PHILADELPHIA — All the pieces are in place for Hillary Clinton to capture the magic of her historic nomination, or at least that’s the script being written here in Philadelphia. The Democrats have staged a masterful convention as a preamble for when Clinton steps to the podium to deliver her acceptance speech Thursday night.
Yet even those who have long anticipated this moment wonder whether the true weight of its significance will be felt, or whether Clinton is a bit late to the party. Those who benefit the most from the battles she waged don’t credit her, or care for her. They won’t be cheering; they’ll be sulking.
The truly transformative nature of the change that’s occurring may not be fully apparent until Inauguration Day. At that point, it will have sunk in. There will be no Bernie, no Donald Trump. Bill Clinton will be in a supporting role, and Barack and Michelle Obama will be headed into the sunset, writing their memoirs.
She will stand alone, her hand on the Bible, taking the oath of office as the first woman after a long line of men to be entrusted with the job of president, leader of the Western world. This is how we transfer power in a democracy, in a peaceful way, when differences are bridged and history has the last word.
That will be the moment, and trust is the key word. The convention is about Clinton’s character more than her gender. The 9/11 burn victim who Clinton consoled, the foster kid who got an internship in her Senate office, the “change-maker,” in Bill Clinton’s phrase, who diligently works to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
We've had so many firsts in our rapidly changing world, that for young people, this breakthrough has not been a long time coming. A generation of millennial women — many of whom flocked to support Bernie Sanders — take for granted there will be a woman president in their lifetime. If not her, it will be someone else, someone maybe without the compromising flaws accumulated over decades navigating a male dominated world.
There’s too much noise now to fully appreciate Clinton’s long road to reach the political summit. “What does it take to be the first anything?” said Meryl Streep in her remarks from the podium on Tuesday night. “Grit and grace for over 40 years.”
Young women today were not there to witness first hand the struggle to get 20 percent female representation in Congress, to get a handful of women governors, to get so-called women’s issues mainstreamed as real issues. For them, that’s ancient history, like World War I or World War II, something to pay reverence to but not affecting their lives.
They’ve not yet had to balance jobs and families, so they’re unmoved by the challenges Clinton faced, moving to Arkansas, adopting a political persona that would help her husband. After he lost re-election for governor, she stopped going by her maiden name, Hillary Rodham, and became a Clinton. She stepped out too fast as first lady, wanting a policy role.
When she got slapped back she remade herself, and when her husband humiliated her, she went out and got a political career of her own.
Older women have their problems with her too. Just look at the polls, they don’t trust her; they think she’s opportunistic. She parachuted into New York to run for senator. She was an effective senator, won re-election on her own, but that path to power wasn’t all on her own.
Having watched Clinton for 25 years, I find the intensity of dislike for her puzzling, especially when it comes from women. Trying to understand what it is that bothers them, they look at Clinton and see a privileged woman who cuts corners, and gets away with it. That grates on women who come from the perspective of never getting a break, and having to work doubly hard to prove yourself.
“They wanted a rock star, and instead she’s the sensible choice,” says Kathleen Murphy, a Democrat and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Women are happy about breaking the glass ceiling, but it’s not like it was when Barack Obama was nominated. People were wild with the hope and change of what his election might bring.
With Clinton, the sense of making history is more muted, tempered perhaps by the awareness of the ugly campaign that lies ahead, and the backlash likely to follow just as it did with Obama.