Usually, it is the plucky outsider, the determined dissenter, the underdog who did not quite make it, who has to swallow hard and tell cheering supporters that they will have to support the other guy.
In fact, one of the standard images from the American campaign trail is that of the candidate who tried to beat the establishment being forced by hard circumstance – and the demands of party loyalty – to pull the plug on a movement that, when all the votes were, couldn’t beat the bosses.
On Saturday, however, it was the establishment – or, to be more precise, the woman with the most prominent name and, at least at the start of the 2008 presidential race, the support of the party’s dominant players – who had to tell her backers to tell her supporters to vote for the underdog.
“I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me,” said New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who began the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination as the prohibitive frontrunner but ended it as a fiery populist railing against the unfairness of the nominating process, the cruelty of the media and her abandonment by so-called “super delegates” for a young senator from Illinois who wasn’t even sure he wanted to make the race.
Clinton told thousands of cheering supporters at the National Building Museum in Washington on Saturday afternoon that it was time to “take our energy, our passion and our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama.”
Clinton was gracious, and clear about her support for Obama. When some supporters booed her announcement of support for the candidate they had worked so hard to beat, the former First Lady said it would “break my heart” if hurt feelings on the part of her supporters in any way undermined Obama’s fall campaign against John McCain.
“(The) Democratic Party is a family, and now it’s time to restore the ties that bind us together,” she said, quieting most of the boos.
Obama was equally gracious.
“Obviously, I am thrilled and honored to have Sen. Clinton’s support,” he said, in what after the long primary campaign is surely an understatement. “But more than that, I honor her today for the valiant and historic campaign she has run. She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams. And she inspired millions with her strength, courage and unyielding commitment to the cause of working Americans.”
Of course, it is easier to be gracious when you are the winner.
That’s the norm.
What is not the norm in American politics is the image of the commoner who challenged party royalty accepting his victory.
Though the focus, this day, is on Hillary Clinton — and rightfully so — the real drama, the real history, is in the fact that the roles have been reversed.
The candidate who was not supposedto have a chance is now going to be the Democratic nominee for president.
And his name is Barack Obama.