Adam Mansbach 2008

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An Open Letter to Senator Clinton

Dear Senator Clinton,

Congratulations on some fine victories yesterday.  I know you were hoping to have this thing locked up by now -- that front-loaded primary schedule Terry MacAuliffe designed especially for you really did seem foolproof back when you were the presumptive nominee, and if you'd been the only one with enough money to campaign in twenty-two states at once like you figured, it probably would have worked.  Who knew Obama would outearn you, and then proceed to win over eighty percent of the black vote, half the white male vote, and four in ten women? 

Both of you are claiming victory this morning, and both of you have your reasons.  He won more states (and his campaign is doing a good job of pretending that's relevant), and he seems to have edged you in delegates.  He won Missouri by a nose, and they've voted for the eventual winner every time. Many of his wins were by margins large enough to secure a sizable majority of delegates, and some of yours were narrow enough that they were actually washes, delegate-wise -- just like in Nevada.  I know it's kind of like putting down the word 'irascible' in Scrabble and scoring fewer points than the guy who lays 'zoo' on a triple-word-score tile, but hey, you've had plenty of time to challenge the rules. 

 You managed not only to hold onto California, but also to cast your wins there and in New Jersey and Massachusetts (that oughta show those Kennedy turncoats) in dramatic light, as if they were unexpected or even 'comebacks.'  It's the same ploy you used in New Hampshire: Obama surges late, the polls exaggerate his movement, and then you spin your victory as momentum-driven, the result of a muscular burst of support just when all seemed lost.  How barely holding off a surging competitor (Obama shaved ten-plus points off your Cali lead in the last two weeks) indicates momentum, I'm not sure.  But you've been selling it.

Let me get to the point.  We all know by now that whoever wins this race is going to win by a razor-thin margin.  By the time we have our nominee, John McCain will have been kicking his feet up for months.  His polyurethane facemask will be all repaired, his opposition research well in order. He may even have figured out how to convince Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and their constituents to vote for him.

I'm not saying you're going to be the candidate.  I think what Obama's doing is remarkable -- not just the speed with which he's closed on you, not just the excitement he's generated or the hope he's inspired or the number of people he's pulled into the democratic process, but the fact that he's holding his own against someone as utterly entrenched as you, somebody who is running with an incumbent-like advantage within the party apparatus. 

But if you do win, here's what you've got to do: put aside the rancor of the campaign, apologize for all the nasty things your husband and your surrogates said, and pick Obama as your running mate. 

I know you'll probably choose Senator Biden or Governor Richardson or some such 'elder statesman,' thus revealing that you don't see yourself as an elder stateswoman.  The huge sucking sound you will then hear will be the instant evaporation of all the energy currently electrifying the Democratic electorate, all the excitement suffusing this contest.  If you turn your back on the man millions see as hope and change incarnate -- a man who, if he doesn't win, will have lost only by a hair while boosting voter turnout to unseen levels in state after state -- you will be playing yourself and your party.  If you think Democrats are as excited about your candidacy as Republicans are at the prospect of facing you, you're wrong.  You can counter the slavering of your enemies by acknowledging the tremendous strength of the Obama phenomenon, and being enough of a leader to embrace it.  Your most sustained criticism of him is that he lacks experience.  You'll be in a position to grant it.  The two of you acknowledged in last week's debate that your policies are 95% aligned.  And yet your constituencies within the party and the country are widely divergent. He's got the black vote sewn.  You've got white women.  He's snatched up more of John Edwards' white males that you have.  Latino voters are in your corner (despite the fact that your immigration policies are to the right of McCain's).  Independents and even some Republicans are willing to give him a shot, whereas they're willing to give you a bullet.  You see where I'm going with this?

I know you think the notion of the first woman president is exciting enough in its own right. To many people in this country, it is.  But one of the most significant stakes in this election is whether we are going to indicate to the world that we're ready to turn the page, leave behind eight disastrous years in dramatic fashion.  And in much of the world, the new-president-who-is-the-wife-of-the-old-president is not a new story, or an inspiring one.  They will look another Clinton presidency cynically, as will much of this country.  Choosing Obama, anointing him as your second-in-command and likely successor, can help to change that.

If you win. 

Adam Mansbach is the author of the novels Angry Black White Boy, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005, and The End of the Jews, forthcoming in March from Spiegel & Grau/Doubleday.


Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing