Journey to unity: A Clinton die-hard embraces Obama

August 19, 2008|By Kathryn A. Oberly

It felt good to look down at my jacket and see the "Yes we can" campaign button there. A little strange, but good. I had worn so many Hillary Clinton political buttons and T-shirts over the last 18 months, and my cars still bear bumper stickers proclaiming "I'm in to win" and "Re-elect Hillary" (from her 2006 Senate campaign, but I always thought it also could apply to her second term as president). But now she's not in it at all, and that saddens me because never before have I devoted so much time and energy to a political campaign.

But Mrs. Clinton's campaign was different. I've known her since we both went to Sunday school at First Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill. I felt a natural affinity with her, born of age, common Midwestern roots, going to college and law school in the late '60s and early '70s, working in jobs where there were few women, having one child who will always be the apple of my eye, and balancing work and family. To me, she didn't just epitomize all the progress women have made in this country, she was the person I admired most in public life.

So on June 4, after the last primary vote had been counted and I could no longer delude myself into thinking Mrs. Clinton could still win the nomination, I just wasn't ready to jump on Barack Obama's bandwagon. It was too soon. I needed time to grieve.

And grieve I did, for an entire month.

In that month, I challenged myself about why I would sit back and do nothing, given everything at stake in this election. I will always love Mrs. Clinton, but the policy positions that I shared with her - on the rule of law, health care, education, the environment and the Supreme Court - are the same positions that Mr. Obama will work to bring about in his presidency. So if I care about those issues, how could I not put on my "Yes we can" pin and roll up my sleeves for Mr. Obama? How could I do nothing when I woke up each morning to read the latest press accounts of the detainee trials being conducted by military commissions of such questionable legality that the Bush administration can only defend them by saying that Guantanamo Bay isn't in the United States? And how could I do nothing after reading the latest report of the inspector general on the politicization of the hiring of career lawyers at the Justice Department, when I myself had joined the department through the honors program that now has been tragically corrupted?

There is not a hair's breadth of difference between Mrs. Clinton's position on the issues I care about most deeply and Mr. Obama's. No doubt Mr. Obama will approach some of these issues differently than she would. That is OK. His candidacy is just as historic as was hers, and I want to be part of that historic moment.

I've heard that Howard Dean said it took his supporters about four months of emotional recharging to switch their allegiance to another candidate. But we don't have the luxury of four months this time around. The 2008 election is less than three months away. There isn't any more time to grieve; it's time for action.

Kathryn A. Oberly is vice chairwoman and general counsel of an accounting firm. She was a co-chairwoman of Lawyers for Hillary and is now a co-chairwoman of the Obama Lawyers Unity Effort. This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

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