Both Made History, But One of Them Had to Win

So today it is truly over. I have very mixed emotions. Obama's speech on Tuesday night struck every chord -- personal humility combined with overarching faith, pride and determination in what this nation has achieved and can achieve again. I called our sons to watch history in the making; he thrilled us all. The cliché is true; he makes us proud to be Americans. That feeling was particularly strong for me because of a recent conversation I had in Beijing with a number of Chinese academics and fairly high-ranking party officials. The conversation quickly turned to American politics, and it became apparent that most of the people around the table expected McCain to win. When I probed as to why, the response was essentially that America would not really elect a black man. How I longed, and long, to prove them wrong, to prove that America is not defined by its past failures but by its continuing ability to overcome them. That capacity and desire for continuing renewal is precisely what Obama is tapping into.

At the same time, I loved Hillary's speech. I honestly do not understand the prevailing reaction in the media and among many Obama supporters -- that she was ungracious, that she should have made the night about him rather than about her. Why on earth did it have to be only his night? Obama, after all, gets the big prize -- the first African-American nominee, possibly the first African-American president. His place in history is assured. Hillary lost, but she ran an incredibly gutsy campaign, even though there was plenty of stuff that made me cringe, stuff that betrayed the very values she wants to stand for. She is the first woman ever to be taken seriously as a possible president. And she was smart, tough, poised, committed -- she was in fact all the things Obama complimented her for in his speech. She was true to herself, eschewing grand oratory for stories about individual voters. And she reminded everyone that 18 million people DID vote for her, and that they are people who will be critical to a Democratic victory in November. On a more personal level, I ached when I looked at many of the older women standing behind her, many of whom so obviously felt that they had lost for good. Her effort to celebrate rather than to concede was in large part to give them one last moment of pride and dignity. She did not win, but she made history too.

Today the healing and the reuniting officially begin; Obama himself has already done a great deal to start it; he has the right instincts and the right stuff. But based on the public debate this week, he needs to begin not by reaching across to her supporters as much as by talking hard to many of his. The nastiness of their reactions to Hillary even in victory, their inability to see anything more in her and her supporters than narcissism and opportunism, is another version of the politics he wants to end in this country. He must talk particularly to his younger supporters, who are more naturally inclined to idolize him and demonize his opponents. If the politics he stands for is to prevail, then his supporters should certainly celebrate the defeat of Clintonian politics, which is the true loser in this primary season. But they should not exult at the defeat of Hillary herself, as a standard bearer for millions of voters and an entire generation of women and a history maker in her own right.