Hillary Clinton has an op-ed in the NY Daily News called “Why I Continue To Run.” In addition to lamenting the fact that an unnamed “some” took her remarks about Bobby Kennedy’s assassination out of context, she makes two points that are worth remarking on. First:

“I am running because I believe staying in this race will help unite the Democratic Party. I believe that if Sen. Obama and I both make our case – and all Democrats have the chance to make their voices heard – in the end, everyone will be more likely to rally around the nominee.”

This might or might not be true in the abstract. In the actual world, however, everything depends on how Hillary Clinton conducts herself. She can continue to make her case in a constructive and positive way, trying to show that she is the best candidate while doing her best to defuse the idea that the nomination was somehow stolen from her, and to reconcile her followers to the idea that she lost fair and square; or she can try to undermine Obama’s claim to be the legitimate nominee, if he wins. “Staying in the race” describes both options. But only one of them “will help unite the Democratic Party”, and make “everyone (…) more likely to rally around the nominee.” Hillary Clinton has not chosen that option.

I just heard someone on one of the talk shows say that it must be hard for Hillary Clinton to give up her dreams. I appreciate this fact, and I do not envy her. However, as I wrote a few days ago, Hillary Clinton is a responsible moral agent. She has the power to decide which of these two approaches she will pursue. Moreover, she has now had several months to get used to the idea that she lost. If she were an adult, she would deal with it. The fact that she seems instead to require our indulgence while she sorts through her emotional issues just gives me one more reason to be glad she lost: Presidents are often confronted with crises, at 3am and other times, and they do not always have the luxury of working through all the stages of grief before coming up with a response.

Clinton also claims that she is more electable than Obama:

“Finally, I am running because I believe I’m the strongest candidate to stand toe-to-toe with Sen. McCain. Delegate math might be complicated – but electoral math is not. Our campaign is winning the popular vote – and we’ve been winning the swing states we need to get 270 electoral votes and take back the White House: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Florida and West Virginia.”

Let’s leave aside both the arguments about the popular vote and the problems involved in extrapolating from primary votes to the general election, and focus on electability in the actual world. In the actual world, the only way Clinton can win the nomination, absent some genuine catastrophe, is for the superdelegates to decide to give her the nomination. If that happened, would she be more electable? She might have an edge over Obama in Appalachia, but she would surely be at a serious disadvantage among African-American voters. This might not have been true had she won the primary on pledged delegates: in that case, Obama’s supporters would probably be disappointed, but would manage to get over it.

Obviously, I cannot speak for African-American voters, but I imagine a number of them might wonder whether it’s possible for an African-American candidate to win at all; and that a larger number probably feel that if a black candidate were to win, that candidate would have to surmount challenges that no white candidate has to face. For instance, any black candidate has to negotiate a whole minefield of issues, as was shown by the number of insulting articles early on about whether Obama was “black enough”, and, in a different way, by the focus on Jeremiah Wright. Had Obama lost straightforwardly, I imagine those voters would have been disappointed, but hardly surprised. And since African-Americans have an unbroken record of voting for white candidates for President, there’s no need to ask whether they would have been willing to do vote for one this time.

But despite the fears of those voters, Obama has actually won a majority of pledged delegates, and he won them with the support of a lot of white voters in a lot of predominantly white states. This strikes me as a wonderful thing; I cannot imagine how it would feel if I had gone through my entire life wondering, in my heart of hearts, whether anyone who looked like me could ever win a major party nomination. And if, at this point, the superdelegates were to give the nomination to Hillary Clinton, or to any white candidate, it’s hard for me to see how I would not feel robbed not only of my candidate’s shot at the nomination, but of some portion of my hopes for my country.

Again, I cannot speak for African-American voters, but I cannot imagine how Hillary Clinton could be nominated at this point, after Obama won a majority of pledged delegates, without taking a very big hit to her ability to motivate and mobilize African-American voters. Any attempt to figure out who is more electable has to take this into account. Talking about Clinton’s edge in Kentucky and West Virginia without taking into consideration the damage she would do to Democratic support among African-Americans, is at best pointless, and at worst dishonest.

(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings.)

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