Why Hillary Hesitated In Conceding
Wednesday - June 11, 2008
In the weeks preceding last Tuesday’s South Dakota and Montana presidential primaries, Obama supporters, much of the press - national and local - and Clinton haters of every political stripe continually asked the question: “Why doesn’t she call it quits? Can’t she do the math? She can’t win; why doesn’t she get out of the race and endorse Obama?”
When last Tuesday night, while winning South Dakota and losing Montana, Hillary still refused to concede the nomination to Obama, some grew apoplectic. A few speculated about conspiracies to deny Obama the nomination - others implied morbid motives on the Clintons’ part. A few were heard to mutter “racism.”
No. The story was told in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s headline last Wednesday. It read, ever so simply, “HISTORIC” over a sub-head that read ” ... Illinois senator becomes the first biracial candidate for a major party.”
“HISTORIC” it was. Almost four centuries after the first Africans were brought ashore on the American continent as slaves, 143 years since the end of the Civil War that ended slavery, and 43 years since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which secured the right of black Americans to vote, a son of Africa - and Kansas - via Hawaii had been nominated for president.
But the same headline - “HISTORIC” - could have run over another story. This one would be about how very, very close an accomplished woman had come to that same nomination. Had the outcome been slightly different - oh, so slightly different - the subhead would have read “New York senator, former first lady, becomes first woman presidential candidate for a major party.”
And historic it would have been. Two hundred and fifty years after Abigail Adams beseeched her husband and his fellow delegates to the Continental Congress to “remember the ladies” in the their deliberations (they didn’t), 160 years since the Seneca Falls Convention in which Lucretia Mott and her fellow feminists asserted that “all women and men are created equal,” 88 years since adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote, and 34 years since Roe v. Wade acknowledged a woman’s sovereignty over her own body, a woman almost - almost - won the Democratic nomination for president.
Hillary Clinton certainly carried the burden of her own - and her husband’s - considerable ambition through election night June 3, 2008; but she also carried the hopes of many American women as well. To this point, the United States has chosen 42 of its citizens to serve as president. All have been men - white men. A few have been brilliant; most have been mediocre; and a few, as we have learned all too well these past eight years, have proven wretched beyond comprehension.
Millions of bright, able, supremely competent American women - women like Hillary Clinton - have shaken their heads over the past few decades at the silliness of the Bushes, father and son, the crotch-scratching excesses of Bill, Ronnie’s good-humored daffiness - the list goes on.
Yet at the beginning of this interminable presidential primary contest, the Republican Party - from Ron Paul through John McCain to Mike Huckabee - could come up with nothing but while males. And if Hillary and Barack hadn’t shown up, the Democrats wouldn’t have done any better. The presidential field would have looked like the Yale Glee Club once again: the Yale Glee Club circa 1928.
I have a feeling that Madelyn Dunham, that “grandmother out in Hawaii somewhere, who poured everything she had” into Barack Obama, may have understood Hillary’s reluctance to give up the fight. Madelyn Dunham started as a bank cashier and she rose to become Bank of Hawaii’s first female vice-president. She undoubtedly knew moments when her gender held her back.
And I think her grandson understood. To be sure, a winner’s expected to be gracious to the vanquished in political contests. But in his mother, Ann, who worked tenaciously in the under-developed world to better the lot of all, and in his grandmother, Obama knew the women’s movement up close from small-kid time.
His praise for Hillary Clinton and his understanding of what she symbolized to American women were genuine. She had a right to hesitate and Obama knew it - even if his supporters and many of us in the opinionating trade did not.
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