Forgive and forget?
Ross Douthat on Hillary's decision to concede:
"If only she'd done this weeks ago," Matt writes. I take his point: It would probably been better for the party if Hillary had conceded defeat somewhat earlier (though there would have been the potential embarrassment of having the presumptive-nominee lose primaries to a rival who'd dropped out), or at the very least campaigned less fiercely against Obama once his victory became a near-certainty, and certainly her non-concession speech on Tuesday night was bizarre and faintly pathological. But I think that once a few months have gone by, at least some of outrage that Hillary Clinton has generated among liberal pundits by campaigning to the bitter end in a race that she ended up losing by just over a hundred pledged delegates and roughly half a percent of the popular vote will seem, in hindsight, faintly hysterical.
Ban Johnson, a commenter on Douthat's post, responds:
I'd grant your point if I believed your characterization of most of the outrage as about Clinton merely "campaigning to the bitter end" were accurate.
Most of the outrage wasn't about her campaigning in itself. It was about the malignity of her campaign -- suggesting McCain was better equipped to be commander of chief, dishonestly ginning up Michigan and Florida resentments, characterizing her supporters as "hard working white people": basically trying to sabotage Obama, the overwhelmingly likely nominee of her party, whenever she could get away with it.
(Hat tip: Sully.) I think they're both right, in a way.
Nobody got angry with Mike Huckabee for campaigning more than a month after it was clear he had no chance to win, because he didn't say or do anything that would really damage McCain. The same is quite obviously not true of Clinton and Obama. As Johnson says, it's the way she ended her campaign, in combination with the timing, that got people so upset. And it will be hard to forgive her for it entirely, particularly if the McCain campaign continues to use her words against Obama, as in this clip and this clip.
That said, Douthat is certainly right that much of the seething anger will fade. It won't disappear, but it'll diminish. To what extent it diminishes depends in part on what Hillary does from here on out. For instance, publicly backing off the ridiculous veepstakes blackmail (veepmail?) is a good start, but she really needs to privately flex some muscles and actually control her prominent surrogates like Lanny Davis, who are pushing this unseemly nonsense. Otherwise, her statement today will be viewed as yet another example of a Clinton saying one thing and doing another. Nobody will take her words ("the choice here is Senator Obama's and his alone") seriously if they aren't backed by action.
Even more importantly, as I wrote yesterday, she needs to do more than just endorse Obama and embrace him with superficial enthusiasm, which I have no doubt she'll do. She also needs to "aggressively counter" the brushfires of hostility toward him and his legitimacy that she started with her scorched-earth rhetoric of recent weeks. Again, she needs to "make perfectly clear that she was not robbed, that she lost fair and square." She is the only one who can effectively deliver this message to her die-hard supporters -- and she needs to do it despite the self-contradiction it entails, and despite the risk of disillusioning some of her true believers. If she doesn't do it (which I suspect she won't), there will be continuing sullenness and bitterness among a non-negligible portion of her base (particularly the die-hard feminists), and you can be sure Obama and the Democratic/liberal establishment will notice her failure to be, ahem, a "fighter" for the nominee and the party/movement in this regard.
In any event, although the seething anger will indeed fade, the image of the Clintons among countless Obama supporters and many other Democrats and liberals has been irrevocably damaged. People like my mother have long memories about this sort of thing, and although Hillary and Bill can now recover from the Bush/Lieberman abyss of liberal hatred that they were beginning to fall into, they'll never regain the high esteem in which they were once held. People may partially forgive, but they won't forget, and the anger will come back if she runs for president again, particularly if it's after an Obama loss. In a potential 2012 bid, she would definitely not start out as an "inevitable" nominee. Indeed, I'd say that any future attempt at a Clinton presidential bid will necessary require another intraparty civil war.