If you tried to describe the Democratic convention on Wednesday night to someone living nine years ago, in August 2007, it’s hard to emphasize how strange it’d sound.
First, Barack Obama somehow beats Hillary Clinton in the primaries, overcoming an extremely large initial deficit.
Then he picks Joe Biden as VP and makes him a broadly liked national figure, rather than a Beltway elder statesman. Then he not only wins but gets reelected.
And then Hillary Clinton emerged as his successor, running on praising him and his record and his experience, and picking one of Obama’s earliest allies in the primary battle as her running mate.
The sequence was supposed to go in reverse. Clinton would get the nomination after Obama put up a respectable showing. She might pick him as a running mate, or pick a fairly boring, well-qualified white dude like Biden or Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland or Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh or former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who would then run against a more seasoned Obama in the 2016 primary.
That would have resulted in a very different Democratic Party in 2016. It would be a party inextricably, personally linked to the Clinton family, whose only qualified public servants and potential Cabinet appointees are people personally loyal to the Clintons, who served in Clinton administrations.
It would be a considerably more militarily hawkish party. It would be a party in which black and Latino voters are a growing constituency, but one unrepresented at the highest levels of party leadership.
Instead, the party that convenes this week in Philadelphia is Obama’s party, built around Obama’s accomplishments, gathered to nominate Clinton to consolidate and further the progress initiated by Obama, not the other way around.
Obama was gracious about this victory — and rightly so, given he could've easily been the successor chosen to consolidate President Clinton's considerable achievements had 2008 gone differently.
He extensively praised Clinton, emphasized his decision to appoint her as secretary of state, and buried and reburied whatever hatchet remained from the 2008 fight. But he didn’t let anyone forget who was the prime mover, who signed Obamacare and Dodd-Frank and the stimulus and opened Cuba and made a nuclear deal with Iran. He didn’t let anyone forget that Clinton was there to make sure that what he did survives.
"We're going to carry Hillary to victory this fall, because that's what the moment demands," he told delegates, adding, conspicuously, "Yes, we can."
Obama’s absorption of Clinton into his own agenda, and his own legacy, mirrors what has happened at a personnel level. Clinton’s campaign has enjoyed the support and staff of Obama’s past efforts. It purposefully rounded up support from ex-Obamaites early on. And in the clearest sign of Clinton’s allegiance to Obamaism to date, the campaign picked Tim Kaine, who was one of Obama’s first early endorsers in 2007, as her running mate.
And it mirrors what Clinton has done with her own campaign. Throughout the primary fight with Bernie Sanders, Clinton repeatedly tried to recast Sanders’s critiques of her as critiques of Obama — knowing that Obama is a more popular with figure with Democrats, that his name means more.
Obama achieved the intraparty victory he showcased tonight a long time ago. But Wednesday night’s speech was nonetheless a remarkable reminder of just how completely he has made this party his own.