Twenty four years ago this month, I turned 18 and became eligible to vote, and I have distinct memories of Bill Clinton mobilizing my generation into caring about politics. That year, George HW Bush was running for a second term and during a reluctant interview on the back of a train car with MTV’s Tabitha Sorenson the elder Bush made it clear what he thought of us: young people don’t matter because they don’t vote. Clinton won that 1992 election, clinching nearly half of the 18–24 vote, with Bush and Ross Perot splitting the other half. Though I wasn’t much into our new First Lady Hillary Clinton back then – frankly, I was a little suspicious of her, considering the PMRC shenanigans put on by Vice President Gore’s wife Tipper – I remember her gaining national attention quickly when she led the universal-healthcare effort.
In the early to mid-1990s, I paid attention to those efforts because I was one of the people who lacked adequate healthcare coverage. As a child of divorced parents, I was off of my dad’s health insurance the day I turned 19— in 1993. So when Hillary Clinton began work on crafting a universal healthcare system that same year, she was trying to help people like me: my mother was a hard-working single mom, and I worked a part-time job and lived at home while I went to college. Truth be told, with the exception of periods when I had an emergency-coverage plan, I went without health insurance from 1993 until 1998, then again for short periods from 1998 until 2003, when I began teaching. During that ten-year stretch, had I gotten really sick or badly hurt, I’d have been screwed, especially since I worked mostly manual labor jobs. So when Hillary Clinton and those who spoke before her at the Democratic National Convention said that she has been working to help disadvantaged people for decades, I knew that to be true. She may not have won that time, but she did get in there and fight.
Because she gained national attention first as a spitfire of a First Lady, Hillary Clinton’s opponents love to connect her to her husband’s political life, so I want to remind readers that Bill Clinton did two important things in the 1990s: he achieved budget surpluses for five of his eight years, and he raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans. As Bernie Sanders likes to put it, he had multimillionaires to “pay their fair share.” While their opponents continue to demonize both Bill Clinton and his wife for an array of grievances, even fiscal conservatives who disdain the federal deficit have to recognize that Bill Clinton’s economic policies worked better in that area than the policies of either Bush I or II. Right now, we need economic policies that reduce federal deficits and drive job growth. Bill Clinton – the potentially first First Man – has a proven track record of doing both.
Back to Hillary Clinton herself: most First Ladies disappear from the public eye after their husbands leave office, but not Hillary. After Bill Clinton left the White House in 2000, she was elected to be a US Senator from New York in 2001 and served in that role until 2009. Even though she lost in the 2008 Democratic primary to Barack Obama, when he took office, Obama had the wherewithal to include her in his administration as Secretary of State. When Barack Obama spoke at the 2016 DNC, he said that no one – no one – is more qualified to be the President than Hillary Clinton. And that is true. Some presidents come into office having served as governors or in Congress, but no one running today has Hillary Clinton’s range of experience. Sixteen US senators have been elected President before her, and six Secretaries of State have become president, but having served as both . . . in this election, she’s it. (By contrast, her main opponent has no experience in any public office at all.)
And since we’re voting for the presidency, not for the prom court, I’m not worried who makes the best snappy smart remarks to play the crowd. I’m supporting a person who has been around Washington, who has worked in many different roles on many different projects and with many different people, and who has a proven track record of working hard to help ordinary people. That’s why #ImWithHer. (Personally, I’m barely influenced by the fact that she’s a woman, though I do agree that it’s high time that we broke that “glass ceiling.” I’m more interested in having a good president than having a female president, and it’s coincidental for me that Hillary Clinton will be both.)
About the common criticisms of Hillary Clinton, here’s how I answer them.
Though some ordinary Americans repeat the tired claim that Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy, I say that many of those nay-sayers probably don’t understand why they think that. The simple fact is: most Americans don’t understand politics, and thus base their opinions on gut reactions to news clips and conversations with equally uninformed friends. I will admit freely that I don’t have much of a grasp on foreign policy, but I’ve had conversations with people who didn’t even know what country Benghazi is in, much less what happened at the US embassy there. I would bet that most Americans don’t know why her private email server might be a problem. About those controversies, let’s be frank: the woman was investigated both by Congress and by the FBI, and she was not indicted, charged, or even censured; in a country where a person is innocent until proven guilty, the issues were investigated by powerful entities and are now over. The people who are keeping those scandals going are people who refuse to accept those conclusions.
Second, Hillary Clinton has been active in American politics since the 1970s, and when you’re engaged in something as messy as national politics for that long, you’re going to have some dirt (and some blood) on your hands. This woman has been making powerful enemies for three decades. She forced a debate on universal healthcare in the 1993 – something that insurance companies and many doctors opposed – and she proclaimed at the UN in 1995 that “women’s rights are human rights,” which flew in the faces of sexists and misogynists. And she didn’t stop there. She kept going in the 2000s and the 2010s, and has aligned herself with America’s first black president, a man whose every move has been opposed by certain factions. The fact that she’s not only still standing, but has continually ascended, despite her detractors’ unceasing efforts to derail her, and despite her championing difficult causes, shows a tenacity and a vigor that that is incredibly rare. That’s why #ImWithHer.
I want a tough President who knows both the game and the players and who has plenty of experience in both domestic and foreign policy. I don’t want an “outsider” with no political experience, because our country can’t afford to have a President that learns as he goes. Do I trust Hillary Clinton? Yes. Is Hillary Clinton a saint? No. But she’s not running for saint. She’s running for president.
Even if a person views this election as a lesser-of-two-evils scenario, I believe that Hillary Clinton is still the right choice. Donald Trump is, as President Obama put it, “unfit to serve” by any measure: he has no political experience, and he is tactless and crude. Moreover, about being untrustworthy, in an August 7 piece in The New York Times titled “Clinton’s Fibs vs. Trumps Huge Lies,” Nicholas Kristof wrote this about each candidate’s propensity for falsehoods:
One metric comes from independent fact-checking websites. As of Friday, PolitiFact had found 27 percent of Clinton’s statements that it had looked into were mostly false or worse, compared with 70 percent of Trump’s. It said 2 percent of Clinton’s statements it had reviewed were egregious “pants on fire” lies, compared with 19 percent of Trump’s. So Trump has nine times the share of flat-out lies as Clinton.
For those who preferred Bernie Sanders and wanted him to be the nominee— he lost. That’s what happens in elections: one person wins, and everyone else does not. And Hillary Clinton’s ideas are so much closer to what Bernie Sanders proposed than what we would get if the Republican candidate wins. Sanders himself said so in an LA Times op-ed on August 5.
The rhetoric of political campaigns is regrettably nasty. That’s not new. The Democrats’ donkey mascot originated in the 1828 election when Andrew Jackson’s detractors called him a jackass. Because of the nature of American democracy, one of the best ways to convince the unwashed masses to side with a candidate is to make the other candidate so unappealing that there’s only one choice left, thus we get “Crooked Hillary.” Who in their right mind would vote for a candidate who is crooked, right? But Donald Trump is banking on people thinking no deeper than that— Trump is running on the idea that we will yield to sensationalism, name-calling, and bullying. (He took last week to claiming that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the “founders of ISIS.”) What each voter has to do, especially those of us walking-around folks don’t have access to classified information about a crisis at a US embassy in Libya, is pay attention, really listen to what is being said by each candidate, and think critically about whether it makes sense. I’d like to think that I’ve done that, which is why #ImWithHer.
*As a sad corollary here, even though I intend to vote for Secretary Clinton, I understand what my vote means in the context of electoral politics. Her opponent, Donald Trump, will likely win the state of Alabama, thus claiming our nine electoral votes. However, that won’t stop me from casting my one little popular vote for the candidate who I believe will make the best president. I hope all Americans will do the same thing, especially those stolid supporters of our nation’s “third parties.” Voting is a privilege, and democracy is best served when each and every one of us genuinely makes our choice from among those on the ballot.
If you disagree with what I wrote here, don’t bother saying so in the comments below. Instead, say so in the voting booth in November. Rather than bickering with each other, let’s see if we can have 100% voter turnout, and elect the president – with all of his or her imperfections – that the true majority of Americans want to have.