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Memo to Obama: Let the Floor Vote Roll

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UPDATE: Not long after we posted, the AP reported that the Obama and Clinton camps have reached a deal that will allow Hillary Clinton's name to be entered into nomination at the Democratic National Convention, so we have updated our post accordingly.

As Democrats unearth their rollie bags and sensible shoes in preparation for the party convention in Denver later this month, a controversy is roiling over whether or not *it's a good thing that* a roll-call vote should will take place on the convention floor before Barack Obama is officially named the Democratic presidential nominee.

If everybody knows that Obama would certainly win such a vote, why go through the motions? The answer is this: as momentous as is the history Obama will make as the first African-American nominee of his party, this was not the only history made during the primary season. And that other bit of history -- herstory, if you will -- deserves its due, as well. By allowing the roll call to take place without obstruction or resistance, Obama would will honor not just what Hillary Clinton achieved with her 18 million votes, but the promise of even greater accomplishments by Democratic women in the future -- potentially even those of his own daughters.

More pragmatically, there's a battle to be joined against the Republicans. Given the battering dealt women's rights (not to mention the U.S. Constitution and our national economy) at the hands of the Bush administration, it's a battle that must be won this November. Obscuring his true agenda by employing a pro-choice surrogate, Carly Fiorina, John McCain has little to offer but an oppressive, anti-choice agenda, as Sarah Blustain reports, for the nation's women. A united Democratic Party is critical to the preservation of our rights and liberties, and to our society's return to a more humane ethic.

However, in the aftermath of an unprecedented and bruising primary season, feelings remain raw among many partisans of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We can argue all day whether such feelings are deserved or appropriate; the fact is that they exist and must be dressed with a balm. Backers of Sen. Obama will enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their candidate accept his party's nomination. Party leaders would be are wise to ease the tension between Obama supporters and those who backed Sen. Clinton by welcoming a moment of satisfaction to be enjoyed by her supporters.

Many Obama supporters rolled their eyes when video (see below) surfaced last week of Hillary Clinton addressing a group of supporters at a private gathering, suggesting a roll-call strategy for coming to terms with Obama's victory. "I happen to believe that we will come out stronger if people feel that their voices were heard," Clinton told the gathering. "I think that is a very big part of how we actually come out unified, because I know from just what I'm hearing that there's an incredible pent-up desire and I think that people want to feel like, OK, it's a catharsis, we're here, we did it, and then everybody get behind Senator Obama." (Emphasis added.)

Neither of us is a partisan of Hillary Clinton. Shireen stayed neutral through the primaries, and Adele supported Obama publicly, beginning in March. Nonetheless, we believe it to be in the best interest of the American people and the Democratic Party for Hillary Clinton's name to be allowed entered into nomination at the Democratic National Convention.

Women have long been stalwarts for the Democratic Party, often doing the tough ground-level organizing, toiling as as poll workers and, as voters, providing the margin of victory with the gender gap. The achievement of the first woman presidential candidate to come this close to winning the nomination deserves the recognition called for by the party rules: a roll-call vote.

Symbolic roll-call votes are nothing new: in 1984, Jesse Jackson, the first African-American presidential candidate to achieve significant vote totals in a primary, saw his achievement honored with a nominating speech by James Zogby of the Arab American Institute (the first Arab-American, by the way, to have that honor at a national convention). And Jackson's nomination was not the only historic "first" in American politics on display in San Francisco that week, which also saw the naming of the first woman, Geraldine Ferraro, to the vice presidential slot on major-party ticket. In 1972, the groundbreaking Shirley Chisholm won 152 delegates in the roll call at that Democratic National Convention.

Since 1984 -- the first and last time a woman graced a national ticket -- a whole generation of women have grown to post-college age without having seen such a thing. A roll-call vote would will signal to the nation's young women that the Democratic Party is willing to walk the walk called for by its inclusive rhetoric.

A roll-call vote in which Clinton supporters vent their enthusiasm for the senator from New York would will hardly weaken Obama; indeed it would will make him look strong and confident. (Some Clinton advisers, reports Marc Ambinder, indeed advised against a roll call, fearing that the numbers of former Clinton delegates who have switched to Obama would render her victory less impressive in a floor vote than the election tallies suggest.) In permitting the vote to go forward, Obama could make a dent in the claims of haughtiness his critics lodge against him, and display the grace that characterized his best moments in the primary season.

At this singular moment in American history, it is critical that the first political party to nominate an African-American as a presidential candidate actually be united through the election -- not just play a united party for a few nights on TV. Allowing Hillary Clinton's supporters a chance to celebrate on her behalf would will go a long way to achieving that goal, and to honoring the contributions of women to American political life.