At last, the ultimate feminist money shot: Hillary Clinton in an incandescent white pantsuit, bathed in the arena’s blue light, declaring to the roaring Philadelphia crowd, “I accept your nomination for president of the United States!” Now can the woman in the white suit go all the way to the White House?
The Democratic Convention was unapologetically big, gorgeously star-crammed, saturated with multi-hued nobility and patriotic heroes who became overnight sensations. On every media platform, in 4K color and 3-D emotion, it was designed to be an American dream blowout.
From William Jennings Bryan to Barack Obama, party conventions have always been the political equivalent of American Idol. They're where stars are made, and more stars were milled last week than ever before.
The last chance to let loose, uninterrupted, turned Joe Biden into a one-man revival meeting. Never has the word “malarkey”—Biden’s label for Donald Trump’s promise to lift up the middle class—rolled off the tongue with more sensuous relish.
The convention was at its most electric whenever a speaker took aim at Trump. No one was more authoritatively disdainful than Mike Bloomberg. “I've built a business and I didn't start it with a million-dollar check from my father,” said the three-term ex-Republican mayor and truly self-made magnate, adding, “He says he’s going to run this country like he does his own business. God help us!”
When at last the nominee stepped onto the stage to embrace Chelsea and savor the moment she looked as refreshed as if she just returned from a Caribbean vacation instead of being pounded into the dust for the past 12 months, not to mention the past 24 years.
Slog. That has to be the defining word of Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination: a slog through decades of marital dramas, scabrous smears, and hard-won victories. Her husband famously felt our pain, but she has never allowed us to see hers—except once, eight years ago in New Hampshire, with tears that cynics said were fake.
What a joyful relief it must have been for her to have so many exemplary Americans attesting to her character and her kindness, unmediated by the cascade of dross thrown at her every minute of every day.
Trump’s nyah-nyah demonization of her as “crooked Hillary”; the lynch-mob ugliness of “Lock Her Up,” one syllable short of “String Her Up,” a week earlier in Cleveland and now at every Trump rally; the pious baying of the hyena moral police echoed by the naïve bonehead left; the drip drip drip of the daily taunts about her career’s stupidest mistake, the damned email debacle: She takes it all and always keeps her game face on. If it grinds her down—and how can it not?—she doesn’t show it.
A friend of hers recently told me of marching with her in a parade when one of her female haters in the crowd pushed forward wearing a blue dress with a prominent stain. Hillary turned to her friend and said, “They really don’t think I have feelings, do they?”
They really don’t. Which is why it was so epic that the big guys who’ve been with her in the trenches of the Senate and the Situation Room now fight for her like soldiers and comrades, without caveats, without patronizing asides (“You’re likeable enough, Hillary”), without reservations.
I suspect that the manly plaudits from Biden and Obama—their unstinting praise of her intelligence, her work ethic, her discipline, her loyalty, her courage—must have meant more to her than all the encomia from women of professional and moral stature. After all, even women who hate her know what it’s so hard for men to fully understand: that her gender means she has had to work harder, be more qualified, take more crap because she is a woman.
Losing last time only enhanced her legend because the story is so familiar: an overqualified woman works all her life toward a goal, only to have it snatched away by the younger, slicker guy with the great presentation who just showed up yesterday. And every mom who has had to leave her child for long days and nights at an office or factory or checkout counter or hospital felt the mother’s pain more than the daughter’s delight in Chelsea’s reference to the tender notes left for her when Hillary had to travel.
That’s what made Philly so sweet. Finally she’s out front, and finally the men beside her and behind her truly have her back: Obama, our cocky Mr. Cool; Biden, who would have had the prize if he could; Bloomberg, the brusque billionaire whose praise is hard to win; the ferocious, thundering Marine General John Allen—the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with a line of multi-ethnic military brass behind him—pledging fealty to her as the best, the only possible, choice for Commander in Chief. That must have been pretty sexy for Hillary.
So, too, Bill’s prose-poem of the milestones in their courtship, a tenderly, ruefully painted picture of the passionate improver of the world he admired who was also the confident woman he desired, whose back to him in the law library at Yale he didn’t dare touch because he feared it might lead to “something I couldn’t stop.” No wonder she looked rejuvenated when she came out.
America lately has shown the worst of itself through the nomination of Trump, but the triumph of the first woman tells us—just as the advent of the first black president did—that America continues its march toward a more perfect union.
Hillary had made this grueling slog on behalf of every woman who has ever been knocked back, belittled, talked over, passed over, and paid less than a man. When she spoke it wasn’t the stem-winder her husband or her predecessor would have given. There was no memorable phrase or passage to give us one defining headline the next morning.
Hillary has never known how to soar. As she herself implied, she is a workhorse, not a show horse. At a time of terrifying volatility what she did radiate was groundedness, stature, gravitas, and something more uplifting than any of these: a woman in her prime, all the more effective because she is pitted against a man whose daily MO is road rage.
There were two themes that came through nearly every speech.
First, her constancy. When Hillary shows up for 9/11 victims or mothers bereaved by gun violence it’s not just for the cameras. And she stays on the case, sometimes for years. She follows through. That’s what she’s done ever since she chose the Children’s Defense Fund after law school instead of the fancy firms that clamored to hire her.
Second, she’s a fighter. Hillary has never commanded the cool factor with the young, but the convention went far to reconcile two images that have long been at odds. A year ago, the campaign went overboard to soften her up with the grandmother theme. That was never going to work with milennials for whom “fierce” is an adjective of choice for the female role models they adore. Grandmother is a cuddly word and Hillary, thank God, isn’t cuddly.
Cuddly? That would be Tim Kaine, who looks like her second husband, the man she might settle for if ever what Bill called the “walking and talking and laughing together” with one of the most alpha males in history who repeatedly broke her heart should come to an end.
No, in Philly the accolades showered on her were for Hillary the fierce, Hillary the woman in the arena (as Obama called her, invoking Teddy Roosevelt), Hillary the gladiator, bloodied but unbowed, hailed by General Allen as the commander in chief girded to defeat the deadly foe of Isis.
Perhaps after a quarter-century of Hell Week, Hillary has finally been set free to be who she is: the warrior woman who protects her cubs and has the nation’s back. Hurrah for Hillary! Enjoy it while you can.