“It wasn’t lost on everybody—including some in the press—that her principal transgression actually seemed to be that she was a woman who said what she thought instead of quietly receding into the conventionally accepted political staging.”
– from a Politico article about how a 60 Minutes appearance in 1992 planted in the minds of Americans their relative opinions of Hillary Rodham Clinton
What a crazy, screwed up election this has turned out to be, not that that’s news to anyone.
I’ve said it here before, but in the context of this wacky, 2016 election, it bears repeating. I am a Baby Boomer, albeit a late one. Like the song goes, I was born in the fifties. I was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the primaries because I am nothing if not a political idealist; free healthcare, free education and an end to income inequality are all important to me because they’re important to building a strong middle class and to the continuing progress of our great country.
In a year like this, when Bernie Sanders’ idealistic populism clashed with not only the angry venting of Donald Trump, but also conflicted with the twenty-five year old, paranoid, must-get-elected centrism of the Clintons, the decline of options for choosing positive change leaves progressives, and especially committed liberals, in a wilderness of hopelessness.
When I was in St. Louis this summer, attending the annual Netroots Nation gathering, it was the same week that Bernie endorsed Hillary Clinton, and two weeks before the volatile Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The incomparable Washington Post reporter, Dave Weigel, was there, as always. He came up to me and asked if I was a Bernie supporter. I said that yes, I was.
“So who are you voting for in November?” he asked me, after we went over some of Clinton’s negatives.
“Hillary,” I said, without hesitation.
“Because,” I answered, “Trump!”
That exchange bothered me for a long time. I was uncomfortable that my main reason for voting for her was the utter unpalatability of what Trump would do to our country’s moral, ethical and political standing in the world if he were elected President of the United States. It’s a valid reason, to be sure, but it was wholly unsatisfactory, from an analytical point of view. I wasn’t looking for a more affirmative reason, but I was open to it, so when I read the Politico article cited above, it resonated, in the way that if you’re ready for the lesson, the teacher will come. What I found was the case for Hillary is more about me, who I am, than I realized.
The headline of the Politico article is, “The TV interview that haunts Hillary Clinton,” but it’s about more than just about her strong, Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” moment after the Superbowl, in defending Bill against Gennifer Flowers’ accusations. It’s an overview of the political life of someone who is, believe it or not, naively honest about what she says when she talks about being a professional woman, a mother and a public servant.
When she was first told about the country music star’s negative reaction to the future first lady asserting, “I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she reportedly face-palmed, and was surprised and dismayed. “I didn’t mean to hurt Tammy Wynette as a person,” she reportedly told a small Colorado newspaper. “I happen to be a country-western fan.”
She was equally surprised by the public’s reaction after her infamous comments, six weeks later, about choosing her law career over being a woman who “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”
Politico quotes Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, who, in 2000, explained that he had trouble, during the 1992 campaign, convincing Hillary her comments would be a problem:
“‘I pulled her aside, and I said, ‘You know, Hillary, you’ve got to go restate this. People are going to think that’s an attack on stay-at-home moms.’ And she had the most wounded and naïve look on her face. … She had no idea that might be taken out of context. She said, ‘No one could think that.’ She said, ‘I would have given anything to be a stay-at-home mom. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I just didn’t have a choice because Bill was making $35,000 a year and we needed to support the family.’ I said, ‘I know that.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you worry too much.’”
So what does this have to do with me being a Baby Boomer, like the Clintons? I believe there is really a kind of liberal/progressive redemption in electing her. At every step of the way, with her strong character and self-assuredness, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the strongest voice of a liberated, feminist generation. With her sharp intelligence and being a “woman who said what she thought,” Hillary was at the top of the wave. If she fell before she stood up on her groundbreaking surfboard, people would put her down for not having what it takes. If she rode through the wave successfully, people would say she’s too assertive. Ask any woman about that catch-22, where one is empowered by education but subjugated by prevailing sexism, and how difficult that reality is to navigate.
Or, as she put it to the class of 1992 when she gave the commencement address at her Alma-mater, Wellesley College:
“As women today, you face tough choices. You know the rules are basically as follows: if you don’t get married, you’re abnormal; if you get married but don’t have children, you’re a selfish yuppie; if you get married and have children, but work outside the home, you’re a bad mother; if you get married and have children, but stay home, you’ve wasted your education.
“…So you see, if you listen to all the people who make these rules, you might just conclude that the safest course of action is just to take your diploma and crawl under your bed.”
The affirmative case for Hillary Clinton is her shear incredulity that an educated woman should be stopped, could be stopped, in fulfilling her maximum potential. We wouldn’t ask that of a man. It is certainly wrong to ask it from any woman, any person, especially one as smart and experienced and, yes, humble (relative to her profession), as Hillary.
The Politico piece was written about a month ago, before the first presidential debate. Since then, Donald J. Trump has not stopped attacking her for being weak and lacking stamina (even while saying he admires that she is a fighter), has attacked the veracity of women accusing him of unwanted sexual contact by saying they weren’t attractive enough for him, and has accused Hillary of stepping out on Bill.
While that only sharpens the distinction between a blowhard misogynist and a woman more ready to be president than almost any other American, what clinches it for me is what Bill Clinton said in that 1992, 60 Minutes interview, when Steve Kroft asked if the Clintons had “an arrangement,” implying, obviously, that they allowed each other sexual indiscretions.
Bill was having none of that. “Wait a minute,” he interrupted, “You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage.”
Standing by each other, being committed to each other and to your common goals, is undeniably uplifting. Just because some don’t understand that kind of devotion doesn’t make it less valuable. It also implies that no matter how much garbage they throw at Hillary – and they have thrown a lot – she remains a person committed to her goals, and committed to being someone who does all she can for people as a public servant. That is why I am voting for her. It’s a much more empowering reason than my fears of seeing giant gold lettering on the White House, next year. But if that’s what you need to get your butt to the polls, by all means, it’ll do.