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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

WASHINGTON — Many wept at Barack Obama becoming the first black president. So much shared euphoria cutting the cold of a January day at high noon. The country crossed over the highest threshold — so we thought.

As a campaigner, Obama played the black card brilliantly, confronting the crucible of race in a speech once, regarding his former Chicago pastor, turned radical. Once was enough to see how deeply he “integrated” his own strands into one whole. His unique life story melded the black and white worlds together in the moment. America’s load to carry was lighter. As president, Obama became “Amazing Grace,” on race, singing the song by a slave catcher at the funeral of nine black South Carolinians, murdered in their Charleston church.

Magic, somber June day.

Tuesday: here I stood on a spring evening, in the lights of the politerati. Most people at this gleaming party are supporting Hillary Clinton. A few are close to both Clintons. But even among friends, I wasn’t feeling the buzz or love in the room. There was zero excitement at a historic milestone, electing the first woman president. Then Megyn Kelly’s interview with Donald Trump on Fox held no defiance, just compliance with his rules for women.

If you didn’t know a woman had a real chance of becoming president, you wouldn’t know it.

That doesn’t seem just.

Compared to the last men standing, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton is best prepared to take over the White House. As President Obama’s secretary of state, she mended fences the world over, which President George W. Bush broke in his tragic Iraq War. Clinton commanded the respect of seasoned Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican, who noted in his memoir that she was a favorite Cabinet colleague.

People who know her well say the same: Clinton is sparkling company, with a first-class wit to go with her book-learning. A BBC correspondent who covered her as secretary, Kim Ghattas, wrote she was struck by Clinton’s thoughtfulness and tirelessness as she conducted foreign policy. An age ago, we all witnessed her grace under pressure when she refused to break in the glare of her husband’s Oval Office ooh-la-la scandal, signifying nothing, in 1999.

Grace under pressure is courage.

Given that most don’t know Clinton personally,  and that her authenticity persists as an issue, she may do what doesn’t come naturally for a Midwestern Methodist. Let down her perfect hair and her high walls with the American people. She is more private than her husband Bill, always striking up a friendly conversation with folks wherever he speaks.

Hillary Clinton loathes the media, they say, and with reason. The media has no love for her. Therein lies the rub. To connect with the larger public, Clinton needs the media for revealing moments in one-on-one interviews — and to cover barnstorming speeches with a grain less cynicism.

Clearly, the other candidates have more excited bases. Trump speaks to a large crowd as if it were a small gathering. He reviews his rough and tumble strategy. That is a talent. The Brooklyn-born Sanders also speaks frankly, and “is what he is” — the loud uncle at the table. They are familiar, even likable types, but we have no mold for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In her memoir, “Living History,” there’s a page of drama: being “desperately in love with” Bill, but reluctant to marry him. But the Wellesley College graduation, where the young Rodham gave a ’60s revolutionary call to arms, is shorn of soul. After all, she might run for higher office.

Define thyself with speed (before Trump does.)

The race is on now, and the pace will be brutal. Clinton’s customary caution won’t carry the day. There’s no choice but to truly meet the candidate, throaty laugh and all. It’s strange to this say about a woman on the public stage since 1992, but we need to know the latest version.

John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. Andrew Jackson was the first commoner president. If Clinton has her eye on history, let her go for broke and light a Camelot candle to champion sisterhood. If she’s not excited, nobody else will be.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.

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Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, U.S., May 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein