Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Party Unity or Victor's Justice?

After Hillary Clinton conceded and endorsed Barack Obama last month, she held a conference call with her delegates and encouraged all of them to support Barack Obama. All but two have pledged to cast their ballots for Senator Obama in Denver next month.

But for some Obama supporters, that's not enough.

It was widely reported in the news media this spring that Hillary Clinton's prominent African-American supporters were under tremendous pressure to abandon the former First Lady and endorse Senator Obama. From

African-American superdelegates said Thursday that they’ll stand up against threats, intimidation and “Uncle Tom” smears rather than switch their support from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to Sen. Barack Obama.

“African-American superdelegates are being targeted, harassed and threatened,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a superdelegate who has supported Clinton since August. Cleaver said black superdelegates are receiving “nasty letters, phone calls, threats they’ll get an opponent, being called an Uncle Tom.

“This is the politics of the 1950s,” he complained. “A lot of members are experiencing a lot of ugly stuff. They’re not going to talk about it, but it’s happening.”

Although none of Hillary Clinton's African-American supporters believed that Senator Obama himself was behind the intimidation, one of his biggest supporters, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), hinted that there would be a price to pay for opposing Barack Obama:

He [Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-MO] said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois had recently asked him "if it comes down to the last day and you're the only superdelegate? ... Do you want to go down in history as the one to prevent a black from winning the White House?

"I told him I'd think about it," Cleaver concluded.

Jackson, an Obama supporter, confirmed the conversation, and said the dilemma may pose a career risk for some black politicians. "Many of these guys have offered their support to Mrs. Clinton, but Obama has won their districts. So you wake up without the carpet under your feet. You might find some young primary challenger placing you in a difficult position" in the future, he added.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) switched his support to Senator Clinton after drawing a primary opponent in February. His opponent, Rev. Markel Hutchins, claims that his refusal to get behind Obama showed that the civil rights hero was "out of touch." In yesterday's New York Times, we learned that he is not the only congressman being punished for exercising his judgment and conscience in making his endorsement.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-6) has drawn a primary challenger, Ruben Wills, who supported Barack Obama. Rep. Edolphus Towns (NY-10) faces a primary challenge from Kevin Powell, a community organizer who supported Barack Obama. Rep. John Barrow (GA-12), a conservative white Democrat representing a district with a large black population, is being challenged by African American State Senator Regina Thomas. Because this is considered a swing district, Senator Obama stepped in and endorsed Rep. Barrow. Apparently, Senator Obama was not offended that Rep. Barrow waited until after the Georgia primary to endorse his candidacy.

All of the challengers have sought to make an issue of the incumbent's delayed endorsement. Markel Hutchins, the challenger to Rep. John Lewis (GA) even copied Obama's website:

This primary election battle was historic and unique for many reasons. In the end, Senator Obama won the nomination. But it bears repeating that Hillary Clinton continued to rack up victories long after the media declared her dead, including a victory in South Dakota on the final day of the campaign. This party was divided down the middle and unity cannot mean one side making an unconditional surrender to the other. Each side needs to reach across the aisle to the other.

In the interest of party unity and the best interests of our nation, the Clintonistas for Obama have embraced Senator Obama's candidacy. We did this despite our own difficult feelings about the race and the nominee and the misgivings of many of our own friends. We have not shied away from criticizing the PUMA movement and Senator McCain. Indeed, atdleft and I collaborated on a series of articles to chip away at Senator McCain's image as a maverick and moderate.

In the interest of party unity, I call upon the Obama supporters to rally behind these embattled members of Congress. They should not be punished for exercising the independent judgment they are afforded under the rules of the Democratic Party, especially after they all pledged their support to Senator Obama.

So what will it be for the Hillary Clinton superdelegates? Party unity or victor's justice?


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