June 4 , 2008
The Lovely Parting Gift
By Mary Lyon
I woke up one morning feeling like I'd awakened in a different country. Sort of. Barack Obama's passing the numerical finish line was still not quite the end of the Democratic primary season. "She" had yet to concede. It should have been All-Obama-All-the-Time, but it wasn't. Very well then. He's handled this turn of events as a gentleman, which seems to be his style. This Obama supporter deeply appreciates his behavior and thinks he's correct. It's like a lovely parting gift.
Barack Obama's victory on the first Tuesday in June, 2008 has many substantial and credible claims to standing alone in the spotlight. It was a landmark for the ages. It was historic. It was revolutionary, and revelatory about ourselves - how his elevation lifts us farther up and out of the pit of racism. Perhaps, the calendar and the last seven-and-a-half monstrous years notwithstanding, it marks the real kickoff of a new American millennium. Yes, this is one for the books - a singular, and singularly earth-shattering event.
But it wasn't just any ol' middle-aged/older white guy he beat. We mustn't forget that Obama's toughest opponent was also a landmark and also historic. We've had not one but two parallel glass-ceiling-breakers throughout the entire campaign. The leap Barack Obama took for people of color Hillary Clinton took for women. Her achievement, going the distance as she did, should not be discounted, and stands on equal footing with his. No leader of either group had ever climbed this high. But each of these extraordinary people did just that - at the same time.
Why did we get not one but two at once? Was this another twist on "buy one, get one free"? Is the need in our country so ridiculously overwhelming that "when we said we wanted change, WE WEREN'T KIDDING!!!"? Are we that sick of George W. Bush & Partners., LLC? That last one, I believe, is a big part of it. I think it explains why this campaign season started more than a year ago, and we're still months away from the general election. Yes, we're that fed up. It's almost as though much of America seems determined to push itself ahead - almost forcibly. Not only have we as Democrats been actively searching for Bush's replacement for a record length of time, but our two finalists stood farther outside the conventional than ever before. It was unavoidable. Either way, we were going to make history. We seem to have insisted on it.
Hillary Clinton has been in the center of the storm for a long time. There's no reason to believe she won't continue throughout the rest of her life in public service to be at least near it. And good for us if she is. Let's not kick her down the street. The gravity of the mess the Bushies will have left us with means we're going to need her, her husband, and her supporters very much in the months, and years, ahead.
Early in her rise to national prominence as her husband won the White House, I noted a quote from her describing her belief that government could be a force for good, and I celebrated. Certainly they made mistakes as President and First Lady. But they brought that mindset back into the federal government where I think it belongs - after the long "you're on your own, lotsa luck!" winter of the Reagan and Bush-1 years. That meant the world to me. It meant an end to the "benign neglect" of the have-not's for the sake of the have's and the have-more's. We can use all the apostles of that mindset we can get, again now.
It also speaks libraries about how Barack Obama handles things. Again, he treats her elegantly, speaks glowingly of her, and cuts her all the slack imaginable. Unlike many in the press, on Capitol Hill, and some in his own camp, he's seemed neither in a hurry to hustle Clinton offstage, nor driven to snark. Perhaps because there are so many of them, he knows he doesn't have to. Even so, he's not pushing, wisely noting that the 2008 presidential campaign is one he and Hillary Clinton both traveled together.
Her supporters should note this gentility, generosity, and respect as they shift gears. It's for them, also. In effect, Obama is a lovely parting gift to them, since they did not get the winner of their choice. They could do a whole lot worse, and the Republicans have already shown them how (and whom).