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Dan Hall: In emotional moment, Hillary got it right

Dan Hall

According to Hillary haters, her emotional moment answering a question in a New Hampshire coffee shop last week was either an example of her fakery or proof that she would be unable to stand up to Osama bin Laden. For many of the voters who crowded the polls to give her a surprise victory over Barack Obama, however, it was a moment of connection.

Contrary to some reports, she did not cry, though the question, coming near the end of what had been the most arduous five days of her campaign, clearly touched a nerve. If, say, Mitt Romney had answered the same way, he would have been called eloquent.

It began when a young woman asked her a question intended only to lighten the intense atmosphere in the coffee shop, where she had been talking on issues for a couple of hours. The woman asked about her hair, and how she appears so upbeat amid the 24/7 stress of the campaign. “How do you do it?” the woman asked.

Clinton replied in a joking way. Then she paused, and with just a small catch in her voice, she went on: “This is very personal for me. It's not just political. It’s not just public. I see what’s happening, and we have to reverse it. Some people think elections are a game, lots of who is up or who is down. It’s about our country, it’s about our kids’ futures, and it’s really about all of us together.

“Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds,” she continued, “and we do it, each one of us, because we care about our country.

“But some of us are right and some of us are wrong, some of us are ready and some of us are not … And so when we look at the array of problems we have and the potential for it really spinning out of control, this is one of the most important elections America has ever faced.”

Clinton’s critics, ever ready to pounce, called those last lines self-serving. But what she said is true: Some candidates are more right than others, and some are more ready than others. That is why we have elections.

You have to be either blind or made of stone, moreover, not to sense that the world is indeed on the verge of spinning out of control. That is why voters are so much more engaged in this election than usual.

The personal commitment they see in Clinton, Obama and John McCain is a large part of the reason those three are at the top of the heap. Romney comes across as making another career move. John Edwards says his campaign is personal, and maybe it is. But it sounds like just a line from his stump speech. Bill Richardson, who bowed out after New Hampshire, has wider experience, both at home and abroad, than any of the others, but he was unable to light a fire.

I have said before that I’m not ready to cast a ballot for Clinton, however, and that is still true. The nation does need a drastic change from the policies of the Bush administration, but we ought to turn the pages forward, not backward. Let the campaign roll on.

Still, Clinton represents something not seen before in American politics.

She has been pushing our country to do better since she was out waving signs as a student at Wellesley. For the past 20 years, she has endured unceasing vilification by the right-wing echo machine. Her husband publicly humiliated her. Yet she soldiered on, winning election to the Senate, and then demonstrating graciousness and ability to get things done by reaching across the aisle. Now she has a good chance of becoming the nation’s first female president.

That kind of strength requires something much deeper than anything her critics are willing to admit.

Dan Hall is the former editorial page editor for Messenger Post Newspapers. E-mail danwriting@aol.com.