THE BLOG

Rodham Rising

06/18/2015 02:18 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2016

A tough, seasoned liberal steps up.

I checked my Twitter feed as I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton speak in Four Freedoms Park on June 13 with One World Trade Center in the distance. Her well-crafted speech touted a host of liberal causes, but some progressives had already made up their minds against her. "Same conservative shit," one person tweeted, to which others replied that they must not have been watching the same speech.

Utopian standards allow people to reject any candidate who can actually get elected; but getting things done requires a candidate who will engage the system we have. Similarly, the welcome given to corporate floats by the huge crowds at DC's Capital Pride Parade the same day as Clinton's rally demonstrated the success of the mainstream LGBT movement and the failure of counterculturists who romanticize life at the margins from their positions of privilege.

Reality-based activists pursue practical reforms rather than phantoms of revolution. But dissenting voices remain indispensable. Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders got results with his hammering of Clinton for her previous silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Speaking in Iowa after her New York rally, Clinton called for any trade agreement to include protections for American workers, and said there should be no deal without them.

In her New York speech, Clinton wisely made a virtue of her battle scars. Those expecting her to charge up San Juan Hill over every intractable problem may still be disappointed; but she showed herself to be a smart, confident woman ready to take on know-nothingism and intolerance and defend the middle class. This puts her in stark contrast with the Republican field.

Right-wing hyperventilating and gun-toting displays notwithstanding, we are not on the verge of another civil war. The harshness of struggles elsewhere in the world, made more visible via new media, remind us of how good we have it. If we were as powerless as portrayed by leftist purveyors of perpetual outrage, plutocrats would not spend so much money to influence our votes.

Litmus tests undermine the liberal cause, which must be fought on multiple fronts. Creating change is a marathon, and requires working with people and candidates who do not agree with us on everything. The likely alternative to Clinton is not a perfect candidate but a victory for homophobes, misogynists, white supremacists, and religious bullies. If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, we will soon have only two liberal justices on the Supreme Court--the two women put there by President Obama.

Patrick Healy in The New York Times offers Sanders hope by comparing his underdog presidential race to the Tony Award upset by Alison Bechdel's Broadway musical "Fun Home" over "An American in Paris." As a fan of Bechdel's ground-breaking comic strip, "Dykes to Watch Out For," I was thrilled at her victory; but this is a classic Bad Analogy, despite Bechdel's own support for Sanders. One might just as well call Sanders the Steph Curry of this campaign, comparing him to the MVP five decades his junior whose magical play in the NBA finals proved him a true peer of the magnificent LeBron James.

Bernie is a great guy, but he is no Steph Curry, and he is no Alison Bechdel. His value, not to be underestimated, is in pressuring the frontrunner by energizing progressives. To be sure, Barack Obama was an underdog himself going into the 2008 primaries, but there is no one of comparable gifts in sight this time around. Obama has shown remarkable endurance in dealing with conservative obstruction; but the hand-to-hand combat ahead favors those familiar with the territory and adept with the available weapons. No one fits the bill better than Hillary. She faces a long, tough race. She seems to understand, better than some of her supporters, that she cannot afford to take anything for granted.

@JesseRodriguez tweeted on June 13 that there was more Rodham than Clinton in the Roosevelt Island speech. That is apt. She has come into her own. When she smiles at her crowd's reactions, you can see how much she relishes a political fight. More than any other quality, that is the one that will enable her to break the final glass ceiling.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade and Bay Windows.