THE BLOG
05/31/2008 09:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

In Bowing Out, 7 Things Hillary Clinton Must Say to Meet the Standards Set by Hilary Rosen

Based upon her knowledge of Hillary Clinton that comes from years of friendship, Hilary Rosen assured us that Hillary Clinton would not compromise the interests of the Democratic Party or the opportunity to build a generation or two of an ascendant progressive majority ("Another 'The Hillary I Know'", May 8, 2008).

Hilary Rosen also explained why she, and other women, remain loyal to Hillary Clinton citing comments and events during the campaign that their experiences tell them amount to sexism. Those feelings must be taken as real, because it is perception in these matters that counts. What others really meant or did not mean, or did not even know that such comments amounted to sexism, matter not one bit. ("Why Do We Stick With Her?", May 28, 2008)

I have no idea whether included in such feelings is the notion that urging Hillary Clinton to step down "for the good of the team" does not also have some sexist connotation, such as the expectation that it is the woman who sacrifices her career for her husband and family. If that is part of it, no one has standing to tell Hillary Clinton, Hilary Rosen or any of the women who perceive it this way that they are "wrong." Again, that perception is palpable and real and thus legitimate.

I suggest that there are a few observations that are bankable for women not only running for president, but in every endeavor, that could not have been known prior to Hillary Clinton's race, and seem to me, at least, to have been established. I recall no suggestion during the campaign that Hillary Clinton could not be president because a woman a) could not be Commander-in-Chief; b) her views were 'emotional' and not reasoned; or c) lacked the fortitude to mix it up, and to take it as well as dishing it out. I never thought such issues existed in this century, but, to the extent that it needed proof, Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency has proved it.

And, if the country has demonstrably arrived at the place where a woman can unquestionably be Commander-in-Chief, name the office or position she cannot hold or perform as well as a man. Q.e.d.

I have no question that, when Hillary Clinton bows out, she will ask people to come together, will state her strong support of Barack Obama and her admiration for him, and will (along with Bill C) campaign hard for the ticket during the fall campaign.

But, that is not enough. It will put Hillary Clinton herself on the right side of the argument, but it will not heal the wounds among her supporters that the quixotic phase of her campaign has opened. She has (and again, this is all perception but perception IS reality in this area) talked about "hard-working white people" as being apart, distinct, and not counted by Barack Obama. She has raised the spectre of the 2000 recount and even Zimbabwe to suggest victimhood for Florida and Michigan Democrats. She has claimed media bias against her, including but not limited to sexism. She has raised gender as a reason she has been mistreated and as an objection to what reasonably would have been asked of any trailing candidate long ago, to have a Lou Gehrig moment, and "take one's self out of the lineup for the good of the team". Indeed, that is precisely what Bill Clinton's 1992 primary campaign said about Jerry Brown. That was considered right and proper.

So, not because of her gender, but because of how she conducted the last phases of her campaign, Hillary Clinton needs to include the following in her speech bowing out, and also in subsequent comments and interviews:

1. She was treated fairly. This is the key message she needs to convey and do it convincingly. It is perfectly reasonable to indicate that she was mistreated, if that is how she feels, but she needs to state that candidates are always mistreated, that Barack Obama and the other Democratic candidates were as well, and that she was no more mistreated than any of the others. In response to the inevitable questions, "didn't you say X, or Y" just a week ago, her answer is that it is the nature of conflict that one picks their best points, but that is not the whole picture; and, that taken together, her campaign was treated as fairly, or as unfairly, as any of the others.

2. Her own mistakes in a close election led to her losing. Taking responsibility buttresses the message that it was not something unfair in the process that led to the ultimate outcome. It is not political suicide for her to admit the obvious, that having no plan B for after February 5, she lost 11 primaries in a row and, once that happened, anything she did to correct her errors were just too little, too late.

3. She herself will be fine. There is an enormous amount to do after the disastrous Bush presidency, and she intends to continue to contribute and to fight for the causes that are so important. She specifically cites the Supreme Court, and the negative impact on everything women have fought for, if John McCain gets to appoint more Alitos and Roberts, as he has sworn to the radical right that he will do. She needs to be concrete, and to repeat.

4. She believes the campaign showed that women can achieve anything, and that she was gratified that there was no pushback against the idea that a woman can be as good, or better, a Commander-in-Chief as a man. If a woman can be Commander-in-Chief, what job or position of authority can she not hold? She should repeat that John McCain promises, swears, to change the Supreme Court to nullify all the gains women have made, and that it would be a travesty if people sat home, or were unenthusiastic, just because she did not quite make the delegate majority.

5. She recognizes the rules the DNC adopted, many with her own people agreeing, made the outcome cloudy, but that she would not have won even if the delegates had been seated as she wanted. She further recognizes that her name recognition played a greater role in those votes in the absence of any campaigning than it would have if there had been a campaign.

6. She must not refer to the need, if there is one, to make a major changes in Party rules. To do so would be to undermine the message that, on the whole, the process was fair to all. If asked, as she inevitably will be, she should say that it is what it is, and the Party will have to determine what, if any, changes might be desirable in the future. She need not say, although it is true and would be helpful, that the Party rules were actually designed by her people to help her, frontloading the primaries that favor name recognition and financial prowess that, prior to this year, everyone believed would be her version of 'shock and awe'.

7. She should leave all decisions (about vice-president, about convention speech time) to Barack Obama. She should not demand anything in return for bowing out, or her comments. It is her most dignified position, and it pays Barack the respect a Presidential nominee deserves. She should state specifically that she believes that she is not owed anything, and is happy to help the nominee in any way she can. And, that her supporters should be similarly accepting. To do otherwise would be to compromise Obama's prestige as the nominee even before the general election begins. [I would suggest, under those conditions, that Hillary be the keynote speaker at the convention.]

The above is not an attempt to write her speech. Clearly, there are many other elements that are personal to her, that talk about the positives of her campaign and about herself and her supporters that she would want to include.

But, if Hillary Clinton is to meet the standards her friend, Hilary Rosen, said she would do, then these 7 elements must be part of her speech and her post-campaign interviews at least between now and November.

It will determine whether Hillary Clinton is truly dedicated to victory of the movement she wanted to lead. While we all recognize her grit in pursuit of the ultimate prize, let us not ignore that it had, at least in part, a personal incentive for her.

To do what is necessary to heal, will be on behalf of her priorities, but not herself.

It is the ultimate test of her mettle.