I wanted to put some distance between the election and putting some thoughts together about Hillary. I didn’t want to write in the immediate emotion of the aftermath – and it was a very emotional time for many women, and continues to be.
This isn’t an epitaph, because Hillary’s story isn’t finished. It’s only an assessment about what I think her legacy might include – but it’s not complete. And don’t make the mistake of thinking she won’t have one, or that it will be anything approaching the names Donald Trump called her; neither are true.
My view of Hillary evolved as I got older. It evolved as I put more years in as a working woman. When I first became aware of Hillary, I was about 29. I wasn’t sure what to make of her and tried to frame her as one of the First Ladies I’d known (Lady Bird, Pat, Betty, Rosalyn, Nancy and Barbara). She didn’t fit. These were educated women, but not career women. They were mothers who raised children and supportive mates to their husbands’ places in history. Hillary was a potential First Lady who considered herself equal to her husband and …. well, she was. And he agreed (remember “Two for the price of one?”).
“I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”
At 29, I thought that was not the wisest thing for a potential First Lady to say. In a few weeks I’ll be …. significantly older than 29, and my take on it now? I could not freaking agree with her more.
“If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.”
In my early 30’s, I thought that was a pretty snappy line. In my mid-50’s, I see how true that statement was and is, and what it says about the political culture in the 1990’s (and, sadly, now). She blasted right through that culture, though, particularly as it pertained to the role of First Ladies. She worked hard to develop a comprehensive national health plan. Yeah, it wasn’t implemented, but she still managed to master the subject matter, work through the problems, and produce one where none existed. Twenty-five years later, Donald Trump won an Electoral College vote and still hasn’t managed to divulge a single detail of his Obamacare replacement plan other than it will be “terrific”. Uh huh.
She then worked diligently to ensure that the S-CHIP program was developed and finalized so that children in need had health insurance.
“Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”
I was in my mid-30’s then. She was First Lady and got my attention with this. I was hitting the right age to understand what she’d been talking about.
“I am 100% in the camp that says forgiveness is mostly about the forgiver.”
And there was her marriage and its very public trials in the late ‘90’s. I was in my mid-30’s then, and couldn’t fathom how she got out of bed in the morning. To evaluate her marriage, its place in her life and determine its future in the most public of venues had to be excruciating. And to the cynics, let me simply comment: Each couple’s marriage is different. These are two people who support each other and share dreams. Who would have thought in 2000 that Bill and Hillary Clinton would still be married in 2016 while Al and Tipper Gore are not?
While her husband was finishing his last year as President, she was running for the Senate from New York. When she won, she thanked many people, but also expressed gratitude for her five black pantsuits. Is there any other statement that a woman in the middle years of her career could appreciate more? I certainly did.
“It became clear to me that simply caring was not enough. To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws. You need both understanding and action.”
“It’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.”
I’m not going to go through her accomplishments in the Senate (they exist, starting with getting funding for NYC and its first responders after 9/11) or as Secretary of State (same, starting with restoring our place in the world after the Iraq debacle and such insulting cute names like “Freedom Fries”). Also during those years, she directly cared for her aging mother, bringing her to live with her; it was a wrench for Hillary when her mother passed away.
I went through much of that. And the older I got, the more I could relate to Hillary.
“I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.”
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.”
“Whether a woman’s running for office or she’s supporting her husband who’s running for office and she gets criticized for wearing open-toed shoes or for the color of her coat, there’s just a lot of history that you bear if you are a woman who puts herself out there in the political arena.”
“I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.”
“It is past time for women to take their rightful place, side by side with men, in the rooms where the fates of peoples, where their children’s and grandchildren’s fates, are decided.”
In addition to her responsibilities in the Senate and as President Obama’s Secretary of State, it was clear that she was passionate – and had been – about women’s rights and the role of women in the world, and that she wanted to improve it for future generations.
When Hillary declared herself as a candidate for the 2016 election, some said there was an air of entitlement surrounding it. I thought about that for more than a year, and disagree.
I think there was a rightful inevitability about it.
Were we going to revert to an election between, essentially, white men after Barack Obama’s tenure as President? And what other woman in recent history could rightfully be the first female candidate of a major U.S. political party to run in a general election if not Hillary Clinton, while Hillary was young enough and (presumably) willing to do it?
Sarah “Half a Term” Palin?
In another election cycle or two, there will be some, perhaps. Nikki Haley will have obtained Cabinet as well as executive experience, for example.
But for this time and this place, it had to be Hillary. Millions of women, myself included, I realized, wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Hillary didn’t just crack glass ceilings in 2008 and 2016. She cracked them between 1992 and 2008 in a hundred smaller ways. We got used to seeing a First Lady who was the educational and career equal of her President spouse (and the higher wage earner before then). She cracked them by being outspoken, by refusing to stay home and “bake cookies”, by deciding to campaign for the Senate and leave her husband to clean up the debris from his affair and finish his presidency. She cracked them by surviving, and getting back up, after her husband’s presidency and after her Democratic primary loss in 2008. And then she cracked them by reverting to type: The woman who could do so much was just exactly like us, a doting grandmother held hostage to the smiles and gurgles of her grandchildren.
Hillary was the inevitable candidate because on many levels she was the best candidate.
“Extremism thrives amid ignorance and anger, intimidation and cowardice.”
We can talk about the intricacies of the 2016 election another time, and I promise we will. It isn’t where I want to drive here.
On Election Day 2016 in an upstate New York cemetery, there was a long line of several hundred people waiting a couple of hours – not to vote, because they already had. No, these were mostly several hundred women who had just voted a woman from a major political party to be President of the United States. They stood in line to leave their “I Voted” stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s gravestone.
When the first woman is elected President of the United States, regardless of her party affiliation, she will be standing on Hillary Clinton’s shoulders. Hillary normalized the concept for us.
Like I said, Hillary’s story isn’t finished, so I can’t speak to the totality of her legacy.
But one last thing:
I know a little three-and-a-half-year-old girl. Okay, she’s one of my several adorable great-nieces. Let’s call her Lasagna (her nickname). Lasagna is like so many other little girls: She worships her older brother and dotes on her baby sister. She is a little afraid of spiders (but doesn’t necessarily want to admit it). She loves wearing costumes and singing the songs from Frozen. And her dream most of the year was to be a princess.
During the summer, though, she started to want to give speeches. Or at least to get up on a stage of any sort, and talk to an invisible audience. Sometimes she would bring her brother with her. Just a few weeks before the election, her family was in a park and there was a perfect large rock for her and her brother to climb. Once they were on top of it, Lasagna started “speechifying”.
Because girls can do that now.
“I know we have not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now. And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Lasagna, I think Hillary’s talking to you.
And Hillary: Thank you.