Democrats Must Emphasize ‘Family’ After Fractious Primary

Posted June 9, 2008 at 6:22pm

The marathon for the Democratic presidential primary contest finally reached an end this weekend with the suspension of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic campaign. This had to be a difficult speech for her to give, not just because of the emotions involved but because of the several important tasks that she had to accomplish.

[IMGCAP(1)]The New York Senator had to speak to her passionate supporters who have enabled her to shatter so many records for a female candidate seeking the presidency. That old stained glass ceiling has been forever weakened, and we owe it to Clinton, who not only projected strength in announcing the suspension of her campaign but also showed determination in asking her supporters to stand with Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Democrats can now look forward to the day when they stand side by side — not to debate each other but to inspire Americans to vote for real change and a new direction this fall.

There will be resistance in bringing the party together. Some Democrats don’t know enough about Obama, and worse, what they know is misleading.

Democratic Party leaders can expect a few disgruntled bloggers and perhaps some institutional leaders to further tear at the divides exposed during the grueling political season. Still, it’s not up to just Clinton and Obama, their supporters, donors and devoted fans to demonstrate their commitment to healing the wounds of the primary season, the entire party leadership also has a stake in healing the two powerful teams that went head to head for the nomination.

As Clinton reminded us on Saturday, we Democrats are family. Here is what I think should be noted in the days and weeks ahead. The nomination of Obama should not be seen as a defeat for female voters, female leaders or women anywhere. Clinton’s historic candidacy inspired women, but she energized men as well to back her candidacy.

Anyone who frames the primary race as a battle between two competing constituencies should be corrected. The primary season was never about who has suffered the greatest. Anyone who frames the results using race and gender divides has lost the meaning of this new and most wonderful era in American politics.

The 2008 Democratic primary was a breakthrough election for everyone, including women, young Americans, Latino Americans, older citizens, blue-collar workers and, yes, people long considered invisible by both major political parties. It is time everyone rises to the potential of a new historical moment where black candidates can compete for white votes and women can win the male vote across the board. The door for political opportunities has just been knocked off the hinges.

It is obviously historically significant for blacks, but it really is transformative across the board. It speaks volumes about how the electorate’s view of leadership has broadened to recognize the real qualification for president is content of character, just as Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned.

Obama’s nomination shows an openness within our country that says, “when we’re in trouble, when we are hurting, we must entertain the idea that the best qualified person, no matter his race or gender, has to be considered for leadership or we are not really going to be able to overcome our problems.” To those who would use the old divisions of race and gender to divide and to distort, your days are numbered. Americans have proved that the country is ready to elect its first minority to the most powerful position on the planet.

At least the Democratic primary season has allowed voters in every state to express themselves. The race was an endurance challenge, not the sprint we saw on the Republican side, where Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) had it locked up in the winter. Like any other marathon, some weaknesses were exposed and it will take time to heal those cracks in the Democrat’s electoral foundation.

Although racial and gender bias in the media, as well as in the culture, were on full display this electoral season with off-color remarks and old-fashioned stereotyping, both candidates were strong enough not to be stymied by its annoying and self-defeating effects. Racism and sexism are fruits from the same bitter tree. Every time we overcome one form of that bitterness, everyone who has suffered from marginalization and exclusion moves forward to greater recognition.

The Democratic Party is in the process of being reborn with new vigor, ideas, excitement and determination to keep America safe and secure while leading it back to prosperity. The Democratic Party can reflect the same historical urge toward self-improvement we see in America’s story itself. There is nothing comparable happening in the Republican Party — no energy, no growth, no story offered to Americans more broadly. This is an exceptional moment for Democrats to forge a new path based on reconciliation, and the empowerment of ordinary citizens to become active participants in their government.

Obama was seasoned during the primary by one of America’s finest leaders. He owes Clinton a great deal of gratitude for showing him the way forward and the path to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.