The singer Jewel wrote a song a few years ago entitled "Hands." It featured the line "In the end, only kindness matters." It would have made a nice theme song for Hillary Clinton's speech last Saturday. At the end, Hillary was magnanimous and kind. I still like Hillary. Really. But I could not vote for her.
My admiration for her started when I met her at a Women's Leadership Forum in Washington in 1993. She gave a brilliant speech, much like her historic concession speech, featuring her views on making women and families healthier and more economically secure. Afterward, she generously made herself available to the packed room and chatted for hours with the women gathered there. As a friend took a photo of us together, Hillary warmly commented on how thrilled she was to see such a large delegation from the Mid-South, a region close to her heart. She was sunny and sweet.
Ten years later, the first installment of this column was written in Hillary's defense. On the morning of the release of her biography, Living History, The Commercial Appeal did a front-page hatchet job on both the book and its author, with the clear implication that no one in Memphis had enough admiration or respect for Hillary to read it. Later in the day, as I stood in a long line at the bookstore with others who were purchasing several copies, it made me angry that the only daily newspaper in this city had painted such an inaccurate representation of its citizens. Ironically, the book hit number one on the bestseller lists locally, as well as nationally.
The ridiculous silliness Hillary had to endure was hard to watch at times. From the idiotic cookie recipe contests to the moronic focus on her changing hairstyles and pantsuits, sexism was definitely on parade in the media, but she took it well and often displayed a remarkable sense of humor about it.
However, when it came to supporting Hillary's efforts to become president, something difficult and piercing surfaced. Although painful to acknowledge, Democrats were beginning to understand that the compromises that were committed during the Clinton years ultimately had damaged the Democratic Party. This style of politics was nothing more than an excuse to call weakness a strength. Negotiating, settling, sucking up, and triangulating had undermined the party by sapping its strength and by failing to demonstrate the courage to fight for convictions that were too important to compromise.
And so it was with Hillary. It was that lack of conviction that did her in. It was "that vote." After five long years of the "March of Folly" called the Iraq war, Americans were no longer going to be satisfied with an if-I-knew-then-what-I know-now explanation. The country wanted a full-out acknowledgment that preemptive war is wrong. We now know that the Iraq war was started on a pack of lies and that voting to go to war was not a matter of being misinformed. It was a matter of willfully upholding, for political expediency, George W. Bush's disastrous doctrine.
That Hillary either could not or would not recognize her mistake in doing so was stunning. It rankled then, it is baffling now, and it will forever bewilder those of us who were ready to give their support. Her refusal to renounce the war and apologize for her part in helping sustain it was truly unforgivable.
Pundits and pollsters are claiming the economy will be the deciding issue in this election. It very well may be, but Bush's legacy, especially the Iraq war, will ultimately be the factor dominating the minds of the voters, because the appalling and ruinous Bush war is the reason we have the appalling and ruinous Bush economy.
In 2004, Bill Clinton explained the Bush reelection by claiming voters would rather vote for someone who is wrong and strong than someone who is right and weak. Four years later, that theory sounds as compromising as other Clinton conjectures, because the people know that a vote by any Democrat for the war in Iraq was, in fact, a sign of political weakness, not strength. Clearly, it was wrong.
This year, Democrats have chosen wisely by nominating Barack Obama, for he is both strong in his convictions and right about the issues, most especially the war. Unfortunately, Hillary, who knew what was right but chose to defend what was wrong, paid the price, because until it ends, it's still the despicable war, stupid.
Cheri DelBrocco writes the "Mad as Hell" column for memphisflyer.com.