LOS ANGELES – The stories were all written. The rats were jumping ship. The backstabbing and second guessing and told you so’s by the people who weren’t asked and included in the first instance was in full force.
On television, everywhere you looked, another pundit was explaining how it was that the Clinton dynasty was over, the candidacy doomed, and the candidate flawed beyond salvation. Who would be fired and when she would exit and just how broke she was were the only questions left to be answered.
Until people voted.
The exit polls tell you a little: that women came out for her, that experience isn’t quite so irrelevant as some Iowans seemed to think. They suggest that, in the glare of the spotlight that Iowa always projects, some of those critical late-deciders may have decided they weren’t quite ready to see this contest end in the second state of 50 and a talented and charismatic newcomer anointed as the victor without the testing and the vetting that the nomination process is supposed to provide.
They leave no doubt that the people of New Hampshire, at least Democrats and Independents, have a higher opinion of Bill Clinton than the gloating pundits, a fonder memory of the ‘90s than most carping columnists do, and a more generous attitude toward showing emotion than John Edwards displayed when he suggested that Hillary Clinton’s now infamous tears in her eyes on Monday might be evidence that she wasn’t tough enough for the job.
Hillary Clinton not tough enough? Get real. That’s how bad it got in the chattering class. The issue has never been whether Hillary Clinton was tough enough to do the job, but whether she was likeable enough to win.
In New Hampshire, particularly for women watching, she was a whole lot more likeable than some of the boys who couldn’t wait to dance on her grave.
I’m not talking about Barack Obama and his people. Give the Obama campaign credit for putting out the word early and often, when it looked best for him and worst for her, that there was to be no dancing in the end zone, that the tone should be one of dignity and respect, that nothing should be done to make a difficult situation for her and her camp that much worse.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have raised more money between them than any of their predecessors in Democratic politics. Whichever of them wins will need the personal and financial support of the other to pull the party together and be competitive in a privately financed general election fight with the Republicans.
But if Barack wasn’t dancing on the grave, he was among the few who didn’t join the party in the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote. There were numerous reports tying the Edwards campaign and Edwards supporters to some of the most virulent rumors of campaign in disarray in Hillary-land. But the press and the legions of pundits in New Hampshire hardly needed the prodding.
I spent most of my time in New Hampshire doing nothing more than batting down rumors that had a life of their own about how the political funeral of Hillary Clinton would be orchestrated. No matter how high my source was telling me that a particular scenario – mass staff exits, the return of Carville and Begala - was not going to happen, there were others claiming they knew better, had been on some phantom conference call where it was all discussed, were privy to information that proved otherwise.
The gloating may have been what did it.
In her first Senate campaign, Hillary had a problem with women. The women in New York who should have liked her best – educated women, women her age, women with children, suburban and urban women -- just didn’t like her. It didn’t have much to do with her positions on issues: on issues, they overwhelmingly agreed with her. It was about her, about her staying with her husband when they’d like to think they would’ve butted him out, about her marriage and her ambition and whether she was really like the rest of us or a species apart.
And then a funny thing happened. Her Republican opponent, especially in the debate, started attacking her in a way that smacked of condescension and patronizing sexism. It was familiar to every qualified woman who has ever seen her credentials questioned, her experience second-guessed, and her merit called into question by those who have barely established their own. What it made clear is that while some women may see Hillary as different, that wasn’t how the guys were viewing her or treating her. She was us.
And the women came back. She won the overwhelming support of New York women, and she overwhelmed her opponent in the election for Senate. Once she did, her popularity in New York grew steadily to the point that Republicans struggled this last time around to find someone to run against her.
If you listened to the guys in New Hampshire, to the endless parade of mostly male pundits proclaiming Hillary’s weakness, the irrelevance of gender, the excesses of her emotion, and the flaws in her persona, you couldn’t help but be reminded of her Republican opponent in that Senate race.
You didn’t have to be a feminist to catch a whiff of the faint odor of smug sexism. You just had to decide that it was time, again, to stand up to it. And the women of New Hampshire did just that.
Now the real battle begins.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.