LOS ANGELES – Hillary Clinton's statement that she will take the fight to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations to the Democratic convention if those states want her to set the skeptics chattering as to what her agenda really was.
Should this be seen as a warning that she planned to take her fight for the nomination to the convention floor, putting off until nearly September the unification of the party to fight John McCain?
I don't think so.
Should it be seen as part of a pressure campaign to force Obama to give her the second spot on the ticket, something many of those around her, if not Hillary herself, have signaled that they very much want?
I wouldn't say so.
Of the thirty members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee scheduled to meet at the end of May in Washington, 13 are committed to Hillary's candidacy. She may not have won the majority of pledged delegates, but right now, she has a plurality of the pledged members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee.
If she can't "win" there, whatever win means, she is not likely to do better on the convention floor.
Credentials challenges are decided by the majority of pledged and superdelegates, excluding those (from Michigan and Florida) whose credentials are being challenged.
If Obama, at that point in time, has the majority, in other words, if he has enough to win without Michigan and Florida, then he will have enough to win the challenge to their credentials.
As for forcing him to pick her for vice president, the short answer is you can't force someone in that position to do what they don't want to do.
Pressure, sure. But if Obama wants Sam Nunn or Joe Biden or Governor Strickland or Rendell, all he has to do is say it, and the game is over.
Besides, as a Hillary fan myself, I'm not at all sure that the second place on the ticket is the place for her to be. With the exception of George Bush the elder, the vice presidency hasn't been a particularly promising route to the White House in recent years.
If Obama wins, Hillary's hands are tied for eight years, and her days will be spent playing second banana. For a former First Lady who has already spent eight years attending more than her share of state funerals, that can't look very appealing.
In the Senate, particularly a Senate without Ted Kennedy, there is room for a superstar, and she is the logical candidate.
And if Obama loses, which I choose to believe is not what the Clintons or any other Democrats, her supporters included, would wish on the country (Ok, call me naive or idealistic, but I believe she, and they, care more about the country's future than her personal ambitions), she becomes the candidate we should have nominate — unless, that is, some in the party find a way to blame her for the loss.
That's a big unless.
Whether you agree with me or not that Hillary would put the country before personal ambition, it's certainly true that from the perspective of her personal ambition, the one thing she can't afford is to be blamed for an Obama defeat.
And could she be? Absolutely.
It will be "Hillary's fault," in the eyes of too many for her to become the nominee in the future, if she takes a doomed fight to the convention and keeps the party from uniting behind Obama if and when he can legitimately claim the support of a majority of the delegates — that is, a majority of the delegates who will vote on the credentials challenge, and thus, enough for him to win by refusing to seat them, if that's what it takes.
If that's what it takes, and he has to do that, and then the Democrats lose Florida and lose the general election, guess who will be blamed.
Believe me, she knows that. It will also be "Hillary's fault" if she forces herself onto a ticket which is then viewed as combining the worst rather than the best of all possible worlds.
Ultimately, Obama (if he wins) has to make this calculation: there are strong arguments both ways. Without question, there is serious disaffection right now among many women about the sense of being shunted aside, told to pipe down and line up, the sense that the Hillary campaign, and Hillary herself, has become a mirror for the frustrations the rest of us have faced as we battle subtle and no-so-subtle discrimination.
Putting Hillary on the ticket would give these women something to cheer about. It would ensure a very happy convention. But the key to winning in the fall may not lie in a unified convention but a ticket that does not challenge voters to put aside both their racism and their sexism, conscious and unconscious.
A guy running for change and against Washington might be excused for thinking twice before running with someone who epitomizes Washington in the 90's, for better and for worse. A guy who has plenty of his own baggage to carry (hello Jeremiah Wright, William Ayres, past drug use, etc.) might be excused if he concluded that the overhead bins were crowded enough without adding any baggage from the Clinton years.
In the end, Hillary will do what's best for her, and taking a credentials fight to the convention floor, especially if it's a losing one, is not going to be best for her. And Obama will do what's best for him, and if it's not picking Hillary to run with him, there's nothing she or anyone else can do to force him to change his mind .
That's just the way it is, and should be.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.
Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.