Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary, Obama, Unity

There's so much that I could say about what happened in Denver yesterday.

I could write about the protestors outside the barricade that rings the Pepsi Center. Mainly anti-choice folks. There weren't that many of them, frankly, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in shock value. Scrawled in chalk on the sidewalks that we all had to step on to get into our convention were colorful little slogans like: "Obama Murders Babies" and "Obama for Infanticide" and "Obama is Killing the Black Race." There were people with giant plackards showing photographs of aborted late-term babies -- body parts, mangled, bloody baby faces. (I'd seen a truck driving around town earlier with even bigger pictures of the same.) One of the National Jewish Democratic Council staff members that I'm here with had to avert her eyes as we passed -- which I suppose is the point. The fact that Obama -- while pro-choice -- favors restrictions on the kinds of late-term procedures these demonstrators were depicting, did not figure prominently in their messaging.

I could write about the even smaller contingent of John McCain supporters who tried to give me a McCain sticker as I walked toward the convention hall. "You got the wrong guy," I said.

I could write about how the NeuroticDemocrat felt, getting up this morning, after watching two days of barnburning, powerful speeches in a packed arena, given by people who love this country and want to make it more perfect, only to find that in the latest Gallup tracking, McCain has edged ahead of Obama for the first time, 46-44.

I could write about my mother-in-law, who just called me -- her voice, clearly pained -- asking what the situation on the ground was like, with the Hillary supporters. Or my friend, who emailed me, distressed, after watching CNN interview two Hillary supporters, unmoved by her speech last night. "Hillary has handled this whole thing with great dignity," he wrote. But he just couldn't understand her intransigent supporters, one of whom, he wrote, said that "Obama hasn’t asked for her vote yet and she won’t give it to him until he (and his supporters) effectively start showing Hillary the respect that she deserves. This woman felt personally mistreated (she referenced the hate mail that she expected to receive following this interview) by Obama supporters, and essentially her non-vote for Obama is sort of her idea of retribution for all the nasty things that happened to her on the campaign trail."

I could write about how an NJDC board member told me that at a breakfast with Hillary supporters yesterday morning, many were clearly still upset, angry, feeling un-charitable. Or how I have felt, watching all the unseemly, distasteful attempts by Republicans to inject themselves into the fray, hosting a "Happy Hour for Hillary" here Monday night, indicating how they felt Obama had dissed Hillary by passing her over for VP. (These very same Republicans, like Rudy Giuliani, who have made careers out of bashing Hillary and tearing down her feminist supporters. Why isn't the media pointing this out?)

But that's not want I want to write about. What I want to write about is how I felt, leaving the Pepsi Center last night, moments after Hillary Clinton finished her historic speech. Watching her, I couldn't help but think about the person behind the politician. Here was a woman who had lost the very thing she had been fighting for, the thing she wanted most in life, to a rival who, by most accounts, she doesn't like very much. And there she stood, giving him a full-throated endorsement -- doing absolutely everything in her power to mend the divisions in the party, to soothe her own supporters, urging them, with every fiber of her being, to get behind Barack Obama. "You haven't worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership," she said. "No way. No how. No McCain."

Here was a woman putting the causes she has dedicated her life to -- universal health care, equal pay for equal work, a woman's right to choose -- high above her own crushed personal ambitions. I kept thinking, as I watched: This was supposed to be her night.

She was funny ("To the sisters of the traveling pantsuits"), cutting (it's no coincidence McCain and Bush will be together next week in the "Twin Cities"), personal and emotional (putting her hand over her heart when speaking about her desire for "a health care plan that covers every single American"). But most of all, she was imploring, insistent, firm -- more than a plea to her supporters -- a demand: "These are the reasons I ran for president, and these are the reasons I support Barack Obama." This is why you should, too.

I have been an Obama supporter since it was cold. I know there were plenty of pragmatic political reasons Hillary gave the speech she did last night. But what I kept thinking about was her, her courage, in soldiering on, despite such immense personal setback.

It was the same thing that Ted Kenney had done, the night before -- arriving in the Hall -- the Denver Post reported this morning, straight from the University of Colorado Hospital, where he was being treated for a "debilitating bout of kidney stones." "With less than two hours to go before he was supposed to take the stage, Kennedy -- sitting unnoticeded in a room at the University of Colorado Hospital -- told his wife, Victoria, and doctors that he wanted to go to the Pepsi Center and deliver the speech," the paper reported. "One concession to the kidney stones: The speech he gave was about 10 minutes, roughly half the length of an earlier draft."

It was the same thing Al Gore did, eight years ago, when, after winning more votes than anyone in history, he finally conceeded the presidency to Bush. "As for the battle that ends tonight, I do believe, as my father once said, that defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out," Gore said. I cried when he said it. Then I wrote it down on a piece of paper, folded it, and put it in my wallet. It's still there today, but, more importantly, it's in my heart.

Walking out of the Pepsi Center last night, I wasn't thinking about Clinton's supporters, who still insist on giving interviews to CNN about why they support McCain. I wasn't thinking about all the disunity that apparently swirls around this convention, none of which you even sense, sitting in the convention hall.

I was simply feeling thankful -- for Hillary Clinton. I was feeling the kind of deep gratitude that is all to rare in life. I was feeling that because of her words -- and her deeds -- I would be better able to face down my own defeats; to move forward despite my own ample fears.

Standing on a stairwell jam-packed with Democrats, clutching signs to their chests that read "Hillary" and "Obama" and "Unity," I jotted these words in my notebook: "Our best politicians teach us how to be brave."

The GOP may yet steal this election, sowing fear and disharmony. But they can never take our courage away.


radbarb said...

Beautiful, and I'm still her fan.

unc2u said...

Hillary is a more likable hero in defeat and in retreat

Loyal said...

Great speech, great account.

One of the blogs today (don't remmber which) said Obama's pollster said daily tracking poll is worst polling device of last 20 years. THey are not at all interested in antional numbers. They are interested in 18 states only and not in top line but in the deeper stuff, what's motivating and moving voters.

So no need for depression on this.

Keep it up ND.


NeuroticDem said...

radbarb, unc2u, and loyal --
Thanks for the encouragement. Just back from this incredible night at the Pepsi Center, and sitting down to write about it. Great to see your remarks here. And, Loyal, thanks for the info on the tracking poll -- it's been so frustrating, watching those rise and (mostly) fall in response to nothing at all.

Patti said...

I felt like I was there. Keep up the good work...Go Dems!