As the country says its goodbyes to President Obama and reflects on his legacy, I am this week saying my own goodbye: not to President Obama, but to the idea of President Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Like many others in the New York bubble, I was in no way prepared for the outcome on November 8. “You know what’s great?” I would declare. “In 100 years, Hillary will be the President Clinton history remembers most clearly, not Bill.”
And so I have spent a good deal of the last two months balancing coming to terms with the horrific reality that Trump will be President (still not real) with the agonizing, suffocating injustice that Hillary Rodham Clinton will not.
It’s not just about the general idea of an unqualified, revolting, potentially unhinged pig-in-a-wig defeating an overqualified, dignified, intelligent woman. It’s about this man defeating this woman.
It’s about Hillary.
Like so many women around the world, I felt like I knew Presidential Candidate Clinton. Like a friend, like a mother, like a sister.
The Clinton I knew, the Clinton who was going to be President, was freakishly competent and fiercely intelligent. She was cool, calm, and collected under the most unprecedented of circumstances; remaining in control even as a large, orange goblin lurked behind her, trying to put her off her debate game. And she knew everything. Yes, she was polished and primped and prepped to a tee: she was trying to be as perfect as the world demanded a woman candidate be. She was presidential.
Almost-President Hillary’s warmth shown even through her layers of professionalism. She loved to throw her head back and laugh— an unfairly, endlessly mocked laugh but one of genuine mirth— and clap her hands. She could use that joie de vivre to laugh at herself or to smile knowingly at her opponent as he talked himself into a hole, while her brilliant lawyer’s mind spun crackling rebuttals. She was battle-scarred but not broken, wronged but stronger for it. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the young woman who had tried to keep her maiden name, and though society took that from her, it never took her spirit.
Unlike a number of other female leaders or almost-leaders, President Hillary was going to be an unapologetically pro-women President. She was the First Lady who declared forcefully in Beijing that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all” in 1995, and the Secretary of State who had used her position to promote women’s rights across the globe. Hers would have been a feminist presidency, working to close the gender pay gap, increase the minimum wage, fight campus sexual assault, and protect women’s reproductive rights and health.
And most importantly to me— and potentially most destructively for her— President Hillary was ambitious. Many women cannot picture themselves in charge, but Hillary, so it seemed, couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. She fully believed in herself, and in the idea that she was the best candidate for the job, and she pursued it aggressively.
My favorite picture of Clinton is the one of her as a girl. As Nichola Gutgold wrote in her book on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, women often lose their “girlish confidence” as they grow older, in a way that boys do not. Hillary was the girl who did not relinquish her sense of confidence and, yes, entitlement, that she deserved every chance the boys did, from the story of the Harvard admissions test to standing twice for the Democratic nomination amongst a field of men.
With that confidence, she reminded women, both young and old, that it was okay to reach for their dreams. Clinton’s second bid said even in the face of setbacks, it still doesn’t have to go away— you can fight and lose and still think you are the best candidate for leader of the free world. Coupled with Hillary’s undeniable tenacity, President Clinton would have been unstoppable.
We can only dream of the capability she would have brought to the White House. We can only imagine the perfectionism she would have brought to the presidency. Since the election, people have lambasted the inclusive “Stronger Together” as a weak slogan; now we can only stare in horror at Trump’s tweets and long for the galvanizing speeches she would have aimed to deliver.
This week I am saying goodbye. Goodbye to the idea of watching this woman dance a third inaugural first dance— except this time it would be hers, not her husband’s. Goodbye to First Gentleman Bill Clinton, and the great satisfaction (in spite of all the crap) of seeing how much he admired her. Goodbye to Vice President Tim Kaine, who would have been America’s boring but dependable Dad (though capable of a fiery telling-off, like the one he delivered to Betsy DeVos this week).
And goodbye to eight years of powerful pantsuits.
There’s a reason my room is littered with pictures of her— an #IFeelLikeHillz stencil on the wall, a pink-pantsuited bookmark sticking out of the bookshelf. She gets me out of bed with her embodiment of the idea that hard work and a healthy dose of ambition can get you anywhere. Almost. In a few more years, it will.
There will be a Madam President someday. But I wanted this one: this ball-busting, sharp-witted, stereotype-defying legend of a woman, this “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better” beacon of determination, who was so adept at smashing glass ceilings.
Though there’s a good chance I’ll cry every time I see her for the rest of my days, it’s time to lay my Clinton Presidency dreams to rest. But we should never lay to rest the ideas she embodied: that ambition is healthy and women can do anything they want to do.
Clinton clearly understood what she represented, and the very personal doubts her loss triggered in many of us, little girls and bigger girls. Pinned to the top of her Twitter page— one can only assume indefinitely— is the message she gifted us on the horrible morning of November 9:
Goodbye, President Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Thanks for reminding us that we are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.
This post was published January 19, 2017
Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore
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