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One Great Dame

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

As I write this, the last voters in the last states in this seemingly endless primary process are heading to the polls, even as various news organizations have already announced that Barack Obama has reached the shifting magic number to claim a majority of the delegates.

There will be many days ahead to write about Barack Obama, who deserves enormous credit for his success. Most people who run for president with far more experience than he has in the national circuit have far more difficulty, and it wasn't so long ago that the rule of thumb was that almost no one made it to the nomination on their first try. He has. Four years ago, he was the unknown keynoter at the Boston Convention. This year in Denver, the Convention will belong to him.

But tonight, at least, before the political obituaries are written and filed away, before all the mistakes and missteps of her campaign are dissected like the bones of a day-old turkey, I want to pay tribute to my old friend and new hero, to a woman who showed both how far women have come and how far we still have to go, and did it with energy, intelligence and integrity. Here's to Hillary, one great dame.

It turned out to be much harder than she or anybody else probably expected when she entered this race. She ran to win, and she didn't. She knew there would be resistance -- because she was a woman, and a Clinton, and the wife of Bill, because of the legacy of Monica and the legacy of Clinton-haters and the vote in favor of the authorization to use force in Iraq. Whatever she expected, reality was worse.

The supposed genius in the family, the former president, made mistakes. The supposedly well-oiled machine was not so well-oiled. Things that should have been doable -- running an effective caucus strategy to win delegates even in states she couldn't have won -- weren't done. She was the candidate of experience running in the year of change, the candidate who had paid her dues in Washington running in the year of the outsider.

For a while, it has seemed that Hillary was getting clobbered whichever way she turned -- by the media, by old friends, even by her own husband. She made mistakes; the biggest was probably the easily taken out of context reference to Robert Kennedy as a reason for staying in the race, coming on the painful heels of his brother's cancer diagnosis. She was damned if she did (show emotion, show cleavage, trot out her daughter) and damned if she didn't.

But a funny thing happened on the way to defeat. She won, over and over. I'm not just talking about contests and delegates. I'm talking about who she became as a candidate and a symbol.

Hillary Clinton was attacked in this race, but in the end, she was no victim. Women who started out feeling distant and unconnected from the ambitious frontrunner ended up seeing in her survival as a candidate and in her determination not to be counted out a mirror of our own struggles. She became a symbol not for the discrimination we all know is there, which oozed from so much of the media coverage and infected the punditry like a virus, but of the strength and courage of first women and put-down women and working women everywhere to persevere against the odds. She won respect not because she was shoved down, but because she kept standing up. It was that determination, that courage, that can't-put-me-down can-do spirit that turned a losing campaign into a personal victory.

She may never make it to the White House, although I wouldn't count her out. But she proved that women of courage cannot be stopped just because the game isn't fair or the obstacles are great or their competitors have karma and the press corps on their side. It may not be as good a lesson for our daughters as seeing a woman take the oath of office, but it's not a bad one.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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