Joan Vennochi

A lesson for our daughters

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / May 25, 2008

WHAT do we tell our daughters after Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign?

"I'm voting for John McCain," mine said, when Indiana's primary returns authorized the punditry to declare Clinton dead and officially deny her resurrection.

She's 14, so my daughter's vote is only theoretical. But her disappointment in the apparent outcome of the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is real.

After seeing Clinton on the New Hampshire campaign trail, she became invested in the prospect of a President Hillary. On primary day, I warned her the prognosis was not good.

My Clinton political obituary was already drafted. Like others that followed, it was also premature. The Granite State proved the pollsters and pundits wrong. When I got home after midnight, my daughter was still awake. "I waited to see her win," she said.

She rejoiced in subsequent Clinton victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and pressed me to explain why TV's talking heads insisted they changed nothing. We discussed delegate tallies and super-delegate conspiracies. She tried to understand why Michigan and Florida didn't count.

It was a great civics lesson, but it didn't alleviate the letdown. I tried to explain that a primary contest is not a Red Sox game. You can root passionately for your candidate, but if she loses, don't equate the victor with the Evil Empire. Unlike David Ortiz and Derek Jeter, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama play for the same team. Come November, even a theoretical vote should go to the candidate who best reflects your stand on the issues.

My daughter is too young to understand the criticisms of Hillary Clinton as a former first lady who had the nerve to cash in on a relative's power and name, just like a Kennedy or a Bush. She was born during the first Clinton administration, so the scandals and disappointments associated with it are history to be learned, rather than endured.

She did not look at Hillary and see Bill. She saw a strong, articulate female candidate sharing the stage with strong, articulate men, and often commanding it.

We've talked about the focus on Clinton's looks, voice, laugh, and wardrobe. But in our household, we also critiqued the men, from Obama's sometimes sluggish cadence to McCain's wrinkly neck.

The argument that gender can be an obstacle to success doesn't automatically resonate with young women of today. They have parents who encourage them to fight for good grades, slug it out on the athletic field, and pursue whatever dream they choose.

Despite those positives about life in the 21st century, I will tell my daughter what I believe: Sexism hurt Clinton's campaign, but so did Clinton.

Clinton accomplished a lot, as measured by votes cast, money raised, and credibility achieved.

But, when Obama preached change, Clinton fixated on the past. She underestimated the power of hope, a stunning miscalculation, given that Bill Clinton won election as the man from Hope.

She believed her husband was a bigger political advantage than he turned out to be. Someday, she may even conclude his mistakes were not missteps but ambivalence about their quest.

Just when voters started second-guessing Obama, Clinton gave them more reason to second-guess her. She reminded them of all they distrust about the Clintons when she invented a story about sniper fire in Bosnia and pandered on the gas tax. She made awkward statements that left her open to charges of desperation and racism.

It took her too long to find her own voice. And when she found it, it didn't connect with as many primary voters as Obama's did. And even when she found it, it was too late to compete with Obama's. That's reality and the end result of Obama's inspirational message and a process set up by Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee.

"Brace yourself. Obama's the nominee," I told my daughter the other day.

"I know," she replied. She also knows his success as an African-American is an important breakthrough for the country.

In the end, I may tell my daughter that I've voted for many imperfect men, yet still wonder if an imperfect woman can ever become president.

Since there are no perfect women, I won't tell her what I think that means.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

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