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Childish

Last night, Hillary Clinton made a compelling case for why her supporters should support Barack Obama — as president he’ll do lots of things they like and John McCain won’t. Clinton was in a great position because her case for Obama, though powerful, did not require her to praise him. Thus, I imagine, the speech wrote itself.

As soon as it was over, though, we began to hear from core Clinton supporters at the convention that they are “still bitter.” Many seem reluctant to devote much energy to the Obama campaign, but that won’t worry Obama since he’s hardly short of foot soldiers. But some of Clinton’s supporters are still being coy about how they will vote in November.

Given the virtual absence of substantive differences between the two Democratic rivals, it’s difficult to imagine these core supporters not voting for Obama when push comes to shove. If it turns out that more than a handful of them don’t, Clinton-style feminism will be exposed as an absurdity, as opposed to something that’s badly out-of-date.

But, regardless of what happens in November, the sustained pouting of Clinton’s supporters deserves comment. Contrast their attitude towards Obama with the attitude of conservatives towards McCain. Unlike Clinton’s core supporters, many conservatives actually have important substantive disagreements with their party’s nominee (campaign finance reform, the Gang of 14, interrogation of terrorists, etc). And many conservatives reiterated these disagreements after McCain became the presumptive nominee. Within a few weeks, though, the venting subsided. Most conservatives decided to support McCain. Those who couldn’t moved on (in some cases to Robert Barr); they did not continue to whine or otherwise seek attention.

To be sure, Clinton came very close to being nominated, and her supporters believe that she lost out due to quirks in the rules. This was not the case on the Republican side, although McCain did benefit from open primaries and (above all) the absence of a rival the right, collectively, could love. But Clinton lost fair and square, and it’s been almost three months since she was forced to admit defeat. Yet the pouting persists.

The partisan in me is delighted. As a political/cultural phenomenon, though, it’s somewhat disconcerting to witness such childish behavior on this large a scale.

UPDATE: An alternative explanation for the withholding of support from Obama would be a desire to see him lose in 2008 to pave the way for Clinton in 2012. To the extent that Clinton supporters believe Obama is plainly the better candidate but decline to vote him based on their hopes for Clinton in 2012, that would be a disturbing political/cultural phenomenon too. Frankly, I think that, outside of Clinton’s immediate circle, childishness, not cynicism, is the driving force.

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