Hillary the Fighter

Readers of this blog will know that it would be inaccurate to describe me as a fan of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yet it is impossible not to admire her tenacity, the sheer gumption with which she has approached her ever-diminishing odds of being selected as the nominee of the Democratic party, her never-say-die spirit. After her dismal third place finish in Iowa behind both Barack Obama and John Edwards, the press was virtually drooling over the prospect of her imminent collapse. Her "firewall" in New Hampshire appeared to disappear in a matter of hours, a poll showed Obama opening up a ten-point lead in the Granite state, and the fight for the nomination appeared to be ending as quickly as it had in 2004. But, then, a funny thing happened. Hillary got teary-eyed about the prospect and women turned out in droves to vote for her. They seemed to be saying "you can pick Obama, but do not, repeat do not, throw this woman to the curb." Clinton won New Hampshire. After Obama pulled off 11 straight victories in February, and was seen to be fast closing her lead in the polls in Texas, Clinton again managed to pull out a victory in the Lone Star state, as well as in Ohio, and the nomination again appeared up for grabs. Within days, however, the hard math of the nominating process took hold of the commentariat, and they prematurely announced the collapse of Clinton’s quest for the nomination. She pulled off a win in Pennsylvania. Different people support Hillary for different reasons. Women especially feel a sense of loyalty to her, an identification with her cause, and recognize that while her gifts may have long existed in the shadow of her husband, they were gifts nonetheless and of an extraordinary character. Indeed, her tenacity mimicked nothing so much as the never-say-die spirit of Bill’s 1992 campaign. Lesser politicians would have folded after Gennifer Flowers or the Draft letter, but not Bill, and lesser candidates than Hillary would have folded after a third-place finish in Iowa. The core of her supporters - women and working-class, ethnic Catholics without a college degree – know what it is to be counted out and dismissed and they, too, fought for their own future against cultural trends that marginalized their contribution to society. In Hillary, as in Bill, they found a vehicle for powerful emotions. The political class never understood this about Bill Clinton. They were aghast at his penchant for women not his wife, his desire for fast food, his "Bubba" qualities. But it was precisely those qualities that made middle America warm to him. They liked his intelligence and his wonkishness. But they also saw how his Bubba-ness softened him and humanized him just as that tear-eyed moment in New Hampshire softened and humanized Hillary. I have given up guessing what will happen on primary days in 2008. And, the truth be told, it really doesn’t matter anymore. Hillary really can’t catch Obama short of a meltdown on his part, and after weeks of incoming fire over Bittergate and Rev. Wright, it is hard to imagine what else might trip him up. Still, I have discovered a grudging admiration for Hillary that I did not have before. I still think she should have dropped out long ago for the good of the party. I still could never, ever bring myself to vote for her. But, I cannot help but acknowledging that she is a fighter and Americans like a fighter, and she has earned the right to stay in this race until all the primaries are finished. Michael Sean Winters
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