When Ted Sorensen introduced me last month in New York City as I was about to address a New York Democratic Party issues forum, he described me as a politician who can "draft a bill, stir a crowd, fly a plane, bake a cake" -- wrong, I know a bakery that delivers -- "pass a law, coin a phrase and run for president." Now he could add, "wear her heart on her sleeve."
Let's look on the bright side. I did not lie, blow a fuse, curse the press, fire my campaign manager, quote Yeats, hide behind my family, forget to thank my troops or drag out my dog.
Several years ago, I delivered a sad eulogy to a staff member and friend of some years who had died after a long, spirited battle with leukemia. Tears are legal at funerals, but apparently not at the abrupt end to a Herculean political effort. This is unfortunate, because tears signify compassion, not weakness.
White House staff have been quick to exclaim that President Reagan only cries at funerals. This is much beside the point, because his perhaps tearless yet, by his own account, emotional involvement in the fate of American hostages in the Middle East shattered the White House, put his staff under criminal investigation and destroyed his credibility. Perhaps he would have been more tough-minded if he had just had a good cry at the outset.
When I stood before hundreds of my friends in Denver last Monday and heard their groans as I said I wouldn't be a candidate for president, I knew I had let them down. In four brief months, they and thousands of others across the United States had made a valiant attempt to organize and fuel a serious national presidential campaign.
I journeyed 75,000 miles, visiting more than 50 cities in almost 30 states. My exploratory committee had a phenomenally successful direct-mail test. We raised almost $1 million the hard way, dollar by dollar. We raised enough money in the requisite 20 states to qualify for federal matching money. We brought 15,000 to 20,000 new people into the political process.
I wanted to know if it were possible to run a presidential campaign where honesty and common sense were not slogans but the whole reason for the campaign. The answer was clearly yes.
By the end of the summer, I had risen to third in the preference polls, second in name recognition and first in people's response to the question: Which candidate do you trust?
Spending very little money, we rubbed two sticks together and started a political prairie fire. Yet, it was clear to me that as far as we had come, the late hour and the remaining obstacles made a successful campaign improbable.
The sad farewell to my friends in Denver has produced some "Is she tough enough?" grousing. "Could she negotiate with Gorbachev? Could she pick up the red phone?"
During my 15 years in Congress, I have scrapped with the House leadership over the seniority system, Colorado newspapers over pork-barrel water projects, Ralph Nader and the National Education Association over the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Education, most of my House colleagues over back-door pay raises, my home-town mayor over revenue sharing and every defense secretary from Melvin Laird to Caspar Weinberger over wasteful military spending.
I won some battles, lost others, but never flinched and never gave up.
Finally, I stand accused on these pages of failure to be a "role model." (I was not alone. Geraldine Ferraro and Elizabeth Dole were in the dock with me. This is the rule of three -- three items, illogically or logically connected, comprise a column.) What is the role? Joan of Arc? Annie Oakley? The female equivalent of Dirty Harry?
Being a role model is a blessing and a curse. It opens some doors and shuts others. Certainly being a female politician drew attention to me, and prompted the inane question -- Is this a symbolic campaign? -- which was obligatory in the early days of the summer before I passed in the polls the majority of the announced candidates.
Role model is the purgatory that cultural pioneers must endure before they pass into the heavenly state of being accepted for who they are.
I often joked that if my name were Patrick, I would have been chased into the race by a horde of check-waving Democratic fat cats. Let's hope that is the pleasant fate of the next woman who aspires to be president.
As far as I am concerned, last Monday I joined Mario Cuomo, Dale Bumpers, Bill Clinton and Sam Nunn. We have come far enough in American politics where that is possible.