When Hillary Clinton drops out of the race, the disappointment her supporters will feel will not be not trivial. A campaign, like a romance, inspires fantasies of the future; it idealizes another person; it makes you feel that you're part of something larger than yourself. And when it's over, your heart breaks.
"What we're talking about here is the phenomenon of attachment," explains Dr. Alan Lipman, a clinical psychologist. "When you lose that, you experience a loss of hope. To put it in medical terms, it's a bereavement."
This Democratic primary may have been particularly -- even exquisitely -- positioned to break supporters' hearts. Hillary Clinton and Barck Obama are both candidates voters can pin their dreams on. What's more, just how close Clinton came only makes it worse for her supporters. As devoted as they may have been, Dennis Kucinich's followers probably did not ache with grief when their candidate dropped out.
But for Clinton supporters, the worst part is that they may not be allowed to express their disappointment. They will be pressured to unite behind the Democratic candidate and beat McCain in November. Clinton supporters will be called upon to bite their tongues and suffer gladly for a candidate they think does not speak to or for them.
Symbolically at least, Clinton helped women who are so often silenced, speak. Now many female Clinton voters will once again be asked to be seen but not heard. Lipman suggests there's going to be a quietly suffering minority mourning Clinton's withdrawal. "One of the famous descriptions of depression is anger turned inward," he says. "What you can picture among many women is a kind of anger that can't be dealt with. It's the classic Janus-face: outward smile and inward anger."
Mobilizing genuinely bereaved and possibly depressed voters in the fall may be more of a challenge than the Democratic Party realizes. Only Clinton herself has the power to encourage her base to move on. But as anyone who has had his or her heart broken knows, that's easier said than done.