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Do you remember where you were on July 20, 1969? If you do, I don’t have to tell you the significance of that date – it was the day the first man set foot on the moon. It’s such an historic date that even for those who weren’t alive then it has meaning, not just for being an important historical moment, but also for being the day on which a long dreamed of idea, that once was deemed virtually impossible, was accomplished.
47 years later, we have another day on the calendar that I have no doubt will take on similar historic significance – June 7, 2016, the date when Hillary Clinton became the first woman presumptive nominee of a major American political party. Not the same in importance you say? As a woman who came of age in the 1970s, and who has waited much longer than I ever thought I would to witness this moment, I beg to differ.
When Hillary Clinton took the stage in New York City Tuesday night, and the banner at the bottom of my TV screen read, “Hillary Clinton will be first female presidential nominee,” I started to cry. I cried with joy because even though there was a time as a young high school and college student when I thought that it was a foregone conclusion that I’d see a woman president before too long, decades passed with no probable female president in site. Before 2008, I’d begun to wonder whether watching a woman campaign for president as a major party nominee – and be on a general election ballot – had, for me, become a virtual impossibility similar to a moon landing.
The historic nature of Clinton officially becoming the Democratic presidential nominee (barring something unforeseen) isn’t just about Hillary or my own dream of someone like her. Reports abound on social media that parents allowed their children to stay up past their bedtimes on a school night – as so many of us did in 1969 – to witness an important first in American history. This week’s moment is historic because now when we tell our daughters that they can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves, we can finally point to Hillary, whether she wins the White House or not, and remind them that our positive parenting words are truly more than empty encouragement, because we’ll have the images of Hillary Clinton on stage in her cream colored jacket, looking presidential, ready for the contest both in substance and tone.
Yes, tone. We can’t talk about Hillary’s speech without mentioning her “tone.” As much as she’s been criticized for being too shrill or too loud, shouting too much, getting too emotional or not smiling enough (in a way few ever criticize male politicians), Clinton was pitch perfect in her “I have enough delegates to call myself the nominee” speech. And that’s important for historical reasons, as well. On a certain level, talking about tone as part of this moment has importance in judging a candidate’s commitment to the task. Clinton also made a smart decision to include in her speech the history of women’s history – Seneca Falls and the passage of the 19th amendment, as well as her mother’s personal history and the influence that had on Hillary as a girl. It’s important context for Clinton’s big moment; without all of that that came before, she would not have been standing in the spotlight.
I’m going to enjoy telling my “where were you on June 7, 2016” story about Hillary’s moment, which I and, I believe, many other women consider to be their own moment, as well. I’m sure we’ll each have a favorite line from her speech to recount, whether it’s about how Clinton lauded her supporters, how she talked about having our backs, or whether it was just about seeing an ambitious and accomplished woman, who is also a daughter, mother and grandmother, embracing all versions of herself, finally standing on the national stage, ready to leap into a general election race.
Bamberger is a political journalist and is the author/editor of the recently released book Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, a researched anthology that explores why voters have such complicated and conflicting feelings about Hillary Clinton, and how that could impact finally electing a woman president.