TAMPA — Inside the slightly dusty Mazda 626, carpooling it across Tampa Bay, the conversation kept turning to Hillary's motives and Hillary's flaws and the eclipse of the dream that Hillary had come to represent.
Behind the wheel, Susan Lockwood — a 64-year-old unreconstructed feminist — was mourning the end of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's historic campaign. But on Wednesday morning she was also trying to pierce the mystery of why the senator had not formally conceded. As usual, Lockwood interpreted Clinton's behavior in the most positive light possible.
"I would like to think that she is being careful, putting the interest of the party and the country ahead of her own personal interest."
Chiming in from the passenger seat, her friend Laurie Berlin wasn't so sure about Clinton's selflessness.
"I hope someone gave her a good talking-to," said Berlin, 53. "Because it's all about November now."
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For Lockwood, as for so many women who grew up during the golden age of feminism and who have taken such pride in Clinton's ascent, this week's turn of events has been deeply painful.
Lockwood is not bitter. She admires Barack Obama and is ready to vote for him. Still, to see her candidate come so close to winning the nomination, and then to see that chance slip away, has left her wrestling with a quiet but persistent sadness. So many other countries around the world — India, Israel, Germany, to name a few — have elected women as their leaders. Why not the United States?
Some of Clinton's defeat, Lockwood thinks, can be attributed to the endurance of sexism in our culture. She heard some of the virulent attacks in the media; she remembers the day a woman asked John McCain, "How do we beat the b----?" Lockwood knows that Obama faces similar hatreds.
"There's so many people out there who say, 'I'd never vote for a woman, or I'd never vote for a black man,'" she said Wednesday in the car with her friend Berlin.
For months now, Lockwood and other women around her have been debating all things Hillary. Some of the most animated conversations have occurred as they've shared rides from Tampa to their jobs in St. Petersburg.
The director of grants at the Florida Humanities Council, Lockwood has worked to keep the political conversations away from her job. She won't talk about the campaign at her desk or anywhere within the council's offices at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Outside, though, the arguments have raged on almost nonstop.
Initially, many of Lockwood's female friends were diehard Clinton supporters. But as Obama's political gifts became more apparent and as Clinton resorted to hardball tactics, their faith in her waned.
"I was disappointed in the campaign that Hillary ran," explained Berlin, who also works at the council. "I did not like the person she morphed into."
Such disillusionment never set in with Lockwood. She didn't agree with all of Clinton's positions. Still, on balance, she believed — and still believes — in Hillary's intelligence and grit, her advocacy for human rights and for health care, her commitment to public service. As someone who marched on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, Lockwood found it fulfilling to watch a woman of Clinton's achievements making such a determined run for the presidency. To her, the candidacy has been personal.
"This is one smart woman," said Lockwood. "Maybe she's too smart."
As she and Berlin drove toward downtown St. Petersburg, the debate rolled on. They talked about the toughness Clinton had developed during her husband's administration, about whether that crucible had eventually hardened her to the point where she was willing to resort to such tactics herself.
"I'd like to think that you don't have to play dirty politics," said Lockwood.
They talked about their dashed hopes, their fears that a woman might never be elected to the White House in their lifetimes.
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Near the end of the trip, as they exited Interstate 275 and drove onto the USF campus, Lockwood began, "People of my age …"
"That's ancient," said Berlin.
"… we did grow up with, you know, certain ideals and beliefs."
"Hopes and dreams."
"Then none of them panned out, did they, Susan?"
Lockwood shook her head, refusing to take the bait.
"On the contrary," she said, "we have such good lives. We are so fortunate."
Thomas French can be reached
or (727) 893-8486.