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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NYT Editorial: The Good Fighter

Senator Edward M. Kennedy is proof that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he declared that there are no second acts in American life. Mr. Kennedy — who is struggling against cancer and whose career was celebrated at the Democratic convention Monday night — has had so many acts that we’ve lost count.

He was the baddest of the Capitol’s bad boys who had the nerve to run against a sitting Democrat, President Jimmy Carter, in 1980. Now he is the principled voice of a fading generation.

As the Bush administration steamrolled Congressional Democrats — on the Iraq war, illegal wiretapping, military tribunals — Mr. Kennedy has stood his ground. He has also known when it was time to compromise, working with many Republicans to become one of the most effective Senators in modern history.

What seems especially important right now is Mr. Kennedy’s ability to concede defeat gracefully and rearm himself for another good fight. That is a strength we hope Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton can emulate.

Mrs. Clinton will not be nominated this week, and we know that is a great disappointment to her many supporters. But she has a long political future ahead of her, most immediately as the junior senator from New York, and a responsibility to her party to concede defeat gracefully and rearm for another good fight.

Many of her die-hard supporters — starting with her husband, former President Bill Clinton — have clearly not learned that lesson.

The Politico Web site reported the other day that Mr. Clinton was complaining about being assigned — as part of the convention’s Wednesday night program — to help make the case for Mr. Obama as a commander in chief. Mr. Clinton, Politico reported, wanted instead to talk about how great his own presidency had been; a point he believes Mr. Obama has not made with sufficient enthusiasm.

We have long argued that this country has too many problems for candidates, from either party, to waste the voters’ time. Senator John McCain’s campaign is already trying to exploit such frictions, running an ad with a former Clinton supporter saying she will vote for Mr. McCain. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton’s insistence on having her name placed in nomination and voted on by the delegates in Denver is turning into a pointless distraction. After all, she has already released her delegates, and her spokesman says she plans to vote for Mr. Obama.

In an appearance on Monday morning before the New York delegation, she seemed to be trying to put an end to the backstage fighting. She urged her supporters to “work as hard for Barack Obama and Joe Biden as you did for me.”

If she really means that, she has a lot more to contribute, starting with her speech at the convention on Tuesday night. She can argue — persuasively — that Mr. Obama is more likely than Mr. McCain to deliver on all the issues she and her backers care about most: universal health care, Supreme Court appointments, ending the war in Iraq, fighting global warming, rolling back the Bush tax cuts.

Then all Mr. Obama will have to do is emerge from the formidable shadow of the Kennedy dynasty and the dubious embrace of the Clinton machine and leave Denver on his own terms.

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