Today's Papers

Stand by the Man

The papers lead with Sen. Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention yesterday. All the recent talk of how many Clinton supporters don’t want to support Barack Obama meant that “the former first lady’s address was the most highly anticipated of the convention, short of Obama’s acceptance speech,” notes the Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal flatly declares that her speech “was arguably as vital to the party’s hopes for winning the White House” as Obama’s address. And in the speech that USA Todaysays “could serve as a benediction to her 2008 presidential campaign,” Clinton didn’t waste any time telling her supporters that they should stand behind Obama. “Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose,” she said. “We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines.”

The Los Angeles Timesis quick to deliver a positive assessment and declares that Clinton accepted “defeat with grace and generosity.” The New York Times, on the other hand, is just as quick to see a more sinister side to Clinton’s actions declaring that she “took steps on Tuesday—deliberate steps, aides said—to keep the door open to a future bid for the presidency.” Her aides apparently weren’t eager to receive input from Obama’s people on the content of the speech and “did not even provide a final draft to the Obama campaign well in advance of delivery, working on it until the last minute.” But in her speech the former first lady mostly stuck to her No. 1 task of declaring her support for Obama “and she betrayed none of the anger and disappointment that she still feels.”

Whatever went on behind the scenes, Clinton adamantly declared that “Barack Obama is my candidate” and urged her supporters to look beyond personal squabbles and think about the big picture. “You haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership,” Clinton said and added what will undoubtedly become one of the most memorable lines of the night: “No way. No how. No McCain.” In addition to expressing gratitude to her supporters and urging them to back Obama, Clinton also launched a blistering attack on Sen. John McCain and repeatedly tied him to President Bush. “It makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities,” she said. “Because these days, they’re awfully hard to tell apart.”

Clinton wasn’t alone in attacking McCain from Denver yesterday, and the papers note that the message from the convention took a turn yesterday from the biographical, feel-good attitude of the first day to an emphasis on highlighting the differences between Obama and McCain. The Post and LAT point out that the effort was mirrored on the campaign trail as Obama also wasn’t shy about forcefully contrasting himself with McCain. The WP notes that Obama even mentioned his opponent’s “prisoner-of-war status in Vietnam in a way that suggested he will begin to challenge that as a credential for being president.”

Yesterday, however, was clearly Clinton’s night, and Democrats hope her clear support for Obama will hurt McCain’s efforts to woo her disaffected supporters to his camp. But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying. The WSJ details how the McCain campaign is trying to reach out to Clinton delegates at the convention in an effort that also “involves a sophisticated voter identification program” to zero in on supporters of the former first lady who might be willing to vote for McCain. Despite all this talk of unity, the papers also note that Democratic leaders were still debating the rules for today’s roll-call vote.

Tonight will be former President Bill Clinton’s turn. “He, too, has the unification task,” says the WSJ, “perhaps even tougher for the man who has been parsimonious in his praise” for Obama. The NYT says that the former president “remains angrier than people realize” about the primaries and how he was portrayed by Obama’s supporters. The WP goes inside with a look at the “anything but close” relationship between the former president and Obama and points out that under a different context it’s likely the two masterful politicians “could be pals.” The Post says that while Clinton will not have any surprises up his sleeve today, he will still deliver the speech “with lingering feelings of estrangement” that have more to do with knowing that Obama doesn’t like him than the fact that Obama defeated the former first lady.

The LAT fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, a look at how some Democrats are getting worried that all the talk about the divisions among Democrats has hurt the Obama campaign’s ability to effectively explain just what he would do about the economy as president, which is clearly the top concern of voters. The big fear is that the convention will end and Democrats will be left with the feeling that the Obama campaign squandered away all this free air time and didn’t achieve one of its primary goals. In a Page One piece, USAT notes that Obama plans to delve deeply into this issue in his speech on Thursday. “I’m not aiming for a lot of high rhetoric,” he said. “I’m much more concerned with communicating how I intend to help middle-class families.”

The NYT’s Alessandra Stanley points out that while Clinton’s achievements were celebrated in a historical context, there was, once again, no public mention of the fact that Obama will soon become the first African-American presidential nominee. The “visual effort to play down the extraordinary is what most distinguishes the two parties in the final phase of the election,” writes Stanley. While Democrats want to emphasize how Obama and his family are typically American, Republicans will do their best to highlight the opposite.

In other news, almost all the papers front Russia’s official recognition of the independence of two separatist regions of Georgia. In a televised address, the Russian president said the country needed to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia in order to make sure their residents aren’t attacked by Georgia. “This is not an easy choice, but it is the only way to save the lives of people,” President Dmitry Medvedev said. Although, the situation in the separatist regions isn’t likely to change much, as the areas were already pretty much autonomous. But, of course, everyone sees it as an effort for Russia to reassert its power in the region, and Western leaders, including President Bush, were swift in their condemnation.

Western leaders will now be under increased pressure to do something as Russian officials are overtly stating that the tough words will never turn into action. The LAT notes that while a military response seems out of the question, Russia’s presence in international institutions could be targeted, and economic sanctions could be imposed to make lives more difficult for the country’s wealthy elite.

The WP is alone in fronting the announcement by a United Nations team in Afghanistan that says it has “convincing evidence” that at least 90 civilians, including 60 children, were killed in an airstrike in Western Afghanistan on Friday. If true, it would likely be the highest civilian death toll from a U.S.-led airstrike in Afghanistan since 2001. The Defense Department says it still believes the airstrike was on a legitimate Taliban target but has vowed to investigate. The revelation comes at a time when Afghan officials are getting increasingly angrier over the growing reliance on airstrikes that are costing the lives of civilians. According to investigators, 165 civilians have been killed over the past two months in four airstrikes.

The NYT gets word that two soldiers gave sworn statements saying that they, along with another service member, killed four Iraqis who were blindfolded and handcuffed. The three Americans soldiers then removed the handcuffs and blindfolds and proceeded to shove the bodies into a canal. The two soldiers who gave the statements said they each shot an Iraqi on orders from First Sgt. John Hatley, who shot the other two.

On the WP’s op-ed page, David Ignatius continues on his quest to get Americans interested in the prospect of peace talks between Israel and Syria. Today, Ignatius says that the Syrian president “appears ready for direct peace talks with Israel” but only if the United States agrees to unite with France as “co-sponsor” of the talks. But Syrian officials aren’t optimistic that the Bush administration will suddenly be interested in changing its policy of isolating Syria.

While Ignatius is guardedly optimistic in Damascus, the NYT’s Thomas Friedman is depressed in Beijing. Friedman attended the closing ceremony of the Olympics and is decidedly impressed with how the city was transformed in the last seven years. “China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda,” he writes. “The difference is starting to show.” While Republicans want to talk about muscular foreign policy, Obama’s campaign theme “has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America.”