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Faint Praise

Hillary Clinton's nuanced support for Barack Obama.

2:44 PM, Aug 25, 2008 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Denver

HILLARY CLINTON WASN'T invited to address the DNC's Hispanic Caucus until early this morning. Nevertheless, she showed up at the Colorado Convention Center shortly after 10:30 for her first public talk to convention goers about Barack Obama. It was revealing in both what she did and did not say.

Clinton was greeted like a conquering hero by the 300 or so people in attendance. They gave her a standing ovation, applause and "Hillary! Hillary!" chants for nearly a minute when she took to the podium.

She began by telling the crowd, "I came here to say thank you." She said that the support of Latinos made a difference from Nevada to Puerto Rico. A minute and a half into her remarks she said, "We come together here in Denver, the Mile High City, to pledge our support and to unify behind the next president of the United States, Barack Obama."

After that big applause line, she thanked many of the prominent Hispanic supporters of her campaign, and tipped her hat to two Hispanic congressional candidates. And then she moved on to talk about the many causes she and the Hispanic caucus have fought for together: farm workers, immigration reform, healthcare reform. She explained that she traveled to the barrios and the border and knows how important it is to go back to creating good jobs for Americans.

Then Clinton returned to the subject of Obama. "On any issue that matters to you, we must have a Democratic president," she said. And later, "I know with all my heart that we cannot afford four more years of the same failed policies."

"I am asking you, those of you who supported me--I will be forever grateful--to work as hard for Barack Obama as you would for me." This line garnered big applause and another round of "Hillary!" chanting.

Clinton then addressed the McCain ad "Passed Over," which features her saying unflattering things about Obama. "They're running ads with words from me and words from Joe Biden . . . well I have seen those ads and here's what I have to say, 'I'm Hillary Clinton, and I do not approve that message.'" (One expects to hear some version of this line during her primetime speech tomorrow.)

Finally, Clinton closed by saying that "We were not just fighting to elect a particular person president. We were fighting to take our country back."

All of this suggests that Clinton is playing a subtle game. She is going to say the right things about unity for the delegates and convention-goers and isn't going to act out. And for these professional Democrats, hearing Clinton say that she supports Obama will be a relief. One suspects that this speech will be counted as a victory for Obama.

Yet notice that Clinton's support extends only so far as arguing that it's important to have a Democrat elected president. She had nothing positive to say about Obama himself--not a single line of praise for him as a person or a candidate. There were no words of reassurance that he is, in fact, ready to lead or that he can be trusted on any particular issues. Even her remark about the McCain ad is weak tea: She nominally renounced the ad by saying that she doesn't approve the message. But she declined to repudiate any of the specific charges she makes about Obama in the ad.

Earlier this morning, in an event not open to press, Clinton addressed the New York delegation. Her team sent out a press release with quotes from her remarks and they were along a similar line:

Every one of us could stand up and recite all the reasons why we must elect Barack. The Supreme Court is at stake; our educational system needs the right kind of change. We've got to become energy independent; we have to create millions of new green collar jobs. We've got so much work to do around the world.

None of that will happen if John McCain is in the White House. I just want to make it absolutely clear we cannot afford four more years of George W. Bush's failed policies in America and that's what we would get with John McCain.

While Clinton's party-unity talk may be enough for the convention goers, it's an open question about how far this message goes in assuaging the concerns of the less partisan voters who are not yet sold on Obama. The numbers out today are worrisome for Obama: 30 percent of Clinton primary voters claim they will support McCain; 23 percent say they support Obama, but may change their minds.

To the extent that these voters are hedging because of concerns they have about Obama (and not, as many observers suppose, because of mere personal loyalty to Clinton), Clinton's calls for unity may not go very far.

We'll see if Clinton modifies her message in the next 36 hours. Tomorrow she speaks to Emily's List in the afternoon and to the main convention in the evening.

Jonathan V. Last is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.