Dear Secretary Clinton,
Though everything in your personal history suggests that Tuesday’s defeat will not mark the end of your work in American public life, I can imagine that this will be a moment of reflection and recovery for you. And though we have some profound disagreements, on the occasion of this transition, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for some of the contributions you’ve made in the past quarter-century as one of the most prominent women in American politics.
In the two and a half decades that Americans have used you to work out our complex and contradictory ideas about women, work and marriage, I have been moved by your dignity and resilience.
I don’t envy you the compromises — the enforced cookie-baking, the meeting with a group of female journalists to ask for advice on how to present yourself — or what must have been moments of agony in your marriage. But as I’ve watched you from a very great distance, I have been grateful to you for bearing some of the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune that is the lot, in different degrees and forms, of all the women of this country. Every insult that didn’t level you, and every moment of absurdity you absorbed without staggering, helped start conversations about the expectations and standards women face.
You didn’t have a solution for this conundrum. None of us do. But if you couldn’t solve American gender politics in the span of a life, or act as a shield against the harshness directed at other women, you created space for the rest of us. We won’t surrender it.
Thank you for your commitment to service.
Defeat is not easy to accept with grace, and there is always a temptation in the days that follow to choose a different course or to withdraw entirely from the fray. After President Bill Clinton’s plans for comprehensive health-care reform failed during his first term, you became one of the champions of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. After you lost to then-Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 primary, you campaigned for him and served as his secretary of state. You’ve demonstrated over and over again that you are truly committed to your pledge to “Do all the good you can,” even if the gains are smaller than you might have hoped, or if doing that good requires you to put aside hurt feelings. This is an exhortation and a model that we all ought to emulate in the weeks and months to come.
In the days since the election, I have thought frequently of the example you set in reaching out to others and forming life-long friendships with them.
Hearing from Ryan Moore, Aleatha Williams and Janelle Turner about your correspondence with them, and your care and attention during both painful and proud moments in their lives, has been a reminder to me to be more diligent in my efforts to stay in touch with the most important people in my own life. Listening to the Mothers of the Movement talk about how you listened to them is a testament to the simple power of presence. It’s precisely because time is in such short supply that offering it to others is a valuable gesture.
Thank you for laughing in the face of absurdity. Thank you for apologizing about occasions when you were wrong, and keeping alive the idea that politicians ought to educate themselves and to grow, rather than intellectually immobilizing themselves as the world changes. Thank you for your dedication to the Constitution and to the peaceful transfer of power in our democratic system; among many other things, your opponents will be measured by whether they show the same measure of allegiance to our most valuable norms and institutions.
I can only begin to imagine how painful it must be to feel that you are exiting one public arena with your work undone. I hope you take some measure of comfort from the idea that, though you may not see the garden in bloom, many of us will be tending the seeds you planted.
With respect and gratitude,