Hillary's generic call to arms

Democratic Convention
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., addresses the delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

DENVER - Many of my press colleagues seem to believe that Hillary Clinton last night delivered a "full-throated endorsement" of Barack Obama (to quote one story), and that she did so "emotionally and definitively" (to quote another).

I strongly beg to differ.

It was little more than a generic party endorsement; in essence, she said merely that her followers should fall in line behind Obama because he is a Democrat, she is a Democrat, they are all Democrats, and the bad guys are Republicans. She had great things to say about the party, and she made it clear that Obama agrees with her about the mission of the party. But she had virtually nothing of a personal nature to say about Obama, other than a fleeting reference to his early stint as a community organizer.

And what Obama needed most was a ringing personal endorsement of his character - a few lines, perhaps, about his leadership potential, his power to inspire, and even his preparedness to command. Even if Clinton doesn't really believe he has those attributes (indeed, it appears she has doubts), that kind of public vetting would have been the strongest possible signal to her most diehard delegates that they should quit their whining, park their delusions about she was supposedly robbed of victory, and cancel any plans they might have to make mischief during the symbolic roll call vote this evening.

But she didn't do that. Instead, she pointedly praised Michelle Obama and predicted that "she will be a great first lady for America." Traditional convention hyperbole would at least require that she also view Barack Obama as a "great" future president, but nary a word about that. Then she pointedly lauded running mate Joe Bidn as "a strong leader, a good man...he's pragmatic, he's tough, and he's wise." Take a guess who was not described as strong or good or pragmatic or tough or wise.

At another point, she listed her issue aspirations - ending discrimination, promoting unionization, civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and so much more, the generic Democratic list - and finished by saying that "those are the reasons I support Barack Obama for president." Then she went into a riff about how "we need leaders once again who can tap into that special blend of American confidence and optimism," yet she couldn't bring herself to declare that Obama was such a leader, or to even put "leader" and "Obama" in the same sentence."

Undecided voters have been hanging back on Obama not because they have doubts about the Democrats - quite the opposite, since polls show the Democrats hammering the Republicans in generic White House matchups - but because they have doubts about him. Clinton's generic praise for the Democrats did nothing to help Obama. Where she could have helped most, in the personal realm, she did virtually nothing.

Even John McCain rated a shout-out as her "friend and colleague" - whereas Obama is merely a Democrat who would govern as a Democrat, just like in the '90s, "with President Clinton and the Democrats." Apparently, her idea of praise was to suggest that Barack is in the grand tradition of Bill, a comparison that the '08 nominee might well consider dubious.

Granted, she did twice refer to the nominee as "President Obama," and she did suggest that her troops should get with the program ("none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines"). In other words, there was enough for her camp to spin the speech as a sufficient nod to Obama.

But she did nothing to dispel the notion (which she first introduced, and has since bequeathed to a grateful McCain) that Obama still lacks the personal attributes to handle a crisis at three in the morning. Her glaring omission speaks volumes about the grudging mood inside Clintonland, and matters far more than her generic call to arms.

And now comes Bill, tonight. The word is that Obama's people, as courtesy to a former president, will not be vetting the speech in advance. You never quite know what this guy is going to say, or how long it will take him to say it. (The person I feel sorry for is Beth Robinson, the "stay at home mom" who is scheduled to follow him.) Bill reminds me of the Grateful Dead; going in, you never knew how they'd do the songs or whether Jerry would have maximum use of his remaining brain cells. Bill will probably do the party generics, praise himself lavishly, rhetorically construct a whole new presidential library to himself, then give a nod to Obama while leaving a load of stuff between the lines. Or not.

And then he leaves. The Obama people are undoubtedly looking forward to the clock striking 10 p.m. in the east, because that's when they finally get their convention back.