Update: Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign in Washington today, throwing her full support to Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton came this close. In fact, as of this writing, she hasn’t formally conceded. Nobody really understands why: why she stuck it out this long, given the math, and why she gave such a grudging, graceless version of her stump speech after the South Dakota primary clinched the nomination for Barack Obama. Suggestions I’ve heard are not very flattering: she hopes to whittle down her multimillion-dollar campaign debt with donations from the deluded die-hards screaming Denver! Denver! She wants the number-two spot. She’s a crazy narcissistic rhymes-with-rich. Maybe she’s just ticked off because pundits have been trying to hustle her off the stage ever since her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
Some think Clinton’s loss, and the psychodrama surrounding it, will set women back. I think they’re wrong. Love her or loathe her, the big story here is Americans saw a woman who was a serious, popular, major-party candidate. Clinton showed herself to be tough, tireless, supersmart and definitely ready to lead on that famous Day One. She raised a ton of money and won 17.5 million votes from men and women. She was exciting, too: she and Obama galvanized voters for six long months–in some early contests, each of them racked up more votes than all the Republican candidates combined. Once the bitterness of the present moment has faded, that’s what people will remember. Because she normalized the concept of a woman running for President, she made it easier for women to run for every office, including the White House. That is one reason women and men of every party and candidate preference, and every ethnicity too, owe Hillary Clinton a standing ovation, even if they can’t stand her.
There’s another reason to be grateful to her. Clinton’s run has put to rest the myth that we are living in a postfeminist wonderland in which all that stands in women’s path is women themselves. Like a magnet–was it the pantsuit?–Clinton drew out the nation’s misogyny in all its jeering glory and put it where we could all get a good look at it. “Iron my shirt” hecklers. Wearers of Bros Over Hos T-shirts and buyers of Hillary nutcrackers. Fans of the Citizens United Not Timid website (check the acronym). Vats of sexist nastiness splattered across the Comments section of hundreds of blogs and websites. It’s as if every obscene phone caller and every exhibitionist in America decided to become an amateur political pundit.