When I read in The Post on Thursday that Hillary Clinton would be delivering her concession speech in D.C., I spent the rest of the day frantically trying to figure out where (campaigns are so cryptic about these things) until her website finally posted a link to an invitation.
This led me to the National Building Museum early Saturday morning, where I’d spend the next five sweaty hours. Hillary was scheduled to speak at noon, but doors opened at 10, meaning that a good seat required queuing up at least an hour and a half before, outside, in the cruel D.C. humidity. By the time we arrived the line was already snaking down the block, but the mood of the crowd was distinctly unlike that of any other rally I’d seen. A few people still defiantly carried “Hillary for President” signs (even though we’d been asked not to bring any “campaign regalia”), and many sported buttons, but a large number had arrived just with their digital cameras and a distinct sense of resignation.
One older woman, holding an enormous bouquet of red roses and wearing a hilariously coordinating outfit (a brown-and-turquoise “Hillary” t-shirt with a prairie skirt of the exact same brown-and-turquoise) told a TV reporter tersely that she just didn’t see herself voting for Obama and didn’t see him being able to change her mind – “he’s too young, he’s too inexperienced. That’s all I have to say.”
Hillary’s fabled older female supporters didn’t all appear to regard Obama with quite the same sense of anathema – the ones I chatted with in line appeared a little bit dejected but willing to work with the prospect of “change.” Probably one of my favorite aspects of campaign rallies is the people, who are unfailingly interesting. After I’d spent a little time in line talking to a sweet elderly lady sporting a button depicting a college-age Hillary, she asked if I could get in a picture with a few other supporters “for her blog.”
The National Building Museum itself is historic and lovely in a very nineteenth-century, carpets-and-pillars way – the antithesis of a fluorescent corporate-sponsored arena – which made sense, considering the circumstances. We nabbed prime standing room next to a pair of tall Danish men (apparently this election is almost as big news in Europe as it is here), close to the scores of cameras and news crews (I was told later that this was the most-photographed single-candidate event in election history). A woman close behind us gave an interview to a Japanese journalist, while a group of young voters chatted with a Spanish news crew.
The room grew hotter and muggier as people continued to pour in throughout the next hour, first onto the floor and then onto the second and third balconies. After several false alarms a campaign staffer finally announced Hillary’s arrival – and the cheers were deafening. She walked onstage with her family, looking as cheerful and well-rested as she had when she announced her candidacy over a year ago.
Her speech was, I thought, at least, perfect – ending on her own terms, she was able to capture the historic nature of her candidacy and of this primary and remind voters that she and Obama had once represented an “embarrassment of riches” to the Democrats. Her comment about the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” brought tears to supporters’ eyes (I’ll admit it – I was verklempt). Experiencing such a moment in such a speech, surrounded by thousands of other supporters, was the kind of history I’d always imagined could only happen in a place like D.C.