Team Hillary aimed to drum up a little Girl Power this week with the kick off of Club 44, its outreach effort targeting younger women voters. Rated G for all audiences, the Washington block party offered such delights as a face painter, a juggler, a castle-shaped moon bounce, ice cream, hot dogs, and those fat red-white-and-blue popsicles that dye your lips a disturbing shade of purple. For cerebral youngsters, there were Hillary themed crossword and word-search puzzles featuring terms like "Midwesterner," "wise," "SCHIPs," and "Strategic Energy Fund." For mom and big sis, meanwhile, there were hip campaign T-shirts, chocolate brown with turquoise lettering spelling out "Hillary" on the front, in the candidate's own script, and, high up on the back in discreet block letters, "Make History!" (None of that démodé red-white-and-blue campaign gear for this crowd, thank you very much.) Comedian Caroline Rhea helped emcee (along with Emily's List president Ellen Malcolm), while pop singers Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Katharine McPhee (the "American Idol" runner up during its fifth season, for those of you without a TV set) serenaded the crowd. With a ticket price of only 20 bucks, the event drew some 8,000 party hounds.
Of course, at least one-third of the crowd appeared to be of the male persuasion, setting up another carnival attraction: the tightrope walk. While, on the whole, Democrats are all about big-tent, all-inclusive celebrations of diversity, the mixed audience did leave the lineup of heavy hitting women speakers--Billie Jean King, Dolores Huerta, Barbara Mikulski, Geraldine Ferraro--toeing an occasionally awkward line between banging the gong for the gals and bashing the boys.
Barbara Mikulski handled the task fairly artfully, telling the assembled masses that this generation has its own "rendezvous with destiny" and joking that she had the great distinction of being "the first woman ever to reach the Senate where some poor guy didn't have to die for me to get the job." Ellen Malcolm, however, displayed a considerably heavier touch, at one point gushing about how great it was to watch the recent Democratic debate where, smack dab in the middle of "all these white men in their dark suits and power ties" stood Hillary. Um, and Barack Obama, right? He's not technically a white guy. And what about Bill Richardson? And is it really such a good idea to pick on the white boys with several thousand of them sweating their asses off at your rally? Sure, I get it: We're firing up the sisterhood. But tell that to the alienated y-chromosome in the media pen who let out a low boo and asked rhetorically: "Who here supports Obama?"
There was, in fact, a young, fresh-faced Obama supporter standing near me at the event. Down visiting from New York, where she attends Brooklyn College, Sarah Williams had just dropped by to hear a little bit more from the Hillary camp and experience this kind of rally. It was pretty much as she had expected: She enjoyed herself fine and thought Hillary gave a nice speech. But she wasn't blown away, and her sense is that Hillary doesn't have much new to show us. Dreamboat Obama, on the other hand ... .
Which points to another, arguably even finer line the Hillary people are walking these days, also in evidence at the rally: Obama v. Hillary. The future v. the past. A fresh, new, inspirational figure versus a woman dragging around so much personal and political baggage she needs a Sherpa just to cross the street. From a political standpoint, Hillary is about as old news as you can get. Her politics are not revolutionary (despite what the right wing claims), she is the definition of a Democratic insider, and she may be the least fresh face on the political circuit today. At the same time, a chick running the White House would be something fresh and new.
So you get this awkward two-step. On the one hand, Hillary is the revolutionary choice. On the other hand, she's safe, tried and true, even vaguely conservative. Experience is by far Hillary's biggest advantage vis à vis the shamrock-green Obama, so sprinkled throughout the event were reassurances of two sorts: First, that Hillary has been at this political and public service thing for eons and is 100 percent "Ready to Lead!" (as so many signs proclaimed). Second: We already kinda know what it would like to have a President Clinton (minus the zipper problem). To this end, Madeleine Albright talked about her overseas trips with Hillary as Bill's Secretary of State. And Hillary herself invoked her hubby's time in office. These happy strolls down memory lane served as soothing reminders that a vote for Hillary may be a vote to "Make History!"--but it is not a scary leap into the great unknown.
Considering this intricate balancing act, it's something of a minor miracle Hillary doesn't fall flat on her face every couple of days. And, Girl Power notwithstanding, it is the very complexity and precariousness of her position that fuels so many Democrats' desire for a simpler, less fraught champion. Still, despite the occasional misstep, it was a pretty good party for a Wednesday afternoon. Even if they wouldn't let me play in the moon bounce.