Friday, May 9, 2008


"I am not a quitter." Hillary's oft-repeated words of defiance begin to sound increasingly hollow as her hope of winning fades, and her actions look more and more futile, even absurd. Is it a peculiarly American credo, I wonder, that one should never admit defeat; that it's somehow, well... unmanly to leave the field with as much grace and good timing as one can muster? We teach our kids, sternly, not to be quitters, as though this were the ultimate shame. We admire tenacity as a necessary corollary of the "American dream" and treat those we judge to be quitters with scorn.

Don't get me wrong: Tenacity is certainly an important quality, and one to be respected. Without it, much that is truly worthwhile would never be achieved. It's a sad--and somewhat pathetic--mistake, however, to treat "not quitting" as an absolute. An understanding of the art of quitting, I believe, is as important as knowing how to win and when to declare victory. (An example of when not to declare victory: "Mission Accomplished"!) I checked in Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" to learn from this ancient and still unparalleled source of wisdom on the subject of human conflict, and found this quotation: "Winning one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not real excellence, winning a victory and subduing the enemy without fighting is the highest excellence." Sun Tzu adds, elsewhere: "Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across."

There's wisdom for both Hillary and Barack here. For Hillary, it suggests that winning victories is not enough in itself, and that fighting against all odds is not the only way to win. There's a bigger picture than the one she has recently been looking at, and in that picture the victory of the Democratic party in November is infinitely more important than a couple more senseless, ego-saving skirmishes between now and the Democratic convention. In this light, "quitting" could be seen as an act of selfless generosity, a victory for the many over the victory for one.

On the other hand, I trust that Obama is already working on that golden bridge for Hillary to retreat across. It's vital for her to be able to make that transition with dignity, and with the sense of having accomplished something important in her struggle. It's also vital that there be room, on that golden bridge, for those who worked and voted for her, with passion. In this case, the act of quitting might be seen not as surrender but as the better part of valor.


robin andrea said...

Yes to everything you wrote here, Peter. Hillary has crossed a line. Her tenacity is unreasonable. I do like the concept of the golden bridge.

Paul said...

I was thinking this morning, before reading this post, about Hillary and her tenacity. I can only imagine how difficult this is. It appears she has been driven toward the presidency for many years. Why else run for the senate from New York instead of Arkansas? (A lot of other "why else?" questions come to mind, too)

For her, this is a big "what next?" moment. She won't get another chance. I think it's more than a reluctance to quit the race. Perhaps her reason for being is coming to an end as well.

Al Gore must have gone through the same thing. But, after a certain period of R and R, he came back with a new message and a different kind of power. Same with Carter.

Both Gore and Carter were defeated by the treachery of their opponents. In Gore's case, and in John Kerry's for that matter, the treachery was all but literal assassination. And both of them were defeated by someone who should never have been given the opportunity to lead this country.

Hillary will be defeated by someone who outdid her on his own merit (and there is much to be said about Obama's merit). Yeah, there was some negative stuff, but neither resorted to the Rovian tactics that paved the way for the Naked Emperor. And both of them have been, seemingly and genuinely, kind to one another at various times.

In just a few weeks it will be over - this phase, anyway. Then what will she do?


They call him James Ure said...

What happened to losing with grace that I was taught as a child? There is a fine line between strength and stubbornness.