Who May Lead?

“As Clinton took the stage last night, I couldn’t help but think of the old trope: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

On June 3, 2008, Barack Obama came to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota and made the fist bump heard round the world with his wife Michelle as the first African American presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. It is almost unfathomable that just eight years later (almost to the day), Hillary Clinton took the stage in Brooklyn, New York last night as the first female presumptive presidential nominee of that same party. There weren’t many dry eyes in either location. I am once again reminded of something Rebecca Traister wrote a few months ago.

Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead…

This is our country in an excruciating period of change. This is the story of the slow expansion of possibility for figures who have long existed on the margins, and it is also the story of the dangerous rage those figures provoke.

As Clinton took the stage last night, I couldn’t help but think of the old trope: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. She is not the only presidential candidate who has tried, failed, and tried again. But I felt the relief and joy emanating from her that only comes when failure leads you to dig in, learn from your mistakes and give it another go. It seemed to be that confidence of a job well-done that allowed her to perform so well last night by simply being herself.

We’re stronger when every family and every community knows they’re not on their own. Because we are in this together. It really does take a village to raise a child. And to build a stronger future for us all.

I learned this a long time ago from the biggest influence in my life, my mother. She was the rock until the day I was born until she left us. She overcame a childhood marked by abandonment and mistreatment and somehow managed not to become bitter or broken. My mother believed that life is about serving others. And she taught me never to back down from a bully which it turns out was pretty good advice.

This past Saturday would have been her 97th birthday. She was born on June 4th, 1919 and some of you may know the significance of that date. On the the very day my mother was born in Chicago, Congress was passing the 19th amendment to the constitution. That amendment finally gave women the right to vote. And I really wish my mother could be here tonight.

I wish she could see what a wonderful mother Chelsea has become and could meet our beautiful granddaughter Charlotte and, of course, I wish she could see her daughter become the Democratic party’s nominee.

Drawing on the umbilical chord that connects her mother – who was born on the day Congress passed the 19th amendment – to her granddaughter born just before this campaign got underway, is not only a particularly female way of noting the passage of time. It reminds us all of how recently a female president was not only unfathomable, but impossible.

Over the next five months a lot of ink will be spilled analyzing the dynamics of this election. But nothing captures it better than imagining a country in the grips of the excruciating change of an altered power structure…asking itself “who may lead?”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.