I am a die-hard supporter of Hillary Clinton. I am an excited supporter of Hillary Clinton. I supported her presidential bid in 2008, and I support her even more enthusiastically – at times desperately – in 2016. I am a woman, a feminist and a (slightly older) millennial. I grew up with a mother who ardently admired Hillary. I graduated from Wellesley. I’m ambitious. I value intelligence, nuance, distinction and drive. I care deeply for the expressiveness of language, and sometimes I feel an even deeper disgust for its rhetorical abuse.
If those are the outlines of my identity, maybe it comes as no surprise that I so strongly favor Mrs. Clinton. But I don’t think this is a game of pure identity. I think Hillary Clinton has been the smartest presidential choice for a long time and remains the smartest choice today for a variety of concrete, political and even philosophical reasons that go far beyond our individual identities. And I so intensely wish that everyone around me, but especially the millennials who are my peers, would take a few minutes to be thoughtful about her, to give her the credit and consideration she deserves, whether their experiences and identities align to push them naturally in her direction or not. I hope, in delving more deeply into a few of my recurring thoughts about this election, to inspire more widespread respect and support for such a talented, historic and truly inspirational woman.
Hillary Clinton is Liberal.
First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Hillary Clinton is a liberal Democrat. She has been a liberal Democrat for her entire adult life, and she has been fighting tirelessly for her own deeply held progressive beliefs for longer than most of us millennials have had a political identity at all. I understand why the youthful backlash to today’s pandering, extremist conservative America would swing toward the angry guy on the far Left shouting in equally extreme opposition to the Right, but Bernie Sanders’ relative position on the political spectrum doesn’t change Hillary Clinton’s actual record. In fact, Hillary and Bernie “voted the same way 93 percent of the time in the two years they shared in the Senate.” And during her final term in the Senate, Hillary was more liberal than 85% of its members (compared to Obama’s close but lesser 82%). She has been a leading voice for progressive health care reform since 1993 when she became the first First Lady to take on a significant political role and enormous political responsibility in a fraught partisan environment as the leader of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. And she has, time and again, been one of the first and very few proactive voices for women’s rights.
It’s true, Clinton’s positions on some of our cherished liberal issues of today have changed over time. She wasn’t the first to support gay marriage, for example, and she voted in favor of the war in Iraq. But to jump to the conclusion that a few “non-liberal” smirches on her record cancel out a much larger progressive history is unexamined and deeply flawed. There are two very important things to understand about her record:
- Hillary Clinton has been consistently left of or in line with mainstream Democratic positions. When she has changed her opinion over time, as in the case of gay marriage, the evolution in her thinking has kept pace with her Party and her base. She certainly hasn’t flip-flopped wildly back and forth. Contrast that to Donald Trump, the perfect example of a candidate who says something different about every matter of policy, opinion, and even fact every single goddamned day – who very clearly harbors no legible guiding philosophies. Hillary, on the other hand, has clear guiding philosophies that are balanced with a strong Party identity. Whatever your thoughts on the Democratic Party and its platform, understanding her loyalty to this political entity is essential to understanding her as a politician.
- The ability to compromise and change your mind over time is important in any highly effective professional and absolutely imperative when it’s part of your job description. Politicians are elected to represent a larger group of people; ethically as well as practically, they’re required to weigh their own beliefs against the beliefs of their electorate. There’s certainly a line, if sometimes grayish, between a politician who, having no principles of her own, caters obsequiously to the will of her base for the sole purpose of continued job security, and a politician who manages to balance her own enlightened convictions with the will of the people whom it is her job to represent and without whose support in the ever-present next election she would not be able to remain in office pushing for change. In other words, politicians often have to make short-term compromises in order to stay in the game and keep standing up for their long-term ideals. Finding the balance can’t be easy. But Hillary’s voting record and history suggest she’s done a pretty damn good job. Certainly, she appears to be attending to this balancing act more than she appears to be engaging in some kind of bizarre and complex masquerade of political identity.
While the guy who claims to stand up for his own beliefs against all odds might have a definitive, almost romantic on-face appeal to a generation whose guiding philosophies include a staunch conviction of inalienable rights and an almost aggressive defense of independence, a stubborn politician isn’t able to make the necessary compromises to bring about real change in the long-term, and, frankly, isn’t really doing their job. There’s still a place for hardheaded visionaries, but that place is not in the one position in the political world that demands the most nuance, aplomb and careful maneuvering. And there’s no place for vilifying or writing off those who, in contrast, fulfill the true political role to the best of their ability, using compromise to take concrete steps in the right direction over time.
Bernie v. Hillary is not a battle between liberal and moderate. Hillary is a very liberal politician with a very liberal record who has developed keen skills at accomplishing progress toward her own core ideals as well as the ideals of her Party and her base. If you would like to see the United States move farther Left, there’s a smart, thoughtful and well-paced way to do that; it’s not always by voting for the candidate who’s yelling the loudest and proposing the most radical changes in a few hot-button areas.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that we’re not talking about incredibly stark distinctions when it comes to the specific issues of this election.
Beyond all the Wall Street invective and an occasional mention of Hillary’s old-news war vote (the best critique of which, considering her actual reasoning, is that it was essentially too idealistic), the two big Bernie issues we’ve seen spotlighted are the minimum wage and student debt. Bernie insists on a $15 federal minimum wage, and Hillary proposes a $12 federal minimum wage. Bernie wants to eliminate tuition at public colleges and universities. Hillary plans to eliminate tuition for community college and eliminate debt for students attending a public college or university in their home state. There is not a gaping philosophical difference in these opinions. Both candidates believe in substantially raising the minimum wage and making higher education significantly more affordable.
To start with, Hillary’s platform on the minimum wage is based on a much more detailed, real-world assessment of what might actually be successfully achieved. An increase to $15 more than doubles the minimum wage in 21 states. Economists have been bickering over the consequences of minimum wage hikes for years, and the only takeaway I’ve been able to cull from the sludge is that there are very complicated and uncertain economic consequences associated with large hikes, especially when you consider that small businesses represent more than half of all jobs in the U.S. It’s simple common sense to understand that many business will cut back staff hours and staff positions when the minimum wage rises. While the extent of the negative consequences is, I’m sure, severely overstated in much conservative propaganda, and this is certainly a topic I’d like to learn more about, we should be looking for a candidate who pushes the issue in a liberal direction while taking into consideration the variety of consequences at play and the federalist structure of our country. To think that Hillary is not liberal enough when she’s suggesting a $12 minimum wage is insulting, and to think the economics of the situation are clearly in favor of a large increase across the board, despite significant variation in cost of living and minimum wage from state to state, just seems like wishful thinking.
What I find interesting about the education debate is that Hillary’s ideas are based on what strikes me as a very American philosophy of balancing government support with individual contributions to one’s own success. Bernie, on the other hand, directly cites multiple European countries in his platform. I don’t think this is something we usually talk about in a mature way; I find it disconcerting that I never hear my peers on the Left discuss what it means to be American or what our country’s unique values are – questions that should underlie any political debate – while the Right deals with the idea of America constantly, superficially and often xenophobically. I think the lefties of my generation tend to react against whole concepts that we associate with obnoxious Rightwing rhetoric, which, while completely understandable, effectively allows the GOP to co-opt entire conversations – and the question of national identity is a supreme example. Our shared underlying national philosophies are infinitely worthy of speculative exploration, through the sharing of experiences, in addition to more concrete exploration through an understanding of national history and politics. For my (speculative) part, based on my experiences abroad, I think Americans do have a stronger propensity to pursue big dreams and to push ourselves to achieve those dreams independently than do our European counterparts whose government support structures tend to be stronger and philosophies of life differently focused. Of course there are good reasons to strengthen our government support structures (!) – and even better reasons to be highly strategic about how that’s done. Not only is Hillary’s more moderate (but still, let’s be clear, significantly more supportive than the status quo) education plan better aligned with a unique national philosophy that (in my opinion) places distinct value on blending individual and governmental contributions, but it accomplishes the aim of making school affordable without unnecessarily overspending on a single issue. Why, when we have serious infrastructure failings, climate change and many other incredibly expensive and dangerous issues to worry about, spend the money to make college and university free when we could spend less to make it affordable and accessible? Choosing the right goal is the first step to successful policy.
All of the above flows clearly into one of my biggest frustrations with popular opinion and rhetoric surrounding this campaign: how have we gotten caught up in the idea that smarter, more pragmatic policy is uninspiring?? Who decided that pragmatism stands in such contrast to idealism? I, for one, feel truly inspired and even excited by thoughtfully crafted policies that push society in a liberal direction while standing half a chance of coming to fruition. I am not inspired by political lies, which is what outrageous promises of overspending on select popular issues amount to at the end of the day, no matter whose mouth those promises come from.
Experience is Essential.
Of course, a leader is not just a platform. Neither is a leader just a personality. From the people who voted for George W. in 2004 because “he seemed like a guy [they] could have a beer with,” to certain Berners of 2016 who condemn in-depth experience as the very fundamental of corruption, too many people have lost sight of essential perspective on what we, as voters, are doing; in short, we are hiring. Voting is a hiring decision. Holding political office is a job. It’s a difficult, complicated job for which one must understand arcane legislation, balance personal opinions with the will of the electorate, work within and around the complicated set of rules and governing bodies at play, and, ideally, know who to work with and when in order to successfully craft legislation, gain support for initiatives, solve problems and even respond to crises. These job responsibilities have implications for the quality of life, and sometimes life or death, of a great number of people. So when we decide who to support in an election, as we would decide who to hire for any important professional position, our decision shouldn’t be based solely on a candidate’s collection of goals. In fact, hiring is mostly based on aptitude – a candidate’s ability to accomplish the goals of the company and the position. And the most idealistic stance we can take is to hire (elect), based on our impression of aptitude, the candidate who appears most likely to take positive steps toward achieving our goals. The level of conviction a candidate displays is certainly one factor to consider because someone who feels personally passionately about the goals of the position may be somewhat more likely to accomplish those goals. But equally if not more important qualities to look for in a candidate are intelligence, flexibility, the capacity to listen to others, the ability to assess details in the context of a larger picture, and relevant experience making strategic decisions.
In fact, relevant experience is usually the biggest factor in one’s ability to accomplish change. I think it’s seriously off the mark to suggest that in-depth political experience is problematic in and of itself or to take aim at the relationships formed in the process of gaining experience. The political arena is overflowing with unsavory characters working to influence legislation for their own selfish gain, and the world is overflowing with unsavory people and industries that need to be regulated. Anyone who has seriously engaged with the process of passing legislation will have had to engage with the players at the table, including lobbyists and representatives of any industry facing regulation. If you want to make serious change in regulations governing the financial industry, for example, you first have to understand the complexities of the current regulations and where they break down; you have to pursue as detailed an inside view of industry operations as possible. Political leaders, if they’re doing things right, sit down with Unions, industry executives and everyday workers not just for photo ops and plumage-fanning but because they need to understand, comprehensively, how the stakeholders of our society fit together before they can pass meaningful legislation to improve regulation, incentives and economic opportunities.
Indeed, the ability to sit down with everyone involved in an issue, even the “establishment” or the “enemy” – whether that be the religious Right or the investment banking industry or al-Assad himself – and haggle towards progress is absolutely essential in politics. Powerful industries that represent significant pillars of our government and our economy can’t be treated like a monolithic good or evil, nor simply dismantled without devastating consequences. You don’t just take down Wall Street in a stable, developed democracy (however messy and gridlocked its legislative branch may be). You use your relationships with Wall Street and your alliances with the other party to formulate a smart plan for regulation that keeps the economy running and stands, perhaps, more than an ice cube’s chance in hell of getting past a divided Congress. That’s how change gets made, and that should be our goal.
Undeniably, it could be difficult to distinguish between a candidate whose ties to certain industries might corrupt their own incentives to apply meaningful regulations to those industries and a candidate whose industry knowledge provides them with the requisite inside understanding. But the existence of the distinction has to be acknowledged. If we throw out everyone who appears to have widespread relationships across the political and industrial spectrum, fearing their corruption, we throw out everyone with the capacity to make precise incisions in the status quo. I don’t think Hillary is making it into any old boy’s clubs anytime soon, but I do think she’s learned to work with many of them and gained respect across multiple dividing lines despite the extreme Right’s terrified blitzkriegs against her. I think her consistently liberal track record and her ideas for regulation suggest that she’s a prime representation of someone whose “establishment” relationships are ultimately beneficial.
Perhaps more importantly, I just don’t see how Bernie’s anti-establishment rhetoric could translate into a real capacity to govern. Some of his statements have even scared me; in one of the early debates he answered the moderator’s question about how he intends to take on the Financial industry by literally saying, “The people will rise up with me.” This is the rhetoric of messy revolutions and military coups; it’s not the rhetoric of a leader who has an understanding of stable, positive reform processes and who seeks to impress upon the electorate his real-world ability to make clear plans and pursue change in a healthy way. I see that Bernie has the capacity to incite, the capacity to act as an important figurehead who raises awareness of issues. I do not see – and he’s not tried to show me – that he has the capacity to lead the heady, complicated and messy process of governing at the highest level. I don’t see that he has the capacity to talk to all the key players involved in an issue, whether he likes them or not, present himself maturely and compromise where necessary. It’s important to note that Hillary sponsored and passed ten pieces of significant legislation during her eight years in the Senate, while Bernie sponsored and passed…one, in nine years. We can argue about the relative merits of their legislative ideas until the cows come home and the last Florida vote gets counted, but the process of significantly reforming society simply must begin with the ability to make any change at all.
Luckily, choosing a leader based on their ability to accomplish change in the current environment, whether that be in a company or in Congress, in no way inherently conflicts with choosing a leader based on the change you want to see. Both factors have to be weighed together. Always. No one [who has anything substantive to say] is asking Sanders supporters to compromise their values for the sake of electability or to downplay their dreams for the sake of the less emotionally compelling pragmatic choice. I think it’s high time to look beyond superficial platform specifics and consider who best marries the Leftist direction of our political ideals with an ability to make real progress in that direction. Whatever you think about his end game, Bernie hasn’t demonstrated an ability to make progress.
Finally, I want to talk about what it means to be a figurehead and what this means for women. I hear young women far and wide renouncing the idea that they should consider gender as a factor in their vote this year, much less give serious credence to the idea that Hillary’s election would represent a meaningful victory for women. And yet Bernie’s appeal, to many of the same voters, is rooted in the radical ideals he represents – not in any display of a nuanced understanding of the world, nor in a track record of successfully spearheading important legislation. He represents a tantalizing unchecked idealism; he represents a far Left answer to the GOP’s startlingly far Right swing. Why, then, is it somehow more perverted or simplistic to support or even revere Hillary because she represents, among other qualities and policies that have always made her a goddamned brilliant strategist, an enormous advancement for women?
In other words, candidates stand for more than their policy desires and plans; they stand for values and ideals – and this is okay! It is okay, and in fact it can be important, to vote for someone based on what they symbolize, in addition to more concrete factors like their policies and experience, because symbolic victories are also meaningful concrete steps. When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he didn’t just vaguely represent the idea of advancing racial equality; he provided undeniable evidence that an American black man can be smart, educated and capable enough to ascend to the highest position of leadership in the country and, arguably, the world. He is both a concrete and symbolic representation of achievement. As such, he made it that much harder for anyone to believe black people are inferior or unworthy of the same achievements as their white peers. In 2016, we might like to think no reasonable person would harbor racist ideas or really believe women are inherently less capable of leadership than men. But many people do, and we have to prove them wrong. Proof is essential to liberation.
I think many women react against the vulgarity buried in the idea of having something to prove. No one wants to go through life with a chip on their shoulder, and it’s fairly easy now for many young women to sail through a comfortable, unambitious life without giving serious thought to the matters of equality that continue to hold us collectively back. Of course, to some extent it’s a matter of timing; we should see more women in leadership positions as the generations that have been encouraged to pursue leadership continue to come of age. But nothing “just” happens, especially in politics. If we want female leaders in office, we have to actively elect qualified female leaders into office. It’s not enough to claim that women are as capable as men and go along our merry way nitpicking their generational differences, mocking their appearances and buying into exaggerated scandals – as women are still so wont to do to one another each and every day.
I find it incredibly telling that women who have spent more years in the workforce, even those who started out feeling widely liberated and encouraged, are significantly more drawn to a female presidential candidate than younger women who are just starting out in their careers. I certainly don’t go through my day-to-day life feeling like a victim, and for that I’m grateful to the generations of feminists before me (including, prominently, Hillary Clinton). But based on my own experience, corroborated by the statistics and experiences shared in this article, I feel like I can’t “un-know” the highly entrenched sexism that burns beneath the surface (and sometimes engulfs the surface) of everyday interactions, most clearly in professional settings. It makes so much sad sense to me that young feminists who have experienced only the beginnings of the professional world would focus narrowly on clearly defined political issues that they feel confident they can tackle, while those who have spent time in the workforce feel the strong presence of more insidious forces at play and understand that we do, plain and simple, have something to prove.
And for those of us who feel so strongly the effects of workplace – or any place! – sexism, Hillary offers such a welcome opportunity to make a powerful statement in a mature and effective manner. We don’t have to be desperate or whiny about proving ourselves, but we do have to participate in our own liberation. Nobody else is going to do it for us. I’m not voting for Hillary because she’s a female. I’m voting for Hillary because she’s a FEMALE WHO is smart, capable and experienced enough to demonstrate to America and to the world how impressively powerful a woman can be. This is absolutely one very important reason, in a collection of powerful reasons, to support her candidacy.
On a final note, I think a widespread backlash against one of the most qualified presidential nominees of all times, standing to be the first female President of the United States, can only have a subconscious chilling effect on the very women who should be encouraged and inspired to jump into the ring. If an exhaustive resume of supremely relevant political experience, a literal lifelong record of standing up for progressive change in the face of powerful opposition, and one of the most acute political minds of our times is not enough to get you elected president as a woman…what is? What, ever, will be? How long will we have to wait for another comparable female contender?
There are many more factors at play that I don’t have the time or energy to address. I could tack them onto the end here, but that wouldn’t be saying much more than leaving them be. So many components of political opinion just come down to instinct, for all of us. I’ve often felt unhappily divided from my peers, for example, as the only Hillary supporter in the room who doesn’t find her cold, unnatural or robotic. I find her charismatic and natural, within the bounds of requisite – and admirable – political poise. But I can’t change anyone’s mind about that, just as I can’t convince anyone who doesn’t already agree that the “investigations” into her e-mail use and the few other scandals the Right has characteristically cooked up are complete and utter bullshit. I could link you to articles that support my interpretation, but I’m sure there are an equal number of sources that trump up the supposed issues. And I’m really not interested.
So I’ve just tried to convey my more strongly held convictions that have a basis in fact or philosophy and that might add some unique angles to the discussion. I hope I’ve at least provoked some new thoughts. I hope more people will join me in genuine excitement over this impressive female intellect and leader.
And I’ll end by plagiarizing my own Primary day Facebook post because I’m tired now, and I guess I just can’t think of a better way to put it, myself:
I fucking love Hillary. Not because I’m some pre-ordained die-hard who has randomly decided she can do no wrong, but because she’s the best candidate for president I’ve ever seen, because she’s a much-needed inspiration for women and because the apologies and concessions I’ve consistently heard from fellow supporters are just more political absurdity. I only recently realized this, but Hillary Clinton is the only woman (short of my mom) whom I consider a role model, and she’s the only woman I’ve ever wanted to be. I’m proud and excited to vote for her again, and I just hope I’ll be able to do it in the General Election this time around, alongside many enthusiastic peers.
 Well, that’s the idea
Also, Ctrl+F “Mrs. Clinton” to read the full text of her speech to congress: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2002-10-10/html/CREC-2002-10-10-pt1-PgS10233-7.htm
 Demonstration of the proper usage of “literal”