The Third Third

Hillary's Loss, My Lessons

It’s been almost three weeks since the year’s last Democratic Presidential primary election -- which proves my mother was right, at least in some instances, when she said “This, too, shall pass.” It’s over. Finally. It was probably way over some time ago, but I have a father not unlike Hillary Clinton’s -- and those men of the Midwest clearly did not raise their daughters to be quitters. (Who else among you knew that a sixth grader’s decision to quit the Girls Scouts was a reflection of her true character, and that said character was, as a result, found wanting?) The affinity I felt for Hillary derived, in addition, from our shared experiences at Wellesley, the summer of 1968 spent as interns in Washington, D.C., our arrival on campus as Goldwater Girls, and our graduation to the causes of peace, civil rights, and women’s issues. Hillary obviously took her personal and political epiphany further than I. But I can’t help it if I felt I was along for the ride, even if I was never so smart, so impassioned, so diligent, or so tireless, even if I could never have endured the overexposure of my private life nor survived the ugly underside of politics. Especially as this Presidential election took shape, I wanted to be there for Hillary because I felt that she was there for me, and for many, if not all women of our generation. Which is to say that I have taken her defeat very, very personally. I have been depressed. I’ve been angry, too, and I’ve done my fair share of complaining about the blatant and at the same time insidious misogyny that infects us, and the media’s infatuation with and nine-month infomercial about Barack Obama. But I have tried not to write in either sadness or anger. Instead I wanted to develop some new understanding of what happened – and to examine where my political expectations and the values that shape them fit – if they do – in today’s world. What Hillary represented to me, and I assume to many others, was not, it turns out, timeless; one of her mistakes, and certainly mine, was thinking that it was. I erroneously thought that her message, coupled with a lifetime of public service (and yes, I am counting the Rose Law Firm because she followed her husband to Arkansas so he could serve as Governor), a consistent record of advocacy for liberal causes beginning with her now-infamous speech at our graduation, and evidence of her willingness to work hard to get things done (e.g., to get elected twice to the U. S. Senate from New York) was like the music of the late 60s. That music just keeps rocking! Almost five decades later, it still gets you out on the dance floor and *(Hang on, Snoopy!)*, you’re young again. And cool. And on top of the world. And that world is full of possibility. And you can make it happen. That’s the way the music works. I’m serious. But the same cannot be said of Hillary’s campaign. It was almost as if she just wasn’t hitting the right chords anymore. I first heard this dissonance, in fact, the day Barack Obama announced his candidacy. He is, obviously, a gifted orator. But there was something noticeably positive about how he was saying what he was saying which stood for me, even then, in stark contrast to Hillary’s speeches. Because Hillary spoke more about our country’s problems and her solutions, it sounded like a lot of trouble and hard work; she failed to speak to the palpable hunger in the country for some good news. Her ideals were tried and true. And realistic. His were truly much the same, but he offered them in far more idealistic terms which resonated better with great groups of people. One of the things I most admired about Hillary when we were students was her ability to read the community, define an issue in the terms most meaningful to the various constituencies, and work among those constituencies toward a peaceful, progressive resolution. So I was very surprised that she didn’t have a better read of the voting population this year. At the same time, her words *were* effective with her core constituencies, especially the working poor, older (ARGHH!) women, and Latinos. The problem was, these conventional sources of support were no longer sufficient in the expanding Democratic Party, and the Clinton campaign failed to reach beyond them. When you’re in a history-making race, it’s clear now that you’ve got to make history on all fronts and not just as “the first woman” or “the first African-American,” but with, in fact, the way you do everything. Internet fund-raising, for example. Capitalizing on YouTube and FaceBook and text message and email communication. Paying attention to the damn caucuses. Rethinking “old” and embracing “new.” Aggressively seeking out and empowering new constituencies, ripe for the picking after the abysmal Bush presidency. Understanding that being right, even being ready, is only part of the equation – and unfortunately, an increasingly smaller part – in what amounted to an intense, six-months-long media feeding frenzy. And feeling a nation’s pain not by echoing it, but by salving it with – and I grew to hate this word – hope. Failing to develop new political strategies raised the suggestion that Hillary – the first credible female candidate for the Presidency of the United States -- was old hat – an older woman engaged in old-style politics carrying left-over baggage from her husband’s presidency. My grown children underscored it, too, when they pointed out that they’d never had the chance to vote for anyone but a Clinton or a Bush and they thought it should be someone else’s turn. For me, this was a bitter pill, two of them, in fact. Linking Clinton and Bush – how awful. And sensing that, indeed, our generation’s time had passed with, as they said, not much but the immorality of scandal and war to show for it. Ouch. This generational rejection pained me most of all. I was blind-sided by the realization that Hillary’s leadership, which had always been brilliant, had possibly grown stale; and that her words which I had always found inspiring, which gave me confidence that she could set this country straight and move it forward, were no longer saying what needed to be said. It wasn’t just ageism and sexism, either. I also grieved for the values we shared: working hard; doing our best; excelling in school; being prepared; caring for others; even waiting our turn – were they no longer valid either? I don’t know. In my deepest moments of self-pity I channeled all those sour, left-over feelings from when the smart “good” girl loses to the cute dumb jock in high school, and when the younger, less experienced guy is promoted over the token female officer at work. My adolescent self whined, “It’s just not fair!” But to no avail. It was fair after all. Everyone knew what game they were playing, and everyone agreed to the rules, ridiculous though many of them were, especially when the stakes were so high. Hillary Clinton did a phenomenal job of campaigning, raising money and getting votes – better than any other candidate in any other primary election ever before. But Barack Obama did a better job of campaigning, raising money and getting votes – so he won. Hillary’s not winning disappoints me and makes me sad, because she is a friend and I like and admire her and I was excited by the prospect of a woman president and I know she would have done a magnificent job. But I am no longer so depressed or angry. I’m happy to opine that this three-ring circus of an electoral process is no way to elect the President of the United States of America in today’s troubled world, but I haven’t given much thought to the alternatives. And while I am happy the primary season is finally over, I did learn a lot. *I learned we must study history, understand the present, and speak to the future. I learned that standing still, even dancing to the same old music, we can get old. I learned that when you play the game, you have to play the whole game (caucuses and primary elections and not just the elections) to win. I learned that my grown children, along with a lot of other people, would rather embrace hope than any 10-point plan or program. I learned that just because something I have always done has always worked, it might not the next time. I learned that while I can knock on doors and ask someone to vote for my candidate, I don’t like to. I learned that I possess neither the physical stamina nor the emotional toughness to run for office, much less the hairdo or the outfits. I learned I have trouble discussing politics with people, even friends, who disagree with me; I’m far too quick to anger and to wonder how they can be so stupid. I learned that I have the luxury of casting my vote on principle rather than economic self-interest, and thus the responsibility to do so. I learned that I need to know more about Barack Obama and how he thinks and how he might act on my behalf because he is now my candidate. I learned that my perspective from “the third third” of my life is no less idealistic than it was when I was 20, but that it is, at the same time, far more realistic; and that I don’t want to ever lose the ability to dream the ideal. I learned that if you are trying to build an audience for your online journal and blog, flying your political colors is not the smartest strategy. And I learned that I am a tad bit sensitive about being called an “older woman.”* And you?What did you learn?   Please share below.  
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