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Smothering the Hatchet

Hillary's former communications director on how to close the Clinton-Obama rift.

The New Republic has asked me what advice I would give to Senator Obama to improve relations with the Clintons during this convention week.

To be clear, I believe both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have done much to heal the rifts endemic to a long primary. Hillary has done more than any runner-up in the history of the Democratic Party to support and campaign for the nominee since her concession. She has traveled the country making campaign appearances for Senator Obama, imploring her supporters to vote for him, and successfully urging her donors to support him financially. And on Tuesday, I expect she will offer another strong speech in support of his candidacy. Columnists can project their fantasies on her motives--but her actions on behalf of Senator Obama are clear and unambiguous. She wants him to win and is working towards that goal.

Similarly, by encouraging Senator Clinton's name to be placed in nomination, Senator Obama has shown real respect for her and her supporters. That roll call will be an important unifying event, and is a credit to Senator Obama's foresight and understanding.

There is still work to do on the Bill Clinton front. He feels like the Obama campaign ran against and systematically dismissed his administration's accomplishments. And he feels like he was painted as a racist during the primary process.

Senator Obama would go a long way towards healing these wounds if he were to specifically praise the accomplishments of the Clinton presidency in a line or two during his speech on Thursday. That should be painless---he isn't running against the Clinton legacy anymore, and it would probably be a good idea to remind voters that the last time Democrats were in charge of the White House, we had peace and prosperity. Similarly, he could thank President Clinton for all of the work he did throughout his life to bridge the divides in our country. This is a cause near and dear to the president's heart.

President Clinton has his part to play as well. He needs to offer a strong argument in favor of Barack Obama's candidacy on Wednesday night, and remind everyone why he is one of the most gifted campaigners in our generation between now and November.

What both Clintons say about Senator Obama--and what Senator Obama says about both of them during this week--can go a long way towards tamping down whatever disunity still exists between the two camps and their supporters. And more importantly, it will encourage Senator Clinton's supporters to vote for Senator Obama.

The Clinton versus Obama storyline is irresistible to the press corps--and the McCain campaign. It is incumbent on both sides in Denver to do what they can to tamp that down.

Howard Wolfson was Hillary Clinton's communications director. He blogs at Gotham Acme.

By Howard Wolfson