Video: Can Clintons, Obamas unite?

By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 8/26/2008 2:41:41 PM ET 2008-08-26T18:41:41

Cue Carly Simon.

Beginning Tuesday night and extending at least midway through Wednesday, you'll have to forgive those of us in the media if you hear us humming the song "You're So Vain." The Clintons will probably think this convention's about them.

The Obama campaign truly is rolling the dice this week by giving the Clintons speaking slots on two separate nights.

Perhaps this was part of the deal with Hillary Clinton; Bill must not speak before her (he doesn't just like overshadowing opponents). But whatever the reason, the Clintons are already getting more deferential treatment by Barack Obama in this convention than the Clintons gave their opponents (or the Kennedys), or than George Bush gave John McCain in 2000. In fact, I'm struggling to find an example where a losing primary opponent got two nights of a convention.

Of course, Clinton was no ordinary primary loser: She is the wife of the only living two-term Democratic president, so obviously there is extra deference owed to them. Then again, the Clintons should also be aware of the situation. And if they haven't figured it out by now, their actions are usually judged more critically than their words — and their actions have not been been strong enough in support of Obama. Their words are fine, it's the gestures and the body language that signal to her most ardent supporters that she's not over it.

Second-guessing time
And you know what, she shouldn't get over it. Looking at the two best retrospectives on the Clinton campaign — Roger Simon's tour de force in Politico and Josh Green's provocative original source piece in The Atlantic — she should be second-guessing herself big time, starting with the people she surrounded herself with.

Mandy Grunwald, her longtime political aide, is fond of saying the candidate was better than the campaign. She's right, though Clinton isn't blameless since she didn't hire folks familiar with what it took to win a primary.

I've always hesitated to say she hired incompetent people. She didn't. She hired some great folks. She just hired the wrong great folks for the job.

So Clinton's speech Tuesday night ought to do two things: make the case for Obama, and lay down the gauntlet for the issue she cares most about, health care. No doubt, it's appropriate for her to also acknowledge the historical nature of her candidacy in gender terms, but she ought not to blame others for the defeat.

She's not Goldilocks
I think Clinton will say the right things. The problem she faces is that she's not Goldilocks. She'll never be "just right" for Clinton's most ardent defenders and Obama's most enthusiastic supporters.

While Clinton is the headliner, two other things to watch for:

1) The hits on McCain should be more noticeable as the lineup of speakers (not named Clinton or Mark Warner) are strewn with some of the party's most biting tongues (yes, that means you, Rahm Emanuel).

2) As for the keynoter, Warner's got a very tough job. He has his own image to protect so I don't expect a very partisan speech. It may be similar in tone to Obama's keynote from 2004 and that's exactly the comparison Warner wants. Why? When the former Virginia governor looks in the mirror, he thinks he sees a future president.

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