When Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) took the stage to deliver her remarks before the DNC, the enthusiasm of the crowd and the applause she got rivaled that of the iconic Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who perhaps delivered his last address to convention delegates on Monday.

Hillary gave one of the finest speeches of her political career. If you had been on a desert island for the last nine months cut off from all sources of news, you might have thought she was accepting her party’s nomination for the presidency. Rather than being her last major speech of the 2008 election cycle, it was the kickoff for another run in 2012.

A poignant moment the cameras captured: Bill Clinton silently mouthing “I love you … I love you, I love you, I love you” just before she began her remarks. But oops! She started off by declaring herself to be “here tonight as a proud mother, as a proud Democrat, as a proud senator from New York, a proud American, and a proud supporter of Barack Obama” – and forgot to mention she was also a proud wife.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was hardly mentioned by name in the roughly 2400-word speech (just nine direct references, according to The Stiletto’s count – and two of those were in the context of her candidacy and her husband’s presidency):

† My friends, it is time to take back the country we love. And whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. …

† Barack Obama is my candidate, and he must be our president. …

† Most of all, I ran to stand up for all those who have been invisible to their government for eight long years. Those are the reasons I ran for president, and those are the reasons I support Barack Obama for president. … 

† Democrats know how to do this. As I recall, we did it before with President Clinton and the Democrats. And if we do our part, we’ll do it again with President Obama and the Democrats. …

And she attacked the current administration with far greater zeal than she did Obama rival Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), whom she called “my colleague and my friend”:

† [Y]ou haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months or endured the last eight years to suffer through more failed leadership. No way, no how, no McCain. …

† [A]fter eight years of George Bush, people are hurting at home and our standing has eroded around the world. We have a lot of work ahead of us: jobs lost; houses gone; falling wages; rising prices; the Supreme Court in a right-wing headlock; and our government in partisan gridlock; the biggest deficit in our nation’s history; money borrowed from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis; Putin and Georgia; Iran and Iraq.

† [McCain] has served our country with honor and courage. But we don’t need four more years of the last eight years. … more economic stagnation and less affordable health care …  more high gas prices and less alternative energy …

† Now, with an agenda like that, it makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart.

Mostly, though, she reminded people about the issues on which she ran, why she was the stronger candidate and why should have been the nominee (too bad the roll call is bogus):

† I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches, advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women’s rights here at home and around the world  to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise of a country that really fulfills the hopes of our people.  …

† I ran for president to renew the promise of America, to rebuild the middle class and sustain the American dream, to provide opportunity to those who are willing to work hard for it and have that work rewarded, so they could save for college, a home, and retirement, afford gas and groceries, and have a little left over each month.

† To promote a clean energy economy that will create millions of green-collar jobs, to create a health care system that is universal, high-quality, and affordable, so that every single parent knows their children will be taken care of.

† [T]o create a world-class education system and make college affordable again, to fight for an America that is defined by deep and meaningful equality, from civil rights to labor rights, from women’s rights to gay rights from ending discrimination to promoting unionization, to providing help for the most important job there is, caring for our families, and to help every child live up to his or her God-given potential, to make America once again a nation of immigrants and of laws, to restore fiscal sanity to Washington, and make our government an institution of the public good, not of private plunder.

Finally, Hillary again damned Obama with strong praise for his running mate, Sen. Joeseph Biden (D-DE), stating that Americans are “fortunate” he will be at Obama’s side because he is “a strong leader … who understands both the economic stresses here at home and the strategic challenges abroad” and is “pragmatic … tough … and wise.” In other words, everything Obama ain’t.

Not once in her speech did Hillary declare that Obama will be a good president, a strong commander in chief and is qualified for the position. In other words, she did nothing to quell the unease that many of her supporters have with Obama’s slender credentials – giving them tacit approval to vote for McCain.

And in a nod to August 26th being the 88th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote, she thanked “my champions … my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits … because you never gave in and you never gave up. And together we made history.”

It’s a history that’s déjà vu all over again. In a New York Times op-ed, feminist author Susan Faludi limns the history of the suffrage movement – decades of being cheated by the political process and betrayed by the power elites. That Hillary’s also-ran speech was scheduled on this day is less symbolic of women’s progress as it is of women getting the shaft once again: 

Much has been made of the timing of Hillary Clinton’s speech before the Democratic National Convention tonight, coming as it does on the 88th anniversary of women’s suffrage. … But many of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are unlikely to be partaking. They regard their candidate’s cameo as a consolation prize. And they are not consoled. …

The despondency of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters - or their “vitriolic” and “rabid” wrath, as the punditry prefers to put it - has been the subject of perplexed and often irritable news media speculation. Why don’t these dead-enders get over it already and exit stage right?

Shouldn’t they be celebrating, not protesting? After all, Hillary Clinton’s campaign made unprecedented strides. She garnered 18 million-plus votes, and proved by her solid showing that a woman could indeed be a viable candidate for the nation’s highest office. She didn’t get the gold, but in this case isn’t a silver a significant triumph?

Many Clinton supporters say no, and to understand their gloom, one has to take into account the legacy of American women’s political struggle, in which long yearned for transformational change always gives way before a chorus of “not now” and “wait your turn,” and in which every victory turns out to be partial or pyrrhic.

In an editorial that asks, “What Do Women Want,” The Boston Globe acknowledges that “[o]lder women especially feel their moment has slipped by,” and offers this advice: 

McCain can try to aggravate tensions between Clinton and Obama supporters, but he’s got a lot of ground to make up on the issues that have historically motivated women voters: issues of the economy, education, healthcare, equal opportunity, war and peace. In the end, women, like all voters, need to choose a president based not on the lens of gender or other identity but on the real policy differences between two candidates who happen to be men. 

Ah, but as Faludi points out Dems historically have not kept their promises to women voters:

Male politicians offered a few sops to feminists: a “maternity and infancy” bill to educate expectant mothers, a law permitting women who married foreigners to remain American citizens, and financing for the first federal prison for women. But by the mid ’20s, Congress had quit feigning interest, and women’s concerns received a cold shoulder. In 1929, the maternity education bill was killed.

Yet, for some reason the party has been given a pass election after election. Maybe this time it will be different, women think as they reflexively pull the lever for the Dems. Commenting to a recent post on The Stiletto Blog about the launch of The New Agenda, a new non-partisan group to push women’s issues, a woman named Phyllis who “fought in the first wave with Gloria Steinem and Bela Abzug” writes:

Seems you are “cutting off your nose to spite your face” by voting for McCain. … [A]bandoning the Democratic party and refusing to try to effect change from within is self defeating.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

Via e-mail Hillary-turned-McCain supporter Cynthia Ruccia, a co-founder of Women for Fair Politics who has been a Democrat for 40 years, gave the speech a thumbs-up (“She did what she had to do, and she did it in her usual spectacular fashion”) and explained her rationale for voting for McCain – and it goes beyond her immediate concern of being “scared” that someone with as little experience as Obama may become president:

My vote for McCain represents a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Sometimes these days, it feels as if the Democratic Party has been taken over by aliens from Mars.

I am disgusted with the Democratic Party [because] they were so intent on trying to dump the Clintons that they were willing to put a blind eye to the worst display of sexism in my lifetime. They will not be rewarded with my vote this time.

The Obama camp went right along with the sexism, and now they tell us to shut up and get with the program. They assume we will come along. It’s a huge tactical error. If we vote for McCain and Obama loses, then we women can claim victory and show we are a force to be reckoned with.

Think of what we can accomplish at that point!

In addition to “taking a gamble that Obama can’t win without women over the age of 40,” Ruccia is also betting McCain will serve just one term, paving the way for Hillary to run again in 2012.

By the way: The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, explicitly extended voting rights to blacks – who had been given full citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment two years earlier. Citizens of the U.S. who were women – whether black or white – were not given the right to vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. Perhaps it’s somehow politically incorrect – or racist, even – to observe that 50 years passed until women were accorded the same civil rights as blacks. One wonders how many women died without ever having had a chance to cast a ballot.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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