09/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

History, Hope and Hillary: A Call for Party Unity

Tonight, on the 89th anniversary of women becoming full citizens of this country; 36 years after Shirley Chisholm's single primary victory; 32 years after Barbara Jordan's keynote address provided "evidence that the American Dream need not forever be deferred"; 24 years after Geraldine Ferraro's nomination signaled to America there are "no limits on achievement"; 16 years after "the Year of the Women" tripled the number of women in the Senate; Hillary Clinton will address the Democratic Convention in what could be its defining moment.

I was in Chicago 12 years ago when Democrats gave Hillary a thunderous welcome and rallied around her after a Republican Convention filled with cheap shots against her. Tonight, Democrats across the country will celebrate the finale of her historic campaign which began nearly two years ago with a promise to start a dialogue about "fighting for women's basic rights....our childrens' basic health care. Protecting our Social Security [and] protecting our soldiers." Sadly, some of her supporters are willing to join forces with those who have mocked her for many years and to embrace or enable a candidate who will do none of these things -- even though Senators Clinton and Obama have identical ratings from over twenty different interest groups on choice, civil rights, health care, veterans and other issues and are nearly identical on countless others.

Clinton's supporters are correct when they claim sexism is an element of her defeat, as it has been visible since she and President Clinton first took the national stage. I saw this first hand in New Hampshire in 1992 when reporters within earshot of both of us made cruel and disparaging comments about her looks and quickly realized she was being held to a different standard than any of her predecessors.

To blame Clinton's defeat on sexism, however, is like blaming the Titanic on high winds and ignoring the fact that it simply hit an iceberg. Despite sexism and the vast right wing conspiracy, a mere two months from the election's first vote it was Clinton who led in all four early contests and nationwide among men and women, black and white. The fact is that her campaign fell short principally because of the multitude of small mistakes and misfortunes that claimed past campaigns and because of Senator Obama's unique ability to excite Democratic voters.

When I hear the attacks still being made by some of Senator Clinton's more virulent supporters, I am reminded of two past conventions. The first is 1980. I was a strong Kennedy supporter from the day he announced and supported his fight at the convention given President Carter's record disapproval rating. After the convention, I briefly supported independent John Anderson before ultimately backing President Carter. Months after the Reagan landslide, I went to college in Washington where I had the next eleven years of Reagan-Bush policies to make me question the wisdom of and the price we paid for our disunity.

I am also reminded of 1992. I remember hearing claims that Governor Clinton was unelectable, attacks such as Pat Buchanan's mocking statement that "Bill Clinton's foreign policy experience is pretty much confined to having had breakfast once at the International House of Pancakes," and questions about his patriotism in light of his draft records.

Ironically, many of those same claims are echoing among Clinton supporters about Senator Obama. Unlike President Clinton, who entered the convention in third place in the polls, Senator Obama has held a small lead since wrapping up the nomination. In addition, with four years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Obama would enter the Oval Office with more foreign policy experience than four of our last five presidents.

I am also reminded of 1992 because President Clinton's and Senator Obama's message are very similar. Both called for new leadership that was "not mired in the politics of the past" and which would "make it exciting and energizing and heroic to be American again."

To Senator Clinton's supporters, I urge you to declare victory. You have not only made history, but you are only 70 days away from making her vision a reality. I am not asking that you like Senator Obama, but I am asking that you renounce your embrace of what would be a third Bush term. Your disputes about the nomination process ultimately will seem trivial to those whose lives will be lost or their dreams deferred should McCain win.

I am asking that you heed the lessons of 1980 and remain loyal to the party both candidates represent and to the legacy of the Clinton administration they seek continue. I am asking that you work with us to build a country that "once again lifts its people and inspires the world." Yes, I am asking that you once again believe in a place called Hope.

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