Hillary Clinton comes across as a self-confident leader, a woman with the knowledge, the stature, and the demeanor to command the greatest military in the world. After four days of Democrats—and some Republicans, too—extolling the historic nature of a woman receiving a major party nomination, Clinton was well into her acceptance speech before she acknowledged the milestone.
“I’m standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother. I’m happy this day has come—and I’m happy for boys and men because the time any barrier falls in America, it falls for everyone.”
And then she moved on.
Becoming the first woman president is not what will get her elected. Nor will more stories that make her seem warm and fuzzy. She did a minimum of that in her much anticipated speech. She didn’t need to go over the case other people have made for her as a many-faceted person, a whole person, a good friend, someone who cares about children, someone who does the right thing when no one’s looking.
She touched on the professional points in her life that connect with who she is now, and why she got into public service. “The service part always comes easier to me than the public part,” she said. The polls and the focus groups and the experts find that voters view Clinton as untrustworthy, someone who craves power, who got where she is because of her husband. “I get it. Some people just don’t know what to make of me,” she said, offering a testimonial to her parents and their values, and her Methodist faith as her bedrock.
Her mother is her lodestar, who first taught her that bullies must be stood up against, and that “no one gets through life alone.” Twenty years ago, Clinton recalled in the book she wrote, It Takes a Village, all the resources in addition to the nuclear family that it takes to successfully raise children. Republicans at the time saw it as an assault on family values, but the phrase undergirds Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together.”
She learned early in her Methodist upbringing, “Do all the good you can in all the ways you can for as long as you can.” Clinton is a striver, and that’s a core value she brings to whatever she undertakes. She also learned early when she worked to gain accessibility to school for disabled children that “Simply caring is not enough to drive real progress, you have to change hearts and laws.”
We don’t know if Clinton is elected that she would govern differently because of her gender. We do know that women leaders do tend to be more inclusive, and that Clinton would be inheriting a country that is more divided now than it was eight years ago when Barack Obama came to the White House promising he would bring the country together.
We also know that another signature Clinton characteristic is her resilience, how she picked herself up after losing the health care fight in 1994, how she reclaimed her marriage in the wake of scandal, and how she became a trusted partner of the man who defeated her in 2008.
Her speech was more workmanlike than inspirational, a toting up of what needs to be done, more like a president delivering a state of the union address than a politician serving up red meat for the faithful. This is who she is. Voters looking for authenticity can find it in the many battles she has fought, and in the countless people she has helped without getting or expecting publicity.
Delegates chanting “U.S.A.,” victims of the 9/11 attacks highlighted, the families of murdered cops taking the stage—it seemed like back to the future as Democrats appropriated the symbols that Republicans once owned.
Girl power took a back seat by the time Clinton spoke. The ascendancy of women in the Democratic Party and the country is now so obvious that it didn’t need more showcasing. Clinton knows that the road to the White House must include independents and Republicans, and that Donald Trump’s candidacy has opened that possibility. Thursday night, as she stood on that sky blue stage in her pearl white pantsuit, you could imagine her in the ring with Trump.
For a woman caricatured as humorless, she showed a light touch, noting Trump doesn’t talk about his plans because he doesn’t have any while, “In case you haven’t noticed, I love to talk about mine.” She also knows how to get under Trump’s skin, quoting Jackie Kennedy after the Cuban missile crisis saying that her husband feared a war might be started “not by big men… but by little men moved by fear and pride.”
“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” Clinton said.
Clinton showed in her speech such an easy comfort level with all the aspects of leadership that the presidency requires that it’s puzzling why it took so long for a woman to break through, and that it isn’t just any woman, it’s the wife of a former president. That’s not something we’re likely to ever see again.