate with the best chance of beating the Republicans in the Fall. And it is vitally important to beat the Republicans. This country will be ill-served by another four years of the policies of the last eight.

Most importantly, though, I run because I believe I am the best choice to be President of the United States. I offer the best policies and the best platform. I am best suited for the job in terms of my ability to do it and in terms of what I will do with that ability while in office. I make no apologies for this belief. Anyone who does not believe he or she would be the best President has no business running for the office.

A few days ago I referred to the fact that Senator Obama’s support among white working class Americans appeared to be slipping. I was stating a fact and one I believe is very important for reasons I will explain in a minute. Certainly, I phrased it clumsily but I have been horrified to see how my remarks have been taken as evidence that I am racist. No one who knows my history, not just in the Senate but throughout my adult life, can seriously believe I am racist. It simply is not true. I am not the person I see described in so many newspapers and on so many talk shows. Let me repeat. I am not that person.

I realize, however, that I apparently sound like that person and I regret that very much. I’ve given much thought to this and I’ve come to a conclusion. For the remainder of my campaign, I am going to stop talking about the issue of electability. In fact, I’m going to stop talking about Senator Obama altogether. I am going to focus on what I have to offer, what my ideas are, what I can bring to the Presidency. This is partially an acknowledgment of the fact that it is almost impossible to talk about race-based issues - even statistics - without sounding racist myself. It is also a re-emphasis of my most important reason for continuing to run: my belief I am the best choice to be President.

Before I leave this topic behind me once and for all, I do want to sound a warning. What I was getting at - however clumsily - is the question of what the Democratic coalition will look like on November 4, 2008. I am not the only person worrying about this. The recent dustup between Donna Brazile and Paul Begala - both of whom I deeply respect - touched on the same issues and with the same rancor.

It is my belief that there are two large and important groups that are beginning to feel they may not be welcome in the new Democratic coalition that is being discussed. The first group goes by a lot of different names: white working class voters; blue and pink collar voters; ethnic voters; Reagan Democrats; Middle America. Whatever you call them, they have been one of the backbones of the Democratic Party and - as the Reagan Democrat name suggests - when they turn away from the Party, the Party suffers. This group is hearing that it is somehow not well-educated enough, not well off enough, simply not hip enough to belong to the new Democratic Coalition.

The second group that is beginning to feel they may not fit into this new Democratic Coalition is people of a certain age. Those who feel this group might not fit into the new coalition usually refer to them as Baby Boomers. A more honest description would be “anyone born before August 4, 1961”. This group is dismissed as having betrayed its own political and social conscience and thus causing all the ills of the world. This is nonsense, of course. The Baby Boomers were no more perfect than any other generation, but the fact that the next President of the United States will almost certainly be either an African-American or a woman is proof enough of its accomplishments. The reality is that this group is not young enough to belong to the new Democratic Coalition.

It is vitally important that the Democratic Party find a way to make room for these two groups in whatever new form the coalition takes, partly for political reasons and partly on principle. The political reason is simple: it will be very hard to win the White House in the Fall if you lose these groups. The Reagan Democrats have already shown they will vote Republican when they feel the Democrats have lost touch with what is important. The older voters are, in fact, older which increases the chance they’ll vote Republican anyhow. Convince them they’re not well-thought of in the Democratic Party and it makes their move across the aisle that much easier. And then there are women. The Democratic Party believes women - both working class and older - will not side with the Republicans and they may very well be right. But it is not inconceivable that working class and older Democratic women will decide to sit the Fall election out if they feel their value is not respected in the new Democratic Coalition.

Equally important - more important in the long run - the new Democratic Coalition should find a way to make room for these two groups as a matter of principle. The nobility of reducing black-white conflict and red-blue conflict is lost if you do so by stirring up class conflict and generational conflict. Replacing racial and ideological divisions with divisions of class and generation certainly counts as change but it has nothing whatsoever to with hope - or healing.

Let me make it crystal clear that my comments about the shape of the Democratic Coalition are not directed at Senator Obama. I have seen no evidence that Senator Obama himself encourages or desires the un-welcoming of Middle America or Baby Boomers. In fact, if it were Senator Obama who was promoting this exclusionary form of the Democratic Coalition, I could tell you that the issue would disappear if I were the nominee. That is not the case. The idea of a new Democratic Coalition is coming in large part from Democrats newly registered and newly energized by the Democratic Primary and by those who write about these new Democrats. That the make-up of the Democratic Party will change over time is inevitable; I just hope it does so by greater inclusiveness rather than by having the new force out the old. I sincerely believe Senator Obama would join me in this hope.

Finally, I’d like to talk about rules, a discussion which will bring me back full circle in just a moment. I’m not going to rehash the arguments about Florida and Michigan but I do want to make one point. I cannot begin to count how many officials and commentators have insisted that “the rules are the rules” and castigated me for attempting to have some or all of the delegates from these states count. So I’d just like to point out that - under the rules - there is no reason for me to stop running. The rules of the Democratic party established a primary season that runs from January to June; specified the number of delegates needed to win the nomination; ruled out winner take all state primaries; created super delegates who can vote as they please; and set a convention date months from now. Under those rules, I can still win the Democratic Party nomination. It might be highly improbable but it’s not impossible. And I believe that as long as it’s possible, it’s worth fighting for.

Thank you.

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