It was inevitable — somebody had to win.
Typically, identity politics is a tactic that Democrats employ against Republicans. This time, it was the blueprint for a battle fought within the Democratic party. An extremely emotional race that ended last night, but the final coda has yet to be heard.
The stage was set not last night with Hillary Clinton’s non-concession speech but last weekend at the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting, which seems by now ancient history. But it’s not possible to deconstruct what is happening now and the dance between the candidates without looking to what happened on that day.
I was there on Saturday, arriving early in the morning to see bus loads of Hillary Clinton supporters demonstrating in the street. Obama had waived his supporters off and told them not to attend, but die-hard fans on both sides had sat at their computers hitting the "refresh" button until they could get tickets to the event. The room was now filled with them, mostly cheering for their candidate’s advocates as they spoke.
That is, until the end.
As Craig Crawford noted, the outcome made it clear that Obama was flexing his now quite formidable political muscle:
Make no mistake about it. The decision rendered today by the Democratic National Committee’s rules panel showed that Barack Obama has displaced Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as boss of the party.
The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee gave Obama exactly what he wanted – a firm decision on seating Florida and Michigan delegates.
Clinton wanted a punt, a decision that would have kept things vague and lacking in finality. Her husband Bill had signaled in late May that Hillary was interested in the Vice Presidency; by all accounts Obama would rather lose a limb. Rumors began circulating last week that Obama had enough superdelegates to secure the nomination, which he would announce after the last primary vote had been counted. During this race, the candidates had split the Democratic party virtually down the middle. Would Hillary be able to make her case to the Democratic party, and to the public, that Obama needed her on the ticket?
There was mounting evidence that in fact he very well might need her:
A new Pew Research Center poll points to a surging tide of fury, especially among white women. As recently as April, this group preferred Obama over the presumptive Republican John McCain by three percentage points. By May, McCain enjoyed an eight-point lead among white women.
What’s dangerous for the Democratic Party is that, for many women, the eye of the storm has moved beyond Hillary or anything she does at this point. The offense has turned personal.
They are now in their own orbit, having abandoned popular Democratic Websites that reveled in crude anti-Hillary outpourings — and established new ones on which they trade stories of the Obama people’s nastiness.
But worse than the online malice has been the affronts to their faces.
Tara Wooters, a 39-year-old mother from Portland, Ore., told me that wearing a Hillary sticker around town has become an act of defiance. She recalls one young man telling her, "I’d rather vote for a black man than a menopausal woman."
"We don’t hurl insulting, berating remarks at Obama supporters, or at Obama himself or his family," Debbie Head, a 40-year-old from Austin, Texas, complained to me.
Remember Peggy Agar? The women do. They can’t stop talking about the Detroit TV reporter who asked Obama a serious question at a Chrysler factory — "How are you going to help American autoworkers?" — to which he answered, "Hold on a second, sweetie."
Obama’s fans are known for their enthusiasm. Everyone knew that were he to lose the nomination, the repercussions of their dashed hopes was something to take very seriously. But were Hillary’s fans that passionate? Was this just typical political disappointment, and would they over time get over it?
The RBC meeting gave Clinton’s supporters the chance to show where they stood. The Democratic Party, the press and the world got a opportunity to see for themselves that her fans were extremely ardent, committed and angry.
It was toward the end of the meeting, when the committee ruled to award Michigan delegate votes, that things started to get testy in the back of the room. Woman started chanting "Denver, Denver Denver"!
One female voice started hectoring the committee members. "No you shut up!" she shouted.
A commotion erupted and it became clear that she and other women were being escorted from the hall. I grabbed my FlipVideo camera, jumped over Salon’s Walter Shapiro and pushed my way into the lobby to see the woman, who identified herself as Harriet Christian, having a very public meltdown over the decision. I taped a two minute clip that was up on YouTube before Harriet was probably out of the building. It took more time to climb over Walter Shapiro.
The clip became a YouTube phenomenon; by the time I got home over 200,000 people had seen it. It’s now been viewed by over a million people It appeared on CNN, Fox News and the Daily Show. Within 24 hours, 10 of the top 20 political videos on YouTube were people’s responses to it.
The comments section (which now stands at 19,000, one of the most commented upon political videos on YouTube of all time) were filled with people arguing fiercely about the contest. Some calling Christian a racist who showed the true face of the Clinton campaign, others calling her a truth teller who speaks for them. She turned into a Rorschach test for a Democratic party divided. She was raw, but we were all raw.
I think Obama supporter Jack Taylor spoke for many of us when he said:
Thank god this thing is almost over before I end up sounding as crazy as this person.
In this race, Hillary Clinton managed to activate female voters that the Democratic party hasn’t been able to reach. They aren’t coming out for an issue — they’re coming out for a person they identify with. They’ve witnessed her indignities, and watched her dig her heels in and refuse to concede when people made jokes about "white bitch month" and hurled abuse in her direction. They saw her keep smiling and maintain her composure in a way that often times seemed super human. They saw her weather the arrows they themselves have suffered, and cheered her on as she refused to retreat.
Academic feminists largely abandoned Clinton with their wine track male bretheren, and are now reduced to making arguments like Clinton as a VP would be "bad for women," which probably makes little sense to ordinary working women who see themselves in her struggle. And in John McCain’s speech last night, he made it abundantly clear he would make a play for these voters.
Would they be satisfied with another woman on the ticket, not Hillary? Would Kathleen Sibelius or Patty Murray fit the bill? If Harriet Christian is typical, it would be somewhat akin to abusing your wife then trying to make it up to her by giving a ring to your new girlfriend. As Harriet herself indicated on Fox News — not bloody likely.
But how typical is she? When Hillary Clinton herself signaled yesterday that she’d like the VP position, and chose not to concede last night, the only way for Obama to keep her off the ticket is to openly reject her. It will be a clear statement to many of her female supporters — culled from one of the largest voting blocks in the Democratic party — that she is unwanted.
Obama is now on the spot. Will Clinton’s supporters stick with her, or will they get over it?
I guess we’ll find out.