DENVER There is no second place in American politics. There is no silver medal, no shadow prime minister, no government in exile.
There is a winner, and there is a loser. Barack Obama won and Hillary Clinton lost, and Clinton's supporters need to get their heads, if not their hearts, around that.
At her speech to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, Hillary said the right things. Nobody could accuse her of going overboard, but she said the right things.
"Barack Obama is my candidate," she said. "And he must be our president."
Her daughter introduced her on stage as "my hero" and her husband cheered her from the balcony. But she directed many of her remarks to her other die-hard supporters.
"To my supporters, my champions my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits from the bottom of my heart: Thank you," she said. "You never gave in. You never gave up. And together we made history."
It was history. Of a sort. She showed that a woman could win the nomination. But she did not win the nomination. And the guy who did made some history, too.
She is due respect nonetheless. But there is a point when a demand for respect turns into an aura of entitlement. And some have been acting as if it were preordained that Clinton would win the Democratic nomination this year she was the candidate of inevitability, after all and that somehow Barack Obama stole it from her.
True, if it had been a normal presidential year, Clinton would have been the nominee. She certainly was no worse a candidate than Mike Dukakis, John Kerry or Al Gore, all of whom won their party's nod.
But it was not an ordinary presidential year. Clinton came up against a magnetic campaigner with a compelling message change and with a staff that was prepared to win a drawn-out, deep in-the-trenches battle for delegates.
And the hard truth is that, while Hillary became a first-rate campaigner in the end, she put together a second-rate campaign. And this was not a year when second rate was going to do.
Yes, some 18 million people cast their votes for Hillary Clinton. But they did not do so in the expectation that there would be some kind of power-sharing arrangement if she lost.
We are now asked to believe that a significant number of Hillary supporters will vote for John McCain in November rather than vote for Barack Obama. That is what some polls show and it has become a major media story line.
To which I say: Hooey. Maybe that is the kind of thing you tell pollsters and reporters, but I don't think it is the kind of thing that happens in real life.
I don't believe that people who once fervently supported Hillary Clinton's progressive Democratic agenda will now turn to John McCain's conservative Republican agenda.
I don't believe that those Hillary supporters who are women, and who believe Hillary was treated disrespectfully because she was a woman, will now turn to a candidate who opposes Roe v. Wade and, presumably, would appoint Supreme Court justices who agree with him.
Hillary Clinton is only 60 years old, and she has a political future. She could run again for president or for reelection to the Senate in 2012. Or she could run for governor of New York in 2010.
I have no idea whether Hillary Clinton really wants Barack Obama to win in November. It doesn't matter. What does matter for her sake is that she not get blamed for his defeat if he loses.
If Barack Obama loses this fall, the Democrats will be devastated, and if Hillary Clinton is viewed has having contributed to that loss by encouraging and maintaining a rift within the party, she will be severely damaged.
I understand her disappointment, and the disappointment of her husband and other supporters. But when disappointment becomes bitterness it serves no real purpose, certainly no real political purpose.
Tuesday night she said some of the right words. But between now and November, Hillary Clinton can go out and work to heal the wounds or sit back and keep them open.
The choice is hers, and it will determine her future.