Hillary’s Concession Speech — the limits of public address

Hillary Clinton within the last hour gave an exquisite address in Washington, D.C., withdrawing from the presidential sweepstakes officially.

The speech was going to be scrutinized for hidden, off-putting, and self-serving messages — messages that demanded that she be Barack Obama’s vice-presidential candidate; messages that indicated bitterness that she was treated badly in the campaign; and messages that Barack Obama did not win fair and square and in fact was not ready to be president.

No such messages were to be found.

The speech was, to this conservative viewer, as gracious a concession speech as one hears in such situations, rivaling Ronald Reagan’s in 1976 to President Gerald Ford and Al Gore’s to Governor George Bush in 2000. It was clear (with perhaps the exception of the claim “We answered [whether a woman could be] Commander in Chief”), passionate and without subtle nastiness to Barack Obama. Looking only at the substance of this speech, her support of Barack Obama is strong, repetitive, and unequivocal.

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She expressed her gratitude to her supporters; she defended her decision to continue the race when people were calling for her to withdraw; and she argued that everyone should realize the significance of her campaign for the equal rights and political future of women, a theme overtly less prominent in her primary campaign.

All of that said, the speech did nothing to erase the classic Hobson’s choice facing Barack Obama: choose Hillary and win and live with a presidentially lean and hungry Vice President and her husband who will minimize a President Obama’s clout. Choose Hillary and energize all of the intensive anti-Clinton (Hillary and Bill) voters in the country, making a loss much more likely. Do not choose Hillary and anger – and perhaps cause to stay home or vote Republican — a large portion of the pro-Hillary 18 million voters who will ask, “What do you have to do to earn a place on the ticket?”

Great speeches are often made for questionable ends — in this case, the impossible choice left nominee Barack Obama. His dilemma of putting or not putting Senator Clinton on the ticket can not be attenuated by the best of concession addresses.

Richard E. Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University

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