Saturday, June 7, 2008

Clinton's Epilogue

Today, the general election for the president of the United States begins. But before we leave behind the primaries chapter of the 08 elections, we should take stock of some of its singularities and ironies.

Hillary Clinton's rally today was probably the biggest and most momentous send-off any campaign had ever thrown on behalf of a losing candidate for a party's nomination in the nation's history. Perhaps to some, it was even more self-indulgent than Clinton's victory speech after the South Dakota primary but for the fact that she also unequivocably endorsed Obama today. But to others, this was the Hillary Clinton they would have voted for.

What struck me about Clinton's concession speech was that it addressed gender as directly and as much as most of her campaign shunned it. It was as if she had decided that as a potential president, she would be president for all the people; but as vanquished candidate, she could at least be a symbolic footnote in women's march for equality. Ironically, Clinton today used the soaring rhetoric we have come to associate with Obama's winning style when she could have been better served to have deployed it more frequently before.

In her speech announcing her candidacy, Clinton focused on issues, not symbols: "This is a big election with some very big questions. How do we bring the war in Iraq to the right end? How can we make sure every American has access to adequate health care? How will we ensure our children inherit a clean environment and energy independence? How can we reduce the deficits that threaten Social Security and Medicare?"

In her concession speech today, she referenced women 23 times, compared to just three times in her announcement speech. To be sure, this is the constituency that Obama needs Clinton to deliver for him, but I also suspect that this is the real Hillary Clinton, the fiery feminist who subverted her identity, ironically, in order to break the nation's last glass ceiling for women. I wonder if things would have been different if Clinton's prologue and her play had sounded more like her epilogue.

Admist the rowdy cheers of this bitter-sweet day, Hillary Clinton's speech pattern reflects her own assessment that the success and failure of her candidacy had more to do with gender than with anything else.

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