Menu

ARCHIVE

Obama Needs to Make Nice on All Sides

Spare me the true believers.

I don’t mean the people who support Barack Obama for president. I support Barack Obama for president. I mean the people who worship him to the point that anyone who says anything raising questions about the inevitability of his rise to sainthood, much less the perfection of him and his wife and his campaign, is deserving of damnation.

I wrote a column last week about how the Obama campaign needed to guard against the arrogance that many people tell me they have detected in dealing with them. I didn’t condemn the candidate. I didn’t say he doesn’t deserve to be president. I just made the point, which seems almost obvious to me, that he isn’t president yet, that even with the great speeches and adoring crowds he found abroad, the race remains very close, at least; that there is resistance in many quarters to his candidacy and while some of it may be race-based, some of it reflects legitimate questions about experience, and policy; and that whatever its basis, in the end it doesn’t matter if more people vote for McCain than for him.

“Heinous,” one woman wrote to me, in describing my thoughts, and me. Heinous? Oh, of course, and racist and stupid. Thanks. Such comments came not from conservatives who oppose Barack Obama but from true-believers who are ready to condemn anyone who has not joined the revival.

Hold on a minute.

I’ve been out there fighting to elect Democrats for the better part of three decades. I know what it’s like to win, and I know what it’s like to lose, and winning is definitely better. And believe me, you don’t win by denouncing people on your own side (or even the other side), by questioning their motives, impugning their integrity, and making clear that there is no room for anyone who views this as a political contest rather than a test of faith.

I agree with Michael Kinsley, who wrote a very smart column in Time Magazine two weeks ago saying that Hillary supporters and die-hard liberals need to stop criticizing Obama for moving to the middle, stop focusing on how Hillary was treated, or mistreated, in the primaries and caucuses, stop licking their wounds and get with the program. He’s right. But love is a two-way street. It’s also time to extend the welcome mat.

There are stories kicking around about how African-Americans in at least two states (South Carolina and New York itself) who supported Hillary Clinton ended up with primary opponents in their own races for re-election to punish them for being pro-Clinton. This is not the way to win. There are stories kicking around that the reason (or one of them) that the highly effective Hillraisers are not raising the kind of money for Obama that they raised for Clinton is because they have been told that no matter what they do, they will never be the “equal” of the Obama fundraisers.

Come again?

These are not people looking for government jobs. All they want is invitations to events and the trinkets and titles that prove they are part of the team, the sort of things that are easy to give and ridiculous to withhold. There are places for seniority systems, but campaigns aren’t among them.

I am happy to believe that Barack Obama himself has nothing to do with recruiting candidates to oppose former Hillary supporters or creating barriers to their full participation. I am happy to believe that he would be appalled if he read some of the e-mails I get when I write columns cautioning the campaing to avoid arrogance, taking on the attitude (that I am certainly not alone in perceiving) that Obama can’t lose and that anyone who so much as suggests that he might is a heretic deserving of condemnation. I am happy to believe that he does not share in the nastiness and invective that is still being heaped on Hillary and Bill Clinton by some who hold themselves out as members of Obama’s inner circle.

But it needs to stop, and he needs to make sure that it does.

Because of the way delegate selection works on the Democratic side, a process with which we all became intimately familiar during the long primary season, very close to half the delegates at the Demcoratic Convention will be there because they supported Hillary Clinton for president, not Barack Obama. From the media perspective, there is nothing better than a convention fight, than disgruntled delegates ready to go on the record, than delegates acting up and acting out at the expense of the nominee. From the candidate’s perspective, there is nothing worse.


As anyone who has ever polled the question of conventions will tell you, there is a widespread view among voters (as opposed to television producers) that discord is a sign of weakness; that if you can’t run (control) your convention, how can you run the country? Jimmy Carter almost certainly paid for the discord at the 1980 Convention, in which angry Kennedy supporters (I was just a kid at the time, what can I say?) took out their frustration at the campaign that had not only defeated us, but chose to “stomp on the grave,” as we call it in politics, in the months leading up to the convention.

We pressied for votes on dozens of minority reports and even interrupted their speakers with chants of “no, no, no.” Poor Andy Young. He had actually cleared his speech with Senator Kennedy himself. But my friend (and now federal judge) Rick Stearns and I didn’t know that when the grownups left us in charge of the boiler room; we decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to test out our communcations system, by asking all our delegates to stand up and chant, fists in the air. We timed how many seconds it took between our giving the order and the networks interrupting the speech to ask what was going on. Ninety second, the first time. "Will there be a walkout?," Walter Cronkhite asked. We told our delegates to sit down. Then we did it again. Cut 10 seconds off the time.

There was a reason, four years later, that Mondale went the extra mile to compromise with Jesse Jackson. He didn’t want a convention crack-up. Ditto for Dukakis, in 1988. Bill Clinton could never have done his Sister Souljah speech on the eve of the 1992 Convention had Jesse run that year. But he hadn’t, and the convention belonged to Clinton . George Bush paid dearly for the anger that was on display at the 1992 convention from the likes of his primary opponent, Pat Buchanan.

No candidate — in my memory, anyway — has gone into a convention with as many delegates pledged to his one-time opponent as Barack Obama will face in Denver in August. They may not be able to wrest the nomination away from him (I have no reason to believe they would even try), but if they don’t feel included, their exclusion could cost him dearly. It’s time to make nice, on all sides. Otherwise, John McCain will be the victor. And spare me the “heinous” e-mails for saying that. The truth may hurt, but believe me, losing hurts a whole lot more.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first female president of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for FOXNews.com.

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.