For more than a year, for myself and thousands of other Barack Obama supporters, Hillary Clinton has been the epitome of the status quo in politics. Brilliant, sure. Capable, absolutely. But a politician whose vote for the war in Iraq seemed to perfectly encapsulate her reputation as calculating, triangulating and ambitious to a fault.
Then, through the course of the campaign, there was the consistent playing on people's fears, the dividing to conquer, and the re-invention of rules. Worst of all was her less than graceful speech last Tuesday when Barack Obama had officially secured the delegates necessary to win the Democratic nomination and she refused to acknowledge it. It seemed to be a slap in the face of a candidate that had just reached a major milestone. Her supporters' threats to sabotage the Party by chanting "Denver! Denver!" or vote for John McCain only made it worse.
Yet for the past couple of months I have been trying to see things from the Clinton perspective.
For me, the Clintons have always been vastly superior to the Bushes. But they were still a part of a corrupt system. I always felt Bill Clinton was a good president, but not great as he could have been. He gave us a booming economy, but also globalization and outsourcing. He gave us relative peace, but also the inaction that led to genocide in Rwanda. He gave us diplomacy and prosperity, but also distractions and scandals.
After an entire life of politics as sport, most of my generation were simply ready for change. Bushes and Clintons had ruled the White House as long as we could remember. For us, Hillary Clinton simply wasn't the answer. She would be a continuation of partisan gridlock and politics as usual.
My candidate, Barack Obama, on the other hand, was the one that would break down barriers, restore decency, unite the country, and make history.
But today I finally saw something different. My high regard of Barack Obama remains intact. But I also gained a new admiration and understanding of Senator Clinton. It wasn't merely that she endorsed Obama with dignity and grace, calling on her supporters to see the larger principles at stake. It was that I finally saw her struggle in a personal way; I saw what she represented for many women and working class people; I saw her strength and tenacity; I saw the humility to come so close to a dream, only to fall a little short to someone who was her junior in the Senate. I imagined how I would have felt had the roles been reversed, how easy it would have been to lash out at the still very real racism (in Hillary's case, sexism and misogyny); I understood the tendency to find scapegoats, whether the media, the DNC, or Barack Obama himself.
Just as I am reminded of the barriers Obama faces every time I get an email screaming "Obama is a Muslim!" or "Obama doesn't pledge to the flag!" I understood the frustration and anger Hillary's supporters must have felt when she was written off with a thousand different subtle and not so subtle slights. But Hillary never backed down, just as Barack didn't. As Hillary put it, they have done the remarkable so that next time it won't need to be. Next time a women or an African American or any other minority runs for President they will know there is precedent for success. They will know, in spite of still discouraging remnants, that racism and sexism have faded enough that a black man or a woman could be elected by the people for the highest office in the land. That's significant.
I still have some concerns with Hillary Clinton, just as I am sure some Clinton supporters haven't yet completely come around to Obama. But today I remembered, as tough of a battle as this has been and as imperfect the candidates, they have shared a very similar journey over the past 18 months. It's been a tough, arduous, sometimes grueling crucible of an election. But both have not only survived, they have proved what's possible in America today.
Many times over the past year I have turned on the TV and watched Barack Obama give a stirring speech and felt a deep sense of pride and hope for the future. Today, for the first time, I watched Hillary Clinton and felt the same.