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Adam Hanft

Adam Hanft

Posted: November 6, 2008 05:56 PM

Hillary Clinton As Our Chekovian Role Model


Hillary Clinton didn't get what she wanted.

Neither do most Americans.

As I watched Tuesday night's overflow of ecstasy and disbelief, I couldn't help but think of her -- in that intensely lonely and painful moment.

If president-elect Obama re-animated the American mythology that anything is possible here, Hillary Clinton's difficult year has been a theatrical reminder that most of us need to live with, and through, dashed dreams.

She has become an embodiment of the ennobling virtues of disappointment. It's not the Obama role model, and it's not what she envisioned for life -- starting with her speech at Wellesley -- but it's actually no less important. We need someone who can publicly live a life of private pain.

Ever since she dropped out, this has been her reality. But last night it was reified. This morning she wakes and walks with the rest of us. The director of procurement who wanted to be a stand-up comic, the local newspaper reporter who covers school board meetings and has gaveled down his Pulitzer, all the harborers of lost rainbows.

She made more than 50 campaign appearances for Senator Obama. I'm sure none of them were easy, but all of them were necessary, and she did it with a stoic intensity whose profoundly admirable qualities were easy to lose in the heat of the final months.

Where was she on Tuesday? Chappaqua or one of the dozens of hotel rooms with generic seascapes on the wall -- painted by someone who always wanted to be the next Pissaro, perhaps? Was Bill with her? Chelsea? Was she pigging out on nachos? Did she stay up for the speech?

While we can't be sure about Tuesday, we can be about the next morning and the next. Humiliated by her husband, rejected by her party and re-routed by history, she will get up, have her coffee, and do the work laid out in front of her.

Instead of the embroidered towels on Air Force One, there is joy in small things. She is living a new kind of emotional mathematics, the sacrament of perseverance. Thoreau, not Shakespeare.

Or, more accurately, Chekhov. I see today's Hillary as Sonia in "Uncle Vanya." Do you think this famous last speech is secretly on Hillary's iPod? She wouldn't be the only one:

"What can we do? We must live our lives.

[A pause]

Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old..."