Hillary Made Obama a Better Candidate

Democrats should be glad she stayed in the race.

The anti-Hillary Clinton pundits were sounding the theme a few months ago that by staying in the presidential race through June 3, the former first lady was a divisive force that would irreparably harm Barack Obama’s chances of capturing the White House.

But now Mrs. Clinton’s decision to stay in the race until the last primary has been vindicated. Mr. Obama is a stronger candidate today thanks to Mrs. Clinton’s pursuit of the Democratic nomination. And, far from being polarizing, she has helped bring the party together more than at any time in recent memory.

[Commentary] AP

We know this from Mr. Obama himself. Because she didn’t quit until after the primaries were over, his grassroots organization grew stronger across the nation, his fundraising network became more extensive, and his TV and radio advertising from the late fall of 2007 to June 2008 increased favorable recognition of him in many states. These things made him a stronger general election candidate.

We also know that Mr. Obama became a better candidate over time as he was tested, and retested, in the key head-to-head debates with Mrs. Clinton. These debates made him more prepared and effective when he squared off against Sen. John McCain than he otherwise would have been.

There are two other claims anti-Hillary pundits repeated about the damage Mrs. Clinton was supposedly doing to the party that have now been repudiated. The first is that she hurt Mr. Obama by attacking him for being inexperienced, and for his connections to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers. Not only have these criticisms been proven false, but the opposite turns out to be the case.

We now know that airing these issues during the primaries significantly benefited Mr. Obama in the general election. Airing them last spring gave Mr. Obama the time to develop effective responses, so he would be better prepared post-Labor Day when the general electorate began to focus on the election.

Take Rev. Wright, whose association had the potential to be very damaging to Mr. Obama. The early airing of this issue challenged Mr. Obama to deal with it directly. He first made an eloquent speech in Philadelphia on the issue. Then, after Rev. Wright’s ill-timed and over-the-top appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, Mr. Obama decided to repudiate him directly and withdraw from his church.

Is there any doubt that Mr. Obama is better off because all of this happened last spring rather than having to deal with it for the first time in September or October? Yet go back to the videotape, and see how many pundits you can find denouncing Mrs. Clinton for expressing concerns about the Wright issue. Where are they now?

The second claim often repeated late in the primaries is that the Clintons wouldn’t really have their hearts in campaigning for Mr. Obama and that “Hillary Democrats” would become “Reagan Democrats” who would support Mr. McCain. There always was a danger that certain working-class/rural voters who strongly supported Mrs. Clinton in such state primaries as Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia would not easily transfer their support to Mr. Obama. The same worry was often repeated about Democratic women who were angry or simply grieving about Mrs. Clinton not being picked as the nominee.

But the anti-Hillary pundit crowd took it even further. They said the Clintons harbored secret ambitions that, if Mr. Obama lost, Mrs. Clinton could run again in 2012. Events and facts have proven them dead wrong. It is ludicrous to assume that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton would want a Republican conservative to be elected president, one who holds positions opposite from them on the crucial issues — such as national health care, progressive taxation, social justice and abortion choice for women — that they’ve been fighting for over 40 years in public life.

The Clintons’ speeches at the national convention, and their strong support and campaigning for Mr. Obama ever since, have been centrally responsible for the Hillary Democrats coming home to the Democratic Party in the past several weeks. The polls show that. Everyone who has talked to the Clintons and heard them speak publicly on behalf of Mr. Obama knows that they are sincere in supporting the Obama-Biden ticket.

Everyone — it seems — knows this but the pundits who predicted the opposite. It’s time for some people to apologize to Mrs. Clinton, or at least admit they were wrong. Now those of us who have known her for so long can feel vindicated that the real Hillary Clinton — gracious, principled, and authentically committed to progressive issues and the election of a Democratic president — is now there for all to see, and has finally proven that the cartoon caricature created over the years by extremists left and right has nothing to do with reality.

Mr. Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, supports Barack Obama for president.

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