Grow Up Time III 

The Nice Bill Era, week 3

Funny thing happened this afternoon. I was vacuuming. I do it the same way every day. I follow exactly the same course from one corner to the next, until I'm back where I started. That way I don't have to think about it. Just plug in the Eureka, toe kick 'er on, and for the duration of that particular chore, ol' Bill's on autopilot. Try it sometime. It's a good way to get through the most tedious routines, and it only takes a couple of years to ingrain in your brain.

Anyway, I was about halfway done, sucking my way through a particularly high-traffic area, when I inadvertently caught the power cord on my foot and pulled the plug out of the wall. I am not making this up: for a few seconds, I kept sweeping the silent machine back and forth, thinking, "Dammit! I'll plug it back in ... soon as I finish this spot."

When I was through giggling, it hit me: that's how Hillary must feel. "Dammit! I'll do what I have to do ... but not until I'm finished here."

By the time you read this, she may have already dropped out. If she hasn't, she will soon. I trust that she knows she has lost and I'd bet she's known it for some time. It's one of the symptoms of being smarter than most other people—you know the score before they do.

Why she has stayed in so long, I will leave to her to explain, as I'm certain she will at some point. I don't care to speculate on her motives and I can't swallow most of the theories from those perpetual mouths who have made it their job for several months to hypothesize what Hillary may be thinking. She isn't delusional, as some have suggested. She isn't trying to monkeywrench Barack and position herself for 2012, as others have accused. She's not trying to steal the nomination from under the nose of the popular vote, nor is she keeping her fingers crossed for an assassination. All of that is just pundit-strength guessing gas, released in front of cameras to fill hours and hours of airtime.

What is obvious is that she is as tough and unrelenting as any political candidate in memory. Had only Bush pursued Osama bin Laden like she's pursued this nomination, eh? She has fought like a tiger, using all her teeth, all her nails and all her considerable clout. That's why I endorsed her in early January (just before the Idaho caucus) because even by then she'd proven her commitment to doing what it takes to win. And that's also why I'm changing my loyalties to Obama here in late May (when it doesn't mean squat)—because she's ventured too near to doing anything it takes to win.

I stand by what I said in the earlier endorsement—that America desperately needs a woman leader because one of the major obstacles to our becoming a mature nation is that among us, are too many stunted citizens who will refuse to believe women are as capable as themselves until it's staring them in the face. I also continue to believe Hillary would have made a superior president.

But she's lost me. I don't mind a politician fighting like a tiger, not at all. It's when they start fighting like a Republican that I draw the line.

Maybe a dozen years ago, I got into a discussion with a someone who insisted Democrats could never win in Idaho as long as they didn't have the killer instinct to exploit the opposition's most personal and private weaknesses—to fight dirty if dirty fighting was what it took. I answered maybe not, but I'd rather belong to the party that conducts itself with the higher level of integrity and common decency than the party that wins all the time.

But that was before George Bush. It was before Kathryn Harris and Karl Rove and gangs of Republican thugs showed us how low they were willing to sink in order to win. And it was before Iraq and Katrina and Haliburton and Enron, before the collapsing economy and the wholesale degradation of environmental regulation, food safety, whistle-blower protection, the Constitution and the slightest hint of ethics in the executive branch. It was before the gutting of any and all policies that have made America fit for human consumption, so it was before we knew how terrible things could get when people like that did win.

For seven years, Democrats have been desperate to take the country back before there was nothing left to take back, and we've yearned for a candidate who will not buckle under that essential Roveian strategy: "A lie travels around the world in the time it takes the truth to clear its throat." Yet wanting our candidate to stand strong against despicable strategies is not the same as wanting our candidate to use despicable strategies. I can not believe Hillary would ever go so low as the Bushies have—if she were that vicious, she would have been a Republican from the start—but she's come dangerously close.

I understand why she felt she had to do it. In a way, it's what Democrats thought they wanted—no holds barred. That's what I thought I wanted. I was wrong. The horror that is the Bush administration clouded my eyes, and for a time, I forgot that integrity and decency are still better than winning.

Both Hillary and Barack have had the misfortune to be running against a historic event—each other. To their separate constituencies, they each represent a fundamental shift in the politics of America, and without that implicit element of change coming from both of them at once, this would have been over months ago.

Yet their separate constituencies don't seem to grasp that either candidate represents exactly the same shift. Black Americans would have seen the same progress under a Clinton presidency they will with Obama. Women will win with Barack anything they would have won with Hillary. And certainly, those "hard working white people" of hers will be better off with Obama, in spite of their likely votes for McCain. (I'm trying to be nice about this, but frankly, judging from the post-primary comments I heard from some of Hillary's West Virginia supporters, I'd rather not belong to any party that needs them to win, anyway.)

But I'm convinced the change Americans are anticipating has less to do with racial or gender identity than with something that, for seven years, has seemed to be receding beyond reach. We're looking for someone who will make not just women proud, not just African Americans, but someone who will simply give us all reason again to be proud. The young people saw that promise in Barack a long time ago. Excuse me for taking so long to grow into it. Guess maybe I've been on autopilot for too long.

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