You start with history, of course. And yet, we are slow to recognize the historic moment when Hillary Clinton is involved. After all, there is so much history to Clinton that is not, well, exactly epoch-making. You don’t often see the words “cautious” and “trailblazer” used to describe the same person, and, in any case, it’s hard for her to blaze to much glory when we’ve watched her many smaller steps, and her many missteps, over the many years.
When Obama made history, the sky — as Clinton once said — might as well have opened. In Clinton making history, she was also the overdog who struggled mightily to knock off the old, cranky, socialist, message candidate. She is the candidate under FBI investigation. Benghazi is the latest faux-scandal that the Republican Congress can’t, or won’t, get past. The emails are indicative of Clinton’s mistrust of the media, a mistrust of transparency and of her tendency toward the unforced political error. In the course of the campaign, Donald Trump has already shamed himself by suggesting that the Clintons were involved in murdering Vince Foster, who shot and killed himself. But shame comes easy to Trump and such accusations, large and small, weak and sad, are part, too, of Clinton’s history.
She is the victim of much, including a husband who betrayed her trust and a nation’s and who is the charismatic bad boy to Hillary’s closed-off likeable-enoughness. But victimology doesn’t get you to the Oval Office. Neither does being a candidate who, we’re assured over so many years, is funny and warm in private, as if that weren’t its own kind of indictment of a politician who has to successfully reach out to the many millions.
She likes to say that she doesn’t have the natural political gifts given to Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, but she has her own kind of political gifts, the ones that won out this year — a tenacity and unwillingness to give up that makes, say, Joe Biden so popular, but leaves Clinton with negatives so high that they, too, would be historic if not for Trump being in the race.
All of that must be secondary to the fact that she survived the 2008 primary race and her shattering loss when put up against a different kind of history and then made an extraordinary comeback in 2016. But what’s amazing is that she did this amidst a revolution that has overtaken politics in both parties. When Clinton made history, she did it as the representative of the despised (by millennials in one party, by the white working class in the other) Washington establishment.
On MSNBC late Tuesday night, Steve Kornacki put up an amazing graphic, showing Hillary’s 17-million-plus votes in 2008 and her 14-million-plus votes in 2016 and the less than one million votes that every other woman who has ever run for president has amassed. She is not just the first woman to win the nomination of a major party. She is the only woman to have ever come close. She is the only must-be-taken-seriously female candidate. She is, of course, the one who famously said that women’s rights are human rights, and at a time when civil rights are again on the march, this nomination no doubt struck a deep chord for all those who have been in the fight for women’s rights, or anyone’s rights. She is the candidate who not only has come to learn the value of playing the woman’s card, but who has played it effectively enough that she has won what no American woman has ever come close to winning.
She pulled it off, in part, by being underrated, even as she has been a full partner in the Clinton machine that has dominated Democratic party for years. She did it, though, when Bill is no longer the force that he once was, when Obama could have jumped ship and pushed Biden into the race, when Elizabeth Warren might have endorsed Sanders or entered the race herself. She pulled it off by keeping the Obama coalition mostly together, and although Sanders couldn’t bring himself to say anything particularly nice about Clinton in his late night speech Tuesday, he also didn’t say anything that could be used against her. The race is over as even he knows, even if many of his supporters still need to be persuaded of the fact.
Clinton has won in every way possible: the popular vote, the pledged delegates, the superdelegates. There is no math left for Sanders. And the idea that he would get hundreds of undemocratically-imposed superdelegates to switch to his cause has always been a pipe dream. Sanders must now find a way toward a graceful exit, which will include a trip Thursday to the White House. He’ll have to find one soon, probably after next Tuesday’s primary finale in Washington, D.C., unless he wants to run the risk of turning his high-minded revolution into a small-bore grudge match. It’s the only way he can keep from being lost to history.
But that’s not the story for this day. And neither is Paul Ryan’s charge that Trump’s attack on the Indiana-born “Mexican” judge is “textbook racism.” And neither is the story of Trump’s teleprompter speech, in which Trump gave the implicit message that he needed to read his speech because he couldn’t trust himself to stay on message.
The story is that Clinton has won, has made history and, in doing so, seems to have found her voice. Or maybe it’s that she found, in Trump, the perfect long-awaited foil. In her speech Tuesday, she reached out to Sanders supporters, she praised Bernie, she made the strong argument that Trump’s call to make America great again is really a call to take America backward to a time when “opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not for all,” she gave homage to the women who blazed the trail that took her to the podium. And she thanked her late mother, as she often does, who was born on the day that Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
Clinton said her mother taught her never to back down from a bully. In her Daisy-ad takedown of Trump’s trustworthiness last week, she made the argument that, in the case of Trump, she knew how to handle bullies. In that moment, as the overwhelming votes in California and New Jersey seemed to confirm, the race was already over. History making was all that was left.