It’s been a tough week. The death of legendary rock n’ roller Bo Diddley and the demise of Hillary Clinton’s groundbreaking presidential campaign both hit me hard. I’m a cockeyed optimist, but these two events forced me to confront certain basic truths: dreams don’t always come true; hopes sometimes remain just that.
So the passing of the musical pioneer whose distinctive raw sounds [be sure to watch this video] made my bones dance of their own volition as a teenager of the 1950’s is as traumatic as the passing of the campaign of the first viable female presidential candidate is today to this mature woman, whose life’s work has been about advancing equality and justice for women.
I never paid attention to Diddley’s lyrics; I was simply moved by the rhythms. But now they seem quite relevant.
Well tell me, baby, what you see that’s wrong with me…
People have been writing obituaries of Clinton’s campaign for months; it’s not my purpose to add to that chatter. And I know she’ll support Barack Obama as will I and most of her supporters—both because he’s a worthy candidate and the alternative is too frightening.
Instead, I’m looking at the lessons Bo Diddley’s life and music offer Hillary as she goes forward from the disappointment she feels for herself and for her many supporters.
Oh baby, I’m sorry…
She shouldn’t be sorry at all. And she shouldn’t emulate Bo Diddley’s bitterness that big time musicians as diverse as Elvis Pressley, Buddy Holley, and Jimi Hendrix adopted his groundbreaking beat and distinctive gyrations without acknowledging his contributions.
But I hope she will continue, as Diddley did, to play her own music. Because even women who favored Obama, who shied away from “supporting a woman “just” because she’s a woman”, even Republican women who oppose everything Hillary stands for, owe her a huge debt of gratitude.
I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra snake for a necktie…
Never again will anyone be able to say that women just don’t want to compete in rough and tumble politics. Never again will anyone be able to say with a shred of credibility that women aren’t tough enough for the political fray. This woman kept on slogging forward even when her strongest supporters said it was over.
And men too have seen that leadership can come with cleavage, turquoise pantsuits, and a cackle. No man can ever again suggest women aren’t persistent enough to run the full length of the longest race, or smart enough to go toe-to-toe with any foreign power. As for those few poor misguided souls who still think 60 year-old women are swayed by their hormones, they had to come out from under their sexist, ageist rocks and get a few rays of nature’s best disinfectant.
You can’t judge a woman by looking at her man.
All along, the pundits tried to make it seem as though Clinton didn’t make it on her own, branding her as “the Clintons”. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews alleged she was successful in politics only because her husband cheated on her, giving her the sympathy vote. Ironically, Bill Clinton—assumed to be her biggest asset–became one of her greatest liabilities. She should have packed him out of the country to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, allowing him to call home only to raise funds for her campaign.
In truth though, even more than Hillary was helped by Bill’s political history, she stood on the shoulders of pioneering political women like Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, Gerry Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Emily’s List founder Ellen Malcolm who built women’s political clout by teaching them the power of their money.
And let’s face it: the strategic mistakes made by her campaign, and there were plenty, were ultimately no one’s responsibility but hers.
Well now, bye-bye baby…
But not for long.
It doesn’t feel better to be right than president, just like it irked Diddley to have created the music and see others reap the rewards. But like the lightening-shattered oak tree whose acorns seed new forests, both the musician and the woman who might have become president seeded their legacies well.
Clinton earned roughly half of Democratic Party primary votes after all. And according to a June 3 CBS News poll, 76% of women now believe she opened the way for women to run for president, while 69% believe they’ll see a woman president in their lifetime.
Clinton should continue mobilizing supporters to advance her most passionate hopes and dreams: universal health care, economic growth and justice, a better life for all of America’s children.
Bo Diddley played his last concert at 78 and would have kept on going like that roadrunner he sang about had he not suffered a stroke. Hillary Clinton has not only taught America that women will hereafter be presidential contenders, but equally important, she’s shown that women are strong enough to lose the highest stakes race and keep on rocking to the beat.
(Cross posted on Huffington Post and Blogher)