In thanks to Hillary

Clinton made a historic run, sure, but she also made Obama a better candidate.

By Thomas Schaller
Published November 3, 2008 8:13PM (UTC)
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Tuesday should be Barack Obama's day. He has owned 2008: He beat the Clinton machine in the primary; he built an unprecedented field organization, exciting millions of new voters; he attracted more than 3 million donors when no previous candidate had ever attracted a million; and he proved himself a cool and capable campaigner and future leader of the country.

During the tough, often bloody Democratic primary, I was often quite critical of Hillary Clinton, her husband and some of her campaign aides. Though I think she was a victim of a stale campaign approach, it was ultimately her choice to run what was essentially the Gore campaign with a better Web site. She didn't keep a lid on Bill. And, in the end, despite proclaiming herself the candidate ready to lead on Day One she proved unable to lead her organization properly by Month Ten.


But, on the eve of the election, it is worth pausing to remember what Hillary Clinton accomplished. First, she never gave up, even when many inside and outside of her camp were wondering privately, if not aloud, whether she ought to soldier on. Second, she forced Obama to be a better, more retail-oriented, policy-specific candidate. Third, though she had not intended it to have such an effect, by raising subjects like Obama's Rev. Wright connections she helped make stale by summer issues John McCain desperately, but ineffectively, hoped to refresh this autumn. And, most of all, Hillary left a legacy not just for future women candidates for president but for all candidates for president.

Did she make some strategic errors? Could she have been more gracious on some of those Tuesday nights when Obama was winning big? Might she have been better served from the very outset by cleaning out her husband's cadre of advisors and building her own machine? Yes, yes and yes again.

But with a Democrat just a day away from becoming the 44th president of the United States -- a position that Clinton almost surely would have found herself in today had she won the nomination -- Hillary deserves a final thank you.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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