It's over

Hillary Rodham Clinton has run a long and admirable campaign for president of the United States. The prospect of her presidency has energized voters, particularly but not exclusively women, and offered working people a champion for their cause in this time of economic malaise. She has demonstrated resolve and character. And yet, she has lost.

We do not venture that observation because we're dismayed by the wrangling on the Democratic side of this contest. Elections are made to be won, not forfeited, and Barack Obama should not become the Democratic nominee because no one tried to stop him, but because he persuaded voters that he was the best candidate. Besides, we like wrangling. Rather, we note that Clinton's campaign is over because, as of this week, the voters have made their preference clear. It is, for the majority of Democrats in the majority of states -- as well as for the majority of delegates in those states -- Obama. Even if Clinton were to win every remaining state by a comfortable margin, she could not amass enough delegates before the convention to pass Obama.

Still, it's fair to ask whether there's any harm in continuing. The answer is yes, and not just for Democrats. In part because Obama and Clinton are so close on the major issues and because the campaign has gone on so long, the Democratic debate has exhausted large topics and slid from the essential to the picayune, with skirmishing over lapel pins and pandering over gas taxes. This, while our housing markets are in collapse, while one war rages in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, while the future of the Supreme Court and civil liberties hang in the balance. The end of the Democratic primaries and the commencement of the general election may return the campaign to a higher level. There, the sharp contrast between Obama's ideas and those of John McCain will allow voters to imagine the alternative futures these two exciting leaders propose.

With the electoral math against her, Clinton is left with just two arguments for her viability, neither of them good. The first is that delegates from Florida and Michigan should be counted. They should not. Those states violated party rules by moving up their primaries, and the candidates agreed not to contest them. To seat those delegates would clearly change the rules in mid-game. Her second appeal is to the party's superdelegates, urging them to overrule the will of voters and to back her instead. On that point, we agree that superdelegates should vote their conscience, but to do so in such a way as to deny the nomination of the first serious African American candidate in history on behalf of one who has shown no greater appeal to voters would be politically dangerous folly.

Stripped of those two bad arguments, Clinton has none left to make. She has run a fine race, but she has lost.

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