I was part of history this week.
On the one hand, I simply attended an event that was part fund-raiser, part rally, part Presidential Campaign teach-in. On the other, it dawned on me in the course of this one-day women’s policy summit in Washington, D.C., that we are truly very likely to elect a woman president of the United States in 2008. Not only in my lifetime, but in time for all the women who came of age with me to appreciate it. We, a nation that didn’t even give women the right to vote until 1920, may very well, according to the polls, with a projected majority of women voters, elect Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Full disclosure here: Hillary is a Wellesley College classmate I knew reasonably well in the late sixties through her work in college government and my own on the *Wellesley News*. We have been “in touch” since then via an occasional note, my attendance at her book-signings and campaign fund-raisers, and two official visits by our class to the White House while she was First Lady. She remembers; she knows my name and my husband (her law school classmate), and knows of my children, one of whom she invited to the White House for a private tour and conversation over a cup of tea. I don’t know her well or intimately anymore than she knows me. I invoke her when I’m feeling bad about myself: *Hillary doesn’t have to do carpool; Hillary probably doesn’t oversleep – ever; Hillary has the energy to campaign non-stop 24/7; Hillary knows she makes a difference.* At the same time, I marvel at all she has endured and her enduring commitment to public service.
Besides, it’s heady stuff to talk international, economic, health, environmental, and educational policy in the real politik, real world. (Okay, I talked only when I asked one question; the rest of the time I listened to Hillary’s team of stunningly impressive advisors.) As a life-long news junkie, it was fascinating for me to hear the campaign pollsters and strategists crunch their numbers and calculate their chances in the shifting primary landscape. And for a woman who was, indeed, encouraged by family and school alike to be anything I wanted to be, comprehending their projections that a woman will be president of the United States redefines that potential exponentially.
By the end of the day, I was almost giddy – and I wasn’t alone. Few of the 800 women gathered in D.C. from across the country had ever felt so empowered to take part in history, except perhaps when we were on the outside, looking in, as at the 2004 Women’s March on Washington. This time we, in the person of Hillary, would be inside. Inside the White House.
Such excitement was the point, of course. To get us to make phone calls, ring doorbells, host events, and write checks for the Hillary for President campaign. To deputize us as communications centers to get the message out. To get us actively engaged in the political process. To ratchet up the sense of all that’s at stake in this election. To impress us with the intelligence, effectiveness, and purposefulness of the candidate and her campaign. I put on my “Wellesley Women for Hillary” lapel pin and wore it proudly. I bought a campaign T-shirt and two bumper stickers. I was grinning from ear to ear in my photo-op picture.
And then I came home to Texas where presidential politics simply aren’t that pressing an issue yet, where the candidate Hillary is highly suspect because she’s a woman, because she’s married to Bill, because she’s unelectable, or because she’s compromised her more liberal ideals to become electable, because of her hair, or her laugh, because she bungled health care 15 years ago, because her new plan is socialistic, because she’s a politician, because, because, because. My enthusiasm felt very out of place, almost brazen or tawdry. People – *friends!* – whispered rumors (from people in a position to know, you know) that Bill is still catting around New York City, that Hillary’s had a lot of work done (cosmetic, of course), that, well, the polls don’t mean anything – look at Dean, or Gore, or Kerry.
I sought solace in Judith A. Warner’s thoughtful analysis of Clinton and her very different audiences in an op-ed piece in the *New York Times* and then despaired again as I read the extensive blogging that followed. Virtually every blogger spoke from single-minded self-interest or intransigent political belief. No one showed any new thinking – any thinking at all -- about the world today and the candidates’ – any candidate’s – response to it. It is – both in Dallas and in these *Times* blog entries, as if everything I learned at the summit in Washington is immaterial and irrelevant, almost as if it hadn’t happened, as if there were no campaign at all, no position papers, no policy statements, no speeches, no hand-shaking. No thought, no work, no change, no possibility.
This thought in turn leads me to wonder: Is there also no war, no daily listing of 20-somethings killed in Iraq? Are there no written by rote headlined accounts of suicide bombers in Baghdad, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, no 47 million Americans uninsured, no families of 4 with real income $1000 a less than six years ago, no ubiquitous cameras and wiretaps? Is there no home mortgage meltdown, no volatility in the stock market, no rounding up of immigrants, no widening gap between very, very, very rich and poor, no ridiculousness in no child left behind? Is there no Darfur, no Castro, no Putin, no Katrina, no Chavez? No environmental crisis? No dependence on foreign oil?
For me, this is the stuff that’s at stake here. It’s not about putting a woman in the White House. It’s not about putting someone I know in the White House. (*Just so I can visit once or twice? – come on.*) It’s about putting a hard-working, thoughtful, seasoned, capable leader in the White House to restore my country’s functionality and stature. It’s about electing someone I trust to exercise leadership rather than power. It’s about righting the wrongs of the past and generating hope for the future.
I’m not saying Hillary is perfect. I am saying, however, that she is the best we’ve got – a dedicated, educated, collaborative public servant whose campaign itself speaks to the quality and character of the administration she would create to address our challenges and embrace our opportunities. That she would be making history as the first woman president is almost beside the point – except that it isn’t. For many women, having a woman president will be a bit like having a female gynecologist; you don’t have to explain yourself, you know she “gets” it. Imagine nationalizing that concept, falling asleep at night knowing the woman in the White House “gets” it. Imagine pointing to a President Hillary Clinton and telling your daughters and sons, your grand-daughters and grand-sons, “That’s what equality looks like.”
And, I will add, I was there, I was with Hillary, when we first realized it could be achieved.
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