Having grown up in the South in the 1960s, I vividly remember that during the Civil War's centennial years a few diehard Confederate sympathizers just refused to get over the fact that the war was long past and it was time to move on.
I recall the bumper stickers that sported a Confederate flag or a Johnny Reb image and the message "Forget? Hell, no!" There's even an island in the Bahamas that was settled by Confederate sympathizers who refused to rejoin the Union.
Those days have been gone for decades in the South. But listening to some of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's diehard supporters reminds me of the Southerners who stubbornly refused to concede that the Civil War was over, their side had lost, and it was time to suck it up and move forward.
The question as Clinton strides onto the podium tonight is whether she will decide to lead her supporters or choose to enable those diehards by instead following them. Sure, she has uttered the words of support before and as recently as Monday, but other words and actions from Clinton and some of her advisers have made that support sound somewhat hollow and insincere. One step forward, one step back.
Logic would suggest that Clinton should tell her backers to get with the program. First, as Democrats and people who care deeply about an agenda, Clinton and Barack Obama hold positions whose differences are nuanced at best.
Second, if Clinton is to play a major role in her party in the future, whether as the lioness of the Senate -- modeling herself after Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was honored last night -- or whether she has any hopes of running for the presidency again, she and her husband cannot be perceived as half-hearted Obama supporters, or as contributing to his possible defeat.
In recent weeks, Hillary Clinton has opened herself up to just that criticism. Even if she prays every night before she goes to bed that Obama loses in November, she has to be seen as supporting him 100 percent -- enthusiastically supporting him -- or she puts herself in danger of appearing to be a saboteur.
Finally, because many of these diehards are feminists, they should ask themselves if by being so reluctant to accept defeat, they really are advancing the cause of electing the first woman president.
Listening to the "leaders" of some of these groups with catchy names like PUMA, which stands for Party Unity My A**, I get the impression that some of them are simply opportunists seizing this situation to get their 15 minutes of fame on cable news shows and in newspapers. They don't seem to represent a meaningful bloc of voters who refuse to accept the outcome of the nomination fight.
Yet there is a bloc of Democratic primary voters who have demonstrated reluctance to support Obama. For some, nothing would make a difference. They supported Clinton because of their opposition to or doubts about Obama. Clinton was a vehicle for expressing their objections to Obama. But for others, having Hillary and Bill Clinton strongly vouch for Obama would be very important in a race that the latest Gallup tracking poll shows as tied at 45 percent. Anything less than a wholehearted show of support would undercut Sen. Clinton's future and President Clinton's long, uphill climb to rehabilitate his image within the party.
Whether for her own sake or her husband's or their party's, Hillary Clinton would be well advised to not only strongly and enthusiastically back Obama, but also admonish her advisers and supporters not to undercut her on this all-important mission. This is her chance to prove she's a leader.
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