August 26, 2008
She Wore Gold and She Was Golden
By Mary Lyon
All the blue and white "Unity" signs didn't make nearly as vivid an impression as did the Lady in Gold on Night Number Two in Denver. Hillary Clinton Night at the Democratic Convention was actually the first night we've seen any real red meat served up in prime time. And no woman in there was a vegetarian on this night. Neither were the men present, of course, but Hillary Clinton's message to many of her ardent devotees - many of them women who were heartbroken that Obama and not she will be their nominee - was as clear as could be. And hardly medium-rare.
That was practically all you could hear all day long, though, as the hours counted down to Senator Clinton's main-event speech. Media people were scrounging all morning and afternoon to help stir things up and pick any zit they could find on the convention complexion. They stood like seven-year-olds in the back of the playground, all clustered in a tight circle together, elbowing each other for more room, and shouting in rhythm "Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!" They almost taunted and dared, even nearly pleaded with the Barack versus Hillary camps they wanted to see squaring off within the circle. And they came away with quite a different story to report, much to some of their disappointment, I suspect.
One of Hillary's signature lines of the evening, when she was able to get a word in edgewise amid the roaring ovations was "NO way, NO how, NO McCain," but for the press it might as well have been "NO way, NO how, NO Disunity." And that's exactly what was needed.
This woman ran the race expertly and passed the baton as though she were the captain of a world-class relay team on its way to the gold medal. By the end, even the naysayers had to admit that Hillary had made the case, convincing her followers that it wasn't for her they were really working, campaigning and eventually voting. She asked them flat-out - "were you in this campaign just for me?" Then she challenged them to remember the causes of the many she encountered along her own campaign trail - the young Marine, the mom with cancer, the family trying to get by on minimum wage, and "all the people in this country who feel invisible." She drove the point home that what they were all in the campaign for - was bigger than she was, or any of them were. It was for the future, their future, their childrens' future, the future their parents and grandparents hoped for, and our collective future as Americans. She called for everyone to
remember that "we are on the same team, and none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines."
Quotable quips all, but there was no shortage of what most of the Democrats in the arena, and most of the rest of us watching the extravaganza, had been hoping for: finally some zingers about John McCain - that have been missing in prime time up til now. Clinton didn't disappoint. It makes perfect sense, she said, to a deafening ovation, "that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities because these days, they're awfully hard to tell apart!" But there was still more.
Hillary Clinton was really quite marvelous on this, clearly HER night. She was powerful, elegant, witty, and devastating. From her expression of gratitude to her "sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits" to the way she saluted Michelle Obama, Clinton outlined numerous examples why a Barack Obama presidency is genuinely what her supporters want and want to vote for. And she reminded them of what Democrats have been able to do when they've been united before, to solve this country's problems: "Democrats know how to do it. As I recall we did it again with President Clinton and the Democrats, and we can do it again with President Obama and the Democrats."
That wasn't the only triumph of those who "feel invisible," however. Clinton noted the heritage of Harriet Tubman and the exhortations to those taking the Underground Railroad to freedom - to keep going, even when you hear the dogs or the shouting or see the torches in the woods. Clinton also referenced the 88th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote - marked this very month.
If anyone was still nursing any doubts about whether she wanted to be a sore loserman or the connective tissue between her die-hard true believers and the Obama victory that can't happen without them, this night may have settled that issue. Clinton pointedly declared that she hasn't spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, universal health care, families and working parents, and women's rights to see that effort and promise squandered by "four more years of the last eight years."
It was a compelling case. She described herself as I sensed she hoped to describe every one of her ardent female followers who could hear - a proud mother, a proud Democrat, a proud American, and a proud supporter of Barack Obama. She did not equivocate - "Barack Obama is my candidate and he must be our president." Last night introduced us anew to several remarkable women, adult and child. This night there was just one woman.
And, actually, there were millions of women - the Hillary camp, who remain in the spotlight as the country watches and waits to see how they decide, and how much they still feel spurned. If any of them still nurses a wound, or still feels "invisible" after this, they truly don't get it, and they run the risk of taking this golden night and spinning it into straw.