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Clinton the uniter

In Denver, her words and deeds on behalf of Barack Obama have done much to bring Democrats together.

August 28, 2008

When Hillary Rodham Clinton moved Wednesday night that Barack Obama be nominated for president by acclamation of the Democratic National Convention, she added action to the powerful words of her tribute to Obama on Tuesday. Whatever her internal ambivalence, the runner-up for the party's nomination has made a commitment to party unity that even her most bitter supporters will find difficult to ignore.

It was only recently that Clinton insisted her followers needed a "catharsis" at the convention, which sounded to some Obama supporters like a call for a co-starring role in Denver. Ironically, she achieved that role not by competing with Obama but by embracing him. Her pivotal procedural part in his nomination was foreshadowed by her remarkable address Tuesday night, in which she essentially told her delegates (in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, referring to the Supreme Court's resolution of the 2000 presidential election) to "get over it."

She didn't use exactly those words, but the message was the same: "I haven't spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, campaigning for universal healthcare, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women's rights at home and around the world to see another Republican in the White House squander the promise of the country and the hopes of our people." Perhaps more important, she was unequivocal in her endorsement of the candidate who will inherit her agenda. "Barack Obama is my candidate," Clinton said. "And he must be our president."

That didn't stop some pundits and Republicans from observing that she didn't explicitly say Obama would be an acceptable commander in chief, a statement that would have atoned for her TV commercial sowing doubt about how he would respond to a 3 a.m. phone call. Yet Clinton affirmed in her speech that Obama would "meet the global challenges of our time." Close enough.

The remarkable feature of the post-primary Clinton-Obama courtship is that they didn't have to traverse much policy to embrace one another. In 1976, serious differences, especially on foreign policy, divided Gerald R. Ford, the Republican incumbent, and Ronald Reagan. The same was true of the Democratic contest in 1980 between President Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. What divided Clinton and Obama in the minds of many of their supporters was the battle to be "the first" -- either the first female president or the first African American president. If that was the case, Clinton's heartfelt endorsement may be more than just a reconciliation between competing candidates.

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