Gail Collins: Hillary may have lost, but the future is hers
By GAIL COLLINS
The New York Times
Monday, January 22, 2018
Question: Do you think Donald Trump spends more time thinking about Hillary Clinton than Hillary Clinton spends thinking about Donald Trump?
Sure does seem like it. The other day, Trump was discussing Russia at a news conference with the prime minister of Norway, when he suddenly announced that Clinton “was not for a strong military and Hillary, my opponent, was for windmills, and she was for other types of energy that don’t have the same capacities at this moment certainly.”
Yeah, it didn’t make any sense. But he really can’t seem to get past her. Recently while promoting tax cuts and a congressional candidate in Pennsylvania, Trump veered off to remind the crowd that during the campaign, Clinton had once called his supporters “deplorables.”
“Who would have thought that was going to turn into a landslide?” asked the president, alluding to a contest in which he lost the popular vote by 2.9 million.
This weekend, we’re commemorating — acknowledging? — the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. And remembering the great national explosion of Women’s Marches that followed, in which millions of Americans poured out of their homes and took to the streets to announce that this was not going to be the end of anything.
In honor of that second anniversary, let’s think about Hillary’s side of the story. Before we begin, it’s important to agree that this is not going to involve any discussion of whether she should have gone to Wisconsin more. Therein lies madness.
Here’s my take: Her campaign was probably doomed from the start and utterly transformative.
Doomed because when a president has served for two terms, Americans are inclined to go for change and pick the other party next time — even if things have been going along rather swimmingly. That’s generally been the modern pattern and it’s probably going to become even more true now that what’s left of our attention span is being pulverized by cellphones. And in 2016 if you were going to find a candidate who seemed to promise more of the same, it would have to be the woman who had been secretary of state for the departing two-term Democratic president, and was married to the two-term Democratic president before that.
I suppose she could have emerged after the nomination, dressed in white for the suffragists, and said, “Look, I love those guys, but I’ll be totally different.” Would have been tough. Dissing both the first African-American president and her husband, who seems to take rejection of his legacy rather badly. Anyhow, didn’t happen.
This is the point where we start sinking into a dark hole, mulling whether she should have spent more time in Wisconsin. Then, of course, comes the question of whether Clinton lost because she was a woman. The answer is: sort of. Her gender was both a handicap and an enormous selling point. Would the Democrats have wanted Harry Clinton to be their nominee? (Just try to construct a Harry Clinton in your mind. I dare you.)
And — wait a minute, don’t get depressed. There’s another side: Even if her sex was a problem, it allowed her to transform the country more than many men who won the job. While losing, she made it normal for women to run for the most powerful office on the planet.
This is critical. Look at all the breakthroughs women have made in the last century, and you’ll notice how many of them involved just making their presence in some new place seem matter of fact. All that pain and struggle to win the right to vote, and what did it get us short term? Warren Harding. But long term, it created a world where the big gubernatorial election in Virginia was analyzed in terms of women in the suburbs and that knockout Senate race in Alabama was pretty much all about black women streaming to the polls.
Or take a more modest example. There was a time — not all that long ago — when television executives believed a woman could not be the solo anchor on the national evening news because our voices didn’t convey the proper sense of authority. Then in 2006, Katie Couric took over at CBS, to great hubbub and commentary. She did fine. Life moved on. In 2009 Diane Sawyer became the anchor at ABC. She did fine. There was barely a peep. The great triumph actually did not arrive until everybody found the whole matter boring.
Now, when people handicap the next Democratic presidential nomination, there are lots of women in the mix — Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand. (And, OK, Oprah.) Whoever runs, the important thing is that primary debates will no longer resemble Shriner conventions. Women will be all over the place. Soon, they’ll be half the big decision-makers. It will be normal.
When Hillary Rodham Clinton graduated from law school and started her career, virtually the only women who had made it into the Senate were either honorary appointees for a brief symbolic term (the first, Rebecca Latimer Felton, got one day) or a senator’s widow. The exceptions proved the rule. The great Margaret Chase Smith came from the House, where she had succeeded her dead husband. Nancy Kassebaum happened to be the daughter of Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon.
You get the idea. And there was Hillary. On the one hand, another political wife. On another, a marker for the entire country, driving home the fact that Congress was never going to be just a guy thing again. At times of despair I like to recall that when she was sworn into the Senate in 2001, my little niece watched the coverage intensely, and asked my sister whether it was possible for men to be senators, too.
Campaigning in 2000, almost everywhere Clinton went, she drew enthusiastic crowds. Partly, they were there to see the first-lady-turned-candidate, the one who had come through more disasters than the Titanic. Partly they were already imagining their party’s next standard-bearer. But nobody seemed more excited than women around her own age, who turned out in droves, no matter how unpleasant the weather or remote the spot. I always thought they saw her and thought about second chances: If you put in the time as a stay-at-home mother or took non-dream jobs because of all the responsibilities at home, you could still move on at midlife to something new and totally terrific. And maybe the kids would be sitting proudly behind you on the bus, like Chelsea.
That Senate race was the moment when she found her own identity as a politician. Floundering in the early high-profile media moments, she retreated off to long tours of upstate New York in which she went from one earnest panel discussion on economic development to another about the dairy compact. That, it turned out, was the Hillary version people liked best. Super-prepared, taking every problem seriously. She tried to resurrect it for her presidential campaign but the country was, it seemed, looking for something more exciting. Except for the 65.8 million people who voted for her.
It’s 2018, a big election year, and women are going to be running everywhere. We’re sort of astonished by the numbers, but not by their ambition. They’ll be elected to city councils, state legislatures and Congress and hardly anyone will give their gender a second thought. That’s Hillary’s gift.
Here’s the message she left us. You can have that double dip at opportunity — you can even have a third or fourth chance if things go wrong. All you need to do is ignore every setback and work like a maniac.
And also, you could think about changing the Electoral College.