The media is fixated on Senator Hillary Clinton’s upset victory in the New Hampshire Primary, wondering if her tear in the eye moment may have been the cause, or suggesting that a new television ad or a renewed involvement of her husband may have been the deciding factor. Something happened. Something caused 6,000 voters to change their minds between weekend polls and the following Tuesday.
Clinton’s victory may reveal more about the American people than it does about anything Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama said or did during those four crucial days. The senator’s emotional moment may have been a wake up call, a clear message to voters, that this was the end of the road. That if Senator Obama, fresh from his victory in the Iowa Caucuses, won in New Hampshire too, heading into the south where he could count on Black support, then the whole Clinton campaign was done. And no matter how many negatives Senator Clinton may have that handful of New Hampshire voters were not ready to say no. Not yet.
It is just a little curious that America, the land of the free, “the great melting pot,” the “equal opportunity provider,” has not yet elected a woman to the highest office. American conservatives laud former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, “The Iron Lady.” Moderates point to the current, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is praised by some journalists as the most effective head of state on today’s world scene. The French have had a woman Prime Minister and American liberals fell in love with last year’s Socialist candidate in the French presidential election, Marie-Ségolène Royal. Although she lost to Nicolas Sarkozy, Royal was a “kinder-gentler” version of Senator Hillary Clinton, managing to capture the steel in velvet combination that must be so perfectly balanced for a woman seeking power. The recent assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was trying for a comeback, was a reminder that even Islamic society has produced a woman leader.
There is no doubt that Senator Hillary Clinton is the best chance for an American woman president in our nation’s history, though that is surely not reason enough to give it to her. But neither were those 6,000 voters prepared give it to Senator Barack Obama. Over that quickly? Surely he has some vetting to do? American’s like to look into the candidate’s closest and any candidate as complex as Obama has to have baggage.
Hillary’s negatives are almost all rooted in her ambition. Americans have always wanted their presidents to assume power with reluctance. In earlier years, the candidates sat and waited for news on their front porch. It was considered unseemly and egotistical to actually seek power. But the last reluctant president was Dwight David Eisenhower, the commander of Allied Forces during World War II. Such a coronation is unlikely to happen again any time soon.
If Hillary is less subtle about her driving ambition, too grasping, one can be certain that a fire burns just as hot in the bosom of Senator Barack Obama, his transcendent, ethereal rhetoric aside. You can’t get elected president today unless you want it badly.
In the end, those pivotal 6,000 voters in New Hampshire, almost 60% of them women, realized that they had the power to pull the plug on the Clinton candidacy. They could have effectively ended it then and there. And the polling showed that it was fully their intention to do so. But in the dwindling hours leading up to that fateful Tuesday they decided to let it live, to let keep the dream alive, an American woman president is still possible.
As a political conservative and a presidential historian, a rare combination, I follow the Clinton candidacy with fascination. The one positive of her life, a positive that transcends the political debate, is the great lesson of not giving up, of not leaving the field of battle, even when you are beaten and bruised. It was how Ulysses S. Grant finally beat Robert E. Lee. It may yet be how America finds her first woman president. Politics aside, Hillary’s spirit is wonderful to see.