Is this how dreams end? In a not-quite-filled Washington hall, soaring but generic the way D.C. Buildings can be, draped in American flags as feel-good pop rolls on a loop in the background, making sure to cycle through "American Girl" first so it can be reused?
It was where Hillary Clinton's dream ended, the one about being the next President of the United States — or at least the Democratic nominee.
On a sunny, sticky day this past Saturday in D.C., she came to meet her staffers, supporters, onlookers and others (read: the media) to say a final farewell, and to pointedly and emphatically endorse Barack Obama for president.
The speech was scheduled for high noon at the National Building Museum — an ironic site for an official dismantling — a large, open space with bleachers set up at one end and a bank of TV cameras, reporters and journos with laptops at the other, with a dais on between flanked by the stars and stripes on all sides — three on either side, one hanging above and smaller versions waving in the crowd gathering below. Above, balconies filled, but behind the big press knot about a quarter of the space was taped-off, empty and unused.
But no matter. In the allotted space, excitement was high (and so, in truth, was the smell, depending on whom you were standing next to — it was cool in the hall but hot enough outside for travel time to have done the damage). By the bleachers, supporters wearing Hillary garb (buttons, stickers, t-shirts, hats) hugged each other and snapped photos. There were moms with strollers and dads wandering around with children on their shoulders, both boys and girls; one little girl riding above the crowd wore a t-shirt that said "I Can Be President." There were older women, pointedly wearing Hillary garb (buttons AND stickers AND t-shirts AND hats); one woman wore a sign on her back that said, "Remember In November, Vote Present."
In the airy, high-ceilinged hall with sunlight beaming in through high windows and upbeat pop tunes bouncing through the sound system, the atmosphere was almost celebratory, but these women weren't feeling it. A number of them at or stood quietly on the sidelines, waiting for the woman they'd thrown their hopes behind. "I'm your girl," she'd said at one of those earlier debates, confident and smiling, and she was. Or had been.
No, was — that was clear from the crowd as Clinton finally approached the stage. The applause electrified the room — it really did — and built in a wave of excitement and anticipation as she, Chelsea and Bill Clinton mounted the stage. If she was feeling regret, it didn't show; she looked as happy as she had ever looked, even back when she was inevitable.
"Thank you, thank you so much," she said, amid cheers, applause, and whistles. "Well--this--" she started, but the cheers kept going. Hands clapped high over heads. Hats waved. Cameras flashed. "Thank you, thank you so much," she exclaimed.
"This isn't the party I had planned, but I sure like the company," she said, grinning, and the crowd roared.
Then she started into the speech, and rang some familiar notes — thanking supporters, her 18 million, the women in their 80s and 90s born before women could vote, the parents showing their children that, see, they could be anything.
It took a few minutes — nine — to get to Barack Obama, and no doubt some were getting antsy. For some, it had been nine minutes and four days. I got one email about then, from a beat reporter saying it was "all about Clinton." Up to that point, she'd mentioned old women, Latinos, a Marine who waited months for health care, a woman who worked three jobs but couldn't afford insurance, 13 year-old Ann Riddle from Mayfield, Ohio, 88-year old Florence Steen from South Dakota who filled out an absentee ballot from her hospice, and "women and men, young and old, Latino and Asian, African-American and Caucasian, rich, poor and middle class, gay and straight."
But Barack Obama was the reason she was there, after all — not only why she was dropping out, but because this was the only thing she'd left undone in her run for the nomination: concede.
"The way to continue our fight now - to accomplish the goals for which we stand - is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next President of the United States."
There were cheers, some boos. She ignored them. "Now its time to restore the ties that bind us together," she said. She mentioned Obama fifteen times in her speech, often with the refrain "that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our president."
She offered no apology for her husband — just praise, and thanks, noting that Dems had won 3 of the last 10 elections, and "the man who won two of those elections is with us today." She didn't need to name him. Point made.
She used that to pivot forward: Losing wasn't an option this time. "Think about the lost opportunities of these past seven years...We cannot let this moment slip away. So today, I am standing with Senator Obama to say: Yes we can."
She also mentioned the twin milestones she and Obama had reached — she as the first woman to run for president, he as the first black American. She cited those milestones in her vision of "a more perfect union" — referencing Obama's famous speech on race from back in March, and making a point of adding gender to the mix.
There were times during the campaign that Clinton was accused of playing the gender card, but the chatter after this speech has been that her feminist agenda had been muted during the campaign, as she strove to be seen as the qualified candidate rather than the woman candidate. But her feminist sentiment was not muted here, it was pointed: "We must make sure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their mothers and their grandmothers" (and perhaps, extremely pointed: "There are no acceptable limits and there are no acceptable prejudices in the twenty-first century").
Of course, there was a limit: What Clinton called "that highest, hardest glass ceiling." Said Clinton to the crowd: "Thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it." A few thousand of those cracks roared in response.
It was, by even the less generous accounts, a genuine, inspiring, magnanimous speech, filled with grace and wisdom, exactly what she needed to leave the race with dignity and ease her supporters to Obama and the Democratic party.
But for some, it was not enough. For some, they saw that there was, in fact, an acceptable prejudice in the twenty-first century. "The media went to town on her...MSNBC and NBC, they tore her apart," said a disconsolate woman afterward. "They were sexist, they were misogynist...The democratic party didn't stand up for her, the media didn't stand up for her.
"Today, democracy died."
Such dissonant voices may not number 18 million, but they do represent cracks of their own — cracks in Democratic unity and trust in the Democratic party to recognize and value all voters. It will be a problem going forward — perhaps not one big enough to affect the election, since the alternative for women is McCain and the Roe-overturning court he will provide — but one the Dems will need to take seriously nonetheless.
It should be said that the crowd was diverse on many levels — parents and children, older women and even some men, young adults of all races, black Americans of all ages. Some gay men. Kids. Asians, Hispanics. Young women looking energized. Older women looking pained. More young men than I would have expected — and all of them seemed to want a photo with Terry McAuliffe, who threaded beaming through the crowd, stopping to shake hands and pose with anyone who asked. "I love you, man," said one young man. "I love you too," said Terry. "Keep fighting, everybody!"
The question is, of course, for what and for whom to keep fighting. "Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward," said Clinton, but some of her followers just may not be able to follow her there. What will happen to a dream deferred? For Clinton, it will mean picking up and moving on, as she has done all her life. For those left behind, it may not be so easy.
Her full speech is here Below are photos taken at the event on Saturday, June 7, 2008.
A day to remember
An outfit to remember
Behind the action, space, and an unobstructed view (of the TV).
WaPo's Dana Milbank and Garance Franke-Ruta.
The Observer's Choire Sicha and Politico's Ben Smith. It looks like Sicha's getting ready to dap!
Congressman Anthony Weiner berries and walks through the crowd.
Candy berries. (Actually, candy berries would have been delicious right about then, or even water.)
I don't know this guy's name, but he was a jerk. Rebecca Traister stood on a chair by the press area, and then he came over and demanded that she move because it was "his" chair, and he'd moved it there. He'd been away for at least 20 minutes. "Are we going to do this nicely, or what?" he said to her. Whoever you are, dude, you're a prick. Update: According to Choire Sicha, he's Glenn Thrush from Newsday, apparently "one of the best-regarded and most hilarious and helpful of reporters working during this endless campaign season." Oh! That makes sense because he totally helped himself to the chair! Funny how Choire tries to make this an issue of sexism; I didn't. Just general rudeness.
Maybe if Glenn Thrush had one of these...
MSNBC's Ron Allen didn't have to fight for a spot, but if he did, we bet he would have been very nice about it.
She speaks! Hillary takes the stage for a 30-minute speech that flew by. Well done.
The next generation of superdelegates.
A shot for posterity.
Earnest commentary dutifully recorded by even more earnest cub reporter. Update: ...who happens to be Sasha Issenberg of the Boston Globe, writer of The Sushi Economy . Sushi would not have lasted long in that hall.
Terry McAuliffe loves you back!
And you and you and you! Terry loves everybody!
The post-speech scrum (Hillary is somewhere in the center)
A sea of hands, paper and digital cameras.
A woman crawls under a barrier to get into the scrum around Hillary.
Longtime Hillary aide Huma Abedin, from the center of the scrum.
Shirts! They've still got plenty of good wear left.
"Terry, now that the campaign is over, I just want to say...I love you."
A shirt deferred.