To hear Susan Sarandon tell it, we’ve got plenty of time for a woman President. Yes, she’d like a woman President, the actress and political activist has said, but she wants the ‘right’ woman—by which, she means, Hillary Clinton is not that ‘right’ woman. Implied in this conceit is that there are plenty of Presidential-caliber women waiting in the wings, and if Hillary would just get out of the way, the ‘right’ woman would surely emerge to win over Sarandon’s whole-hearted support.
Whether Hillary Clinton wins or loses on Tuesday, America stands on the cusp of an historic moment, and for those who view Clinton with irrational contempt (Sarandon falls into this category), it is an immensely maddening moment. Rooting against cultural advancement is a deeply frustrating and particularly embittering thing, partly because it is, in the end, a lonely endeavor. For—and this should be duly noted—Clinton’s much-touted unpopularity is mostly a piece of American lore. If Hillary Clinton becomes ‘leader of the free world’ on November 8th, the ‘free’ world’s response—make no mistake—will be equal parts unbridled jubilation and unprecedented relief. Try being on the other side of that.
No one knows this better than Clinton herself, having played would-be foil to our time’s other landmark political moment in 2008. Like much of what Clinton has accomplished, the grace with which she handled her Primary defeat to Barack Obama, her refusal to succumb to the seeds of bitterness, rarely gets the credit it deserves—as if it were a given that a hard-fought race automatically engenders grace. Bernie Sanders’ slow burn and protracted letting-go provided a stark contrast to Clinton’s concession speech eight years ago—one that, in today’s considerably more mean-spirited climate, looks almost quaint in its surrender. And, lest we forget, should Clinton win on Tuesday, an apotheosis of graceless defeat looms menacingly on the horizon. (Though, one suspects, grace from the opposing side will be at a premium, irrespective of the outcome).
The irony of Sarandon’s ‘right’ woman thesis is that there may never be a more rightful woman to assume this rarefied mantle than Hillary Rodham Clinton at this very moment. Because if this interminable political season has exposed one thing starkly, it is just how much latitude is still accorded a man, and just how much a woman must still accomplish before she’s allowed into the same hallowed arena. The chasm that lies between our two choices—whether on the basis of intellect, experience, character, or fortitude —is historically monumental, shockingly clear. But, at this late date, it is also moot. Its relevance matters only inasmuch as it stands as a testament to how much voters are willing to overlook or forgive—in a man.
If it’s true that politics is personal, there has never been a more personal election for women (and, yes, men) than this one—and how those personal feelings manifest themselves in the voting booth will say something, for better or worse, about who we are. Susan Sarandon will have plenty of company in dismissing this occasion as simply one in a long line of opportunities to come. But those of us who know better, who understand gravity when we see it, won’t be so cavalier. We’ll vote with an eye toward history, wholly in awe of a singular woman and her Herculean feat in the face of impossible odds—and raise a glass to womankind.