On a night filled with history, pageantry and symbolism, Hillary Clinton wore white.
You could see that as a not-so-subtle contrast of angel vs. devil, of Glinda preparing to face the dark forces to be unleashed by Donald Trump, who preceded Clinton by an hour at a victory podium Tuesday night. But she also very much looked like the happy bride who finally had reached the altar.
It’s been a while — eight years for her, 240 years for the nation — but Hillary Clinton is the first woman to be a major party presidential nominee in the history of the United States. Presumptive, yes, some formalities remain, but it’s over.
What does it mean? Good question.
Clinton called it a milestone, and that’s factually correct. Her campaign has been building to this moment and it is a catharsis for the millions of American women raised amid the hard reality of glass ceilings. This is not to say that glass ceilings no longer exist, but now there is a generation of younger women whose baby boomer parents have told them unequivocally that they can do whatever they want and be whomever they want to be. And they believed.
After all, they’ve already seen many examples of strong women taking charge. They’ve seen it in sports and entertainment, with women like Serena Williams and Beyonce. They have seen or learned about international political leaders past and present, like Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, and Angela Merkel of Germany. And they’ve seen Clinton herself, as a strong first lady, a senator from New York, and a secretary of state doing the nation’s business around the globe. They’ve never doubted this was possible.
So to this generation, Clinton becoming the Democratic candidate is not a ground-breaking moment. Nice, something perhaps to feel good about, but not ground-breaking. And that, if you think about it, is its own profound form of accomplishment.
Beyond the moment, what about its reverberations? Will Clinton’s presidential campaign, for example, however it turns out, make it easier for the next woman to run? That’s what’s typically said about historic, ceiling-shattering moments: This will make it easier for those who follow. Maybe. But think of all the countries that have had women as heads of state. How many have had a second? And remember, it took 24 years for Sarah Palin to follow Geraldine Ferraro as a vice presidential candidate of a major party. And after all that time, we got Palin.
There’s a difference between seeing progress and making progress.
You can’t blame Clinton for wrapping herself in history. An opening video at Tuesday night’s Brooklyn Navy Yard celebration highlighted the role of upstate Seneca Falls in sparking the women’s rights movement, and included former Texas Gov. Ann Richards’ famous remark about Ginger Rodgers doing everything Fred Astaire did but backward and in heels. And it closed with the exhortation: Let’s keep making history.
But you also have to give Clinton credit for not wallowing in the past. That’s not going to get it done. So she shifted sharply to the present and the task of taking on Trump. Her language about him was as tough and pointed and incendiary as his was about her.
She called him temperamentally unfit to be president, castigated him for various remarks about Muslims, immigrants and women, and said he “wants to win by stoking fear and rubbing salt in wounds and reminding everyone how great he is.”
Trump said the Clintons have elevated the politics of personal enrichment to an art form and accused Hillary Clinton of turning the State Department into her private hedge fund via donations from other countries to the family foundation. And, metaphorically licking his lips, he said he would be dropping a big load of Trump-style attack material on her head on Monday.
And we haven’t even gotten to the conventions yet.
History might well end up saying this campaign was the roughest and nastiest of them all. But history already has weighed in on Clinton’s singular accomplishment.
And that, too, was part of the pageantry of the moment.
On the night she reached the victory stand she had been seeking for so long, Hillary Clinton fittingly entered the room — alone.