Analysis: Hillary, Bill, Must-See TV

DENVER -- You may recall that for many months of this year, the pundits prattled about how Hillary Clinton was hurting the eventual nominee by hanging in the race. That was a dubious claim; the competition seemed to draw more people, more coverage, and more excitement to the Democrats. Now this week, the wise analysts have hyperventilated on the importance of Clinton getting her supporters to "unite" with Obama, for if not he shall surely fail. Hmmm. I don't actually believe the feud is a strategic invention to drive up ratings, but it certainly would have been a wise one if it was.

I thought Clinton gave a terrific speech last night, but I think the stakes were far bigger for her than for Obama. Clinton has been teetering on the verge of being tossed from the fold of the Democratic Party. Consider that had she NOT given a forceful endorsement of Obama, then she faced only two possible futures within the Democratic Party: A) complete estrangement from an Obama Administration, or B) total blame for a McCain Administration.

She still couldn't bring herself to actually say anything nice about Obama in her speech, or even to give a single clip-ready line rebutting her old 'he's not ready to lead' critiques now being used by the Republicans. But, she did something more important, which is to draw (presumably) a larger-than-normal viewing audience and tell them in simple, compelling terms why they need to vote Dem instead of Rep this November,

Bill Clinton, I suspect, will similarly use his speech to bash McCain. (You may recall that he was one of the few to give a true attack speech in Boston in '04.) I expect him to focus on the economy -- I wouldn't be surprised to hear him make some outstanding reprise of the classic "It's the economy, stupid" refrain from his 1992 campaign. (Is he ballsy enough to say it as a mocking piece of advice to McCain?)

That's what he should do, in my opinion, and he should carry it through thematically to compare Barack '08 to Bill '92 -- criticized for being untested, an outsider, etc., but in fact being just the kind of new energy the White House needs. That would not only be a great argument to the American people, but also a great move for him and his legacy. It would be, in effect, his seconding of Ted Kennedy's challenge on Monday night for the party to let go of its loyalties to the old generation of leaders -- which implicitly includes Bill as well as Ted, Jesse, and the rest.

Of course, that also implicitly includes Hillary, and I doubt that Bill is ready to concede that she is not the future of the party.

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