Did Clinton wait too long to concede?

A history professor points to previous examples to suggest that Hillary Clinton isn't alone in waiting a bit before acknowledging her loss.

Published June 6, 2008 8:05PM (EDT)

At the Plank, a blog from the New Republic, historian David Greenberg has an interesting take on what happened this week: Judged by historical standards, Greenberg says, Hillary Clinton didn't really wait all that long to concede. It is, I know, an argument that's \ contrary to the dominant narrative, so I'll let him make it in his own words:

In 1984, when Walter Mondale prevailed over Gary Hart in the final primaries on June 6, Hart waited until June 25 to drop his plans to challenge Mondale's delegates, and until June 27 to appear with Mondale in a unity photo-op ...

In 1976, when Carter similarly won on June 9, the last primary day -- despite losing California that day to Jerry Brown and New Jersey to "uncommitted" -- it took Morris Udall, the runner-up, until June 15 to concede.

Greenberg also used the example of the 1980 race between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy, which Kennedy took all the way to the convention.

It's an interesting argument, and I'll grant Greenberg the point that at the very least we should keep history in mind when we talk about this. Still, I don't really buy it as a defense of Clinton and especially not of her speech on Tuesday, which was not the kind of speech someone even considering concession should have given. First of all, as TNR's Isaac Chotiner pointed out, this race was closer than the ones Greenberg cited, and in a paradoxical way that actually does mean it may be more important for Clinton to get out sooner.

There's an important point to be made about the optics of Clinton's move as well. Separate from what her speech on Tuesday night did, or didn't, do for party unity, there's the question of what it did for her. I thought it was just horribly tone-deaf, as if the campaign wasn't aware of the anger that would be unleashed upon her after the speech. I've said before that I think the Clinton camp erred in not making any effort whatsoever to portray Clinton as a real, live human being -- which she is, and apparently a charming one -- and instead confirmed voters' worst suspicions about her. (Jackie Calmes reported in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that a similar argument had been made within Clinton's campaign and that now-unpopular Clinton advisor Mark Penn had opposed it, saying, "Being human is overrated.") The speech on Tuesday night was another example of that.

And yes, I realize there's a double standard against Clinton and that we shouldn't play into it, but at the very least her advisors should have realized that the media would slam Clinton for not conceding in a way it might not have treated another candidate, and should have been prepared for that. They weren't, and now Clinton is leaving the race limping, as even her staunchest supporters in Congress -- like New York Rep. Charlie Rangel -- are keeping their distance.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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