November 2016 rapidly approaches, and as the GOP determines to make themselves a blend of farce and tragedy that can only lead to a politics of domination, I have readied myself to get to work for the Democrats. The question I have dealt with since last summer, after much reading, much listening, and much soul-searching, is who I wish to support in this election as the finest presidential candidate we have.
My choice is Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Given the current social media frenzy surrounding the presidency, I have a feeling this decision may surprise some and be met by strong disagreement from others. I would therefore like to answer a few questions that might have come to your mind, dear reader.
Q: Does this mean, Andrew, that you don’t like Bernie Sanders?
A: No it does not. I like Bernie Sanders a lot. Indeed, let’s get one thing out of the way.
No matter who receives the Democratic nomination, I intend to volunteer for their campaign and do the best I can for them. The importance of this election transcends preference for certain individuals.
To reiterate, I’m a Sanders fan. I admire that he has lived a life according to principles that have often been out of step with those of the nation. I love that he has made those principles part of the national conversation again. I remember being in New Hampshire last July for a wedding and talking to a lifelong friend about Sanders—the billboards were already up—and saying that no matter what happened to his campaign he had already won a great victory by making his ideas impossible to ignore. I firmly believe that he is ultimately changing our nation for the better.
Q: So why do you like Clinton more than Sanders?
A: Several reasons. Many of them were best described by Emily right here, and if you’re reading this little piece of mine first I urge you to stop and read hers. It is one of the best and most succinct arguments for why Clinton will succeed as our president.
But it goes further. Something that increasingly bothered me as the campaigns stepped up was how my respect for Sanders was equaled by how off-putting some of his supporters are. I have no doubts about their sincerity, but they refuse to acknowledge that Clinton has ever done a worthwhile thing for the nation and insist she is a corrupt, establishment figure who brings nothing to the table. The number of Clinton supporters who say they won’t vote for Sanders is vastly outstripped by the Sanders supporters who despise Clinton. This thinking, to me, is self-defeating.
Moreover, as I wrote in a post on my own website composed in tandem with this one, my brain is wired to see multiple and complementing points of view. I am very left-wing on most social issues but am a centrist at heart. I like that Clinton is able to speak with everyone from liberal activists to major capitalists and takes everyone into account, that she is truly “we the people,” and that she has workable, thoughtful plans in place. (Read her team’s 5,000 word essay on financial regulation!) She is fiercely intelligent, unquestionably qualified, and enters with more of a genuine leadership strategy than any other candidate. She will carry on Obama’s legacy.
Q: You mentioned Obama. And Emily’s article was great. But what about Clinton’s history with race in America?
A: This is very dubious ground for me to walk on for the simple reason that I am not a person of color. I have tried and still try to be the best ally I can be. I agree with the scholars who think the Clintonian policies on criminalization and justice left a lot to be desired. And I admire people like Ashley Williams who, in their desire to have a candidate who will fight for the principle that black lives indeed matter, are raising this issue.
But like much else, it’s complicated.
Charles Pierce pointed out in Esquire last December that as a young woman, Clinton worked undercover for civil rights activists. And in the past week alone, she has delivered some of her most strident speeches ever on racial equality, especially in the wake of Williams’s address. She has acknowledged she was wrong in the past…and a politician admitting they were wrong is an act that takes tremendous guts.
Maybe I sympathize with Clinton because I myself didn’t feel fully awoken to how continuingly racist our society remains until Ferguson. Now I am committed to staying informed on these issues and I will not go back to earlier complacency.
This leads into my great caveat: I’m white. And it does not matter how much Malcolm X and bell hooks and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s writings or marching in Black Lives Matter protests have indelibly shaped my character and my beliefs. I am not the best person to speak to this issue. It would have been irresponsible of me to ignore it, but my feelings about it are the most unimportant at the end of the day. I want to hear the truly important voices on this issue. All of this said, I want to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt, that she is also more aware and alert to the broken promises of our society, and is ready to address those promises.
Q: All well and good, but what about Benghazi and e-mails and such?
A: The witch-hunt tone of the investigations, similar to that of the inquiries into Planned Parenthood, says a lot to me about how much of this is politicized. As I said above, people make mistakes and should be given the benefit of the doubt. And Clinton’s statements about her emails and her cooperation with the Justice Department speak for themselves.
But…let’s try a thought experiment for a moment. Imagine that Hillary Clinton indeed did everything horrible she’s been accused of and did so knowingly. How does that make her compare to other presidents? Not that differently. I immediately think of two of the most masterful wielders of presidential power, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Nixon couldn’t resist corrupt activity and deceit and even when such actions weren’t necessary, and Johnson launched his career by stealing a senatorial election and participated in untruthfulness and dirty tactics all his own. Presidents such as Grant and Reagan let their administrations run amuck. And it’s fair to say that Bush and Obama both abused the prerogatives of their office.
I am not saying that if Clinton is guilty of all of this she should be excused. I am saying that, to borrow a line from Bill James, Babe Ruth is not the standard of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Lincoln and FDR are not the standards, unfortunately, of the presidency. But few presidents or perspective presidents have been demonized for their actions the way Clinton has been.
And I’ll come right out and say this. This demonization, and some, not all but some, of the Sanders supporters’ disdain for Clinton speaks to an inherent institutional misogyny. (Look at Jen Kirkman’s twitter feed for examples.) I sincerely think that men in the United States can easily feel threatened by a powerful woman, especially a woman who, like Clinton, can play the political game even better than they can, and men will find every reason to leap on any flaw in her armor in a way many are not with Sanders and Trump.
Which leads to my final point:
Q: Andrew, what’s the biggest reason you want Hillary Clinton as president?
A: My father is responsible in a way for my feminism.
It was a spring day in 2004 and he was picking me up after my freshman year at Emerson. I have always revered his opinion even when I disagree, and that day he said something as we munched burgers in an Irish pub that hit a chord in me. He was the one who had gotten me to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but that day he said that racial differences were nothing compared to the difference between the sexes. That was society’s greatest divide.
From that moment on, I paid attention to every discussion of feminist theory. I read more and sought out brilliant women to educate me. I became more convinced my father was right.
And now I stand in a world where the majority of the population is female and yet they are woefully underrepresented in every aspect of our existence.
The time has come for someone who has lived through the particular struggles of the sex, through second and third wave feminism, to assume a mantle of power and offer a voice that has been sorely lacking in American history.
This attitude may not convince everyone. One of the people I respect most in the world, for instance, only refers to Clinton as “the bitch.” But this person’s wife proudly wears a favorite shirt that declares “Bitches get stuff done.”
No other candidate, not Sanders, not Trump, not Cruz or Rubio, has the plans, the experience, and the political savvy to get as much done.