Hil­lary and his­tory

What will text­books say about the first fe­male pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee of a ma­jor party?

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Carolyn L. Buck Carolyn L. Buck is di­rec­tor of in­sti­tu­tional ad­vance­ment at the In­sti­tute of Notre Dame; her email is buck­laz@aol.com.

In the Broadway block­buster “Hamil­ton,” there is a haunt­ing re­frain: “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” Be­fore the mu­si­cal, much of Alexan­der Hamil­ton’s legacy was lost. He was a found­ing fa­ther and Trea­sury sec­re­tary, but was known bet­ter for hav­ing been killed in a duel with Aaron Burr than for his ac­com­plish­ments.

What will his­tory tell fu­ture gen­er­a­tions about the wo­man who would have/could have/should have been the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the United States? She was twice a can­di­date. In 2008, she ran un­suc­cess­fully in the Demo­cratic pri­maries against Barack Obama, the man who would go on to be­come our na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent. And now in 2016, nearly a decade later, she fi­nally wins the Demo­cratic Party’s nom­i­na­tion — wins the na­tional pop­u­lar vote — but she does not carry the Elec­toral Col­lege.

Will they tell her story from the per­spec­tive of a long-suf­fer­ing for­mer first lady, whose charis­matic hus­band was im­peached but not con­victed, the charges rooted in his tawdry con­duct with a 21-year-old White House in­tern?

Will they de­scribe her work rep­re­sent­ing New York as a se­na­tor in Wash­ing­ton, later to be ap­pointed sec­re­tary of state? Will they de­scribe her grace un­der pres­sure in an email scan­dal? Will they speak of her love for her only child, Chelsea? How will his­tory por­tray the Clin­ton mar­riage? Did Hil­lary seal her fate by re­main­ing in it? Or had she made her deal with the devil and seen her hus­band as an in­con­ve­nient but nec­es­sary cat­a­lyst in her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer?

Right now, I will fo­cus on the pho­to­gone-vi­ral of Hil­lary Clin­ton the day af­ter her dig­ni­fied and poised con­ces­sion speech, pos­ing along­side a young mother with her child in a car­rier strapped onto her back. The photo was taken, ap­par­ently by Bill Clin­ton, as he and his wife en­coun­tered the young wo­man dur­ing a walk in the woods near their subur­ban New York home. Hil­lary ap­pears to be re­laxed. (I think she may have even been wear­ing leg­gings.) She has on lit­tle to no makeup. She could be any of us, look­ing much as I do on a Sat­ur­day as I run er­rands at the su­per­mar­ket, the mall or go­ing out for a movie with my hus­band.

We can spec­u­late that “this Hil­lary” might have ap­pealed more to the Rust Belt vot­ers. We can come up with all sorts of ex­pla­na­tions de­tail­ing her in­abil­ity to con­nect with the less ed­u­cated. A Welles­ley-ed­u­cated wo­man with a de­gree from Yale School of Law still could not break the glass ceil­ing to be­come our first fe­male pres­i­dent. How will his­tory tell her story, should that achieve­ment go to a wo­man with pop star sta­tus? (Michael Moore has sug­gested per­haps Oprah Win­frey.)

Ul­ti­mately, when the 2016 Trump vic­tory is de­scribed by his­to­ri­ans, Hil­lary’s fate will be in­ter­twined with his. There will be a sup­port­ing char­ac­ter of Ver­mont Se­na­tor Bernie San­ders, a pop­ulist with so­cial­ist ap­peal to the young as part of the ris­ing ac­tion in the po­lit­i­cal drama. Po­lit­i­cal pun­dits and re­porters will serve as a con­tem­po­rary Greek cho­rus, chant­ing key phrases from the side­lines: “bas­ket of de­plorables” and “what about her health?”

The de­noue­ment will strike many as ironic tragedy. The im­age of Pres­i­dent Obama demon­strat­ing mer­ci­ful ac­cep­tance of the elec­tion re­sults, ask­ing the na­tion to root for the suc­cess of the soon-to-be Pres­i­dent Trump. Yet not once in his eight years in of­fice did Mr. Obama’s crit­ics and op­po­nents (Mr. Trump among them) ever root for him. Pres­i­dent Obama’s exit from of­fice will be life im­i­tat­ing art in its par­al­lel to the scene in “Hamil­ton” in which Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton heads home to Vir­ginia.

My sin­cere hope is that when her story is told, the legacy of Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton will stand on its own merit rather than in the shad­ows of Don­ald Trump and his self-pro­claimed brand of big is bet­ter.


Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton has had a long pub­lic life. His­tory books should tell her full story, not just the part in­volv­ing Don­ald Trump.

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