In 2007, my friend Matt Bahn invited me to tag along to an event for a new presidential candidate, making his first stop in Minnesota since announcing he was running. I must confess, though I hid it at the time, I did not know anything about him; I’d never even heard his name before Matt told me I should tag along.
I was raised a Democrat. My introduction to politics as a child was the disappointment over the Florida recount in 2000. I got a roll of campaign stickers for John Kerry and used them to tape up pages from a tearaway calendar of stupid George W. Bush quotes in my Debate teacher’s room the day of the 2004 election (he made me take them all down as soon as he saw them). I wanted to be politically engaged, though I was, like most teenagers I knew, mostly getting my information second-hand and defending my opinions through obfuscation and evasion.
I turned 18 in 2007. This was the time, I decided. I was going to get in early, and get involved, and make my first vote count. So I went with Matt and our other friend Mike and got in line outside the International Market Square building in Minneapolis to hear Illinois Senator Barack Obama speak in Minnesota for the first time. The speech was rousing. The crowd was enthusiastic. We were right up against the stage, and when he worked the line, I got to shake his hand. Admittedly, I stroked his thumb with my thumb, which is probably a little weird, but I did it, and I haven’t washed my thumb since. [<-joke]
The tumult of the Democratic primary in 2008 cannot be overstated. The debates were bitter, the speeches increasingly intense. I saw Barack Obama twice more during that election, each time in a larger venue: From the IMS building, we moved months later to the Target Center, and finally, proudly, to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the night that Obama officially won enough delegates to secure the nomination.
This was my generation’s election. In many ways, the presidency of Barack Obama has defined the so-called “Millenial” generation: From an afterthought to a surprisingly potent force in society, to the dominant cultural brand, to the inevitable confrontations with reality and reassertion of the Boomers, whose needs and agendas have once again taken over our politics, our economy, and the prevailing discussions of race, class, and sex in America.
There’s a good reason why so many people from my generation supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries prior to our current election. He spoke to those values and ideas which sparked our political interests so strongly in 2008, but almost as importantly, we remembered 2008, the division, the tension, and Hillary Clinton’s role in that difficult campaign.
I understand this, because this was how I felt. This was my response. This was my vote.
Bernie Sanders was an extremely vital candidate for the liberal vote in this election. After eight years of struggle and compromise and gridlock, the Left needed to feel their needs were being addressed, and after so much screentime, we assumed we’d heard all we’d ever need to hear from Hillary Clinton.
We lost. Clinton won. It was a hard lesson for many liberal voters: Some forces are too powerful to overcome.
Now, I’m a lifelong Democrat, and proud to be so. But, beyond a (totally justified) fear of the Republican nominee, I found it hard to muster the energy to vote for Hillary Clinton. I figured I’d do it, but I would not be excited. Without a strong base of liberal support, it seemed like I’d be voting as much out of habit as anything else. I needed to care about something. I needed to support something.
So I started researching Hillary Clinton.
I dug and I dug, at first looking for the trap doors and poison issues I’d have to avoid in political conversations, for those rotten elements of her past that conservatives would try to shove in my face to make me shake my head in shame. But you know what? Pretty quickly, I realized I wasn’t finding any of those dead ends. In fact, pretty much everything I was finding was pretty…encouraging. I had the cliche liberal mindset about Hillary Clinton: She’s a Democrat but not a liberal, she’s a politician who only cares about winning, she’s too divisive and too dishonest.
But here’s the big twist that I discovered after all that digging: It was all a myth. All of it. I was doing what I’d done in high school: Getting my news and information second-hand, without taking the time to check the facts, hear the stories, or see the reality.
And ever since I figured this out, I’ve seen the misconceptions surrounding her everywhere. It’s like I was wearing those glasses from They Live, except instead of seeing aliens, I was seeing liberals and conservatives taking potshots at the same woman for decades.
You can see it from the start. Conservatives, attempting to hurt her husband, throw accusations of misdeeds at Hillary, an independent woman who comes across in the press as standoffish and calculating. The misdeeds are never proven, but the amount of coverage they’ve gotten makes her persona non grata to liberals, who don’t want to expend the energy or political capital to defend someone who’s not even in office. And because she was a politician’s wife, and not a politician, the press cared far more about the accusations of scandal than about the resolutions or evidence. Over time, this repeated pattern has left Hillary Clinton pre-disposed to distrust the press, something which only became magnified after the sensationalized and brutal coverage of her husband’s infidelities in the late ’90s.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: Scandal makes headlines, few will rise to her defense, the scandal is proven false but the press has already moved on, and she’s left frustrated and tagged permanently with an accusation which lingers in the memories of those who heard it. By the time she was a Senator and Secretary of State, even well-educated liberals saw Hillary Clinton as distrustful.
Whether it was Whitewater, the suicide of Vince Foster, her role in the attack in Benghazi, or the inflated ongoing saga of her private email server, the amount of misinformation grossly overwhelmed the truth in the press.
But those are all reasons not to vote AGAINST Hillary Clinton. What I found, which was far more surprising, were the many reasons to vote FOR Hillary Clinton.
Why You Should Vote for Hillary Clinton for President in 2016
It has been said time and time again, but it’s true: Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to ever run for President of the United States.
As a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, diplomat, and public defender, she’s held some of the most crucial jobs in American government. But take a second to consider this: We have a chance to elect someone who has already lived in the White House, who has already led presidential initiatives (such as the 1993 task force she chaired to introduce universal health care in the U.S.), and who has had direct experience with the sort of deal-making, policy crafting, and strategic planning that occur behind closed doors in the Oval Office. There has never been another presidential candidate with as much first-hand knowledge of what it takes to be the president, even more so than vice presidents and aides. Add to this the time spent as First Lady of Arkansas, and she is one of the only people in our government to have brokered deals and fought for policy at gubernatorial, senatorial, international, and presidential levels.
I like to study presidential history. There’s a reason that so many presidential historians have endorsed Hillary Clinton: She has a greater ability to manage the job on day one than any of her predecessors.
Beyond simply holding a variety and volume of roles throughout the hierarchy of American society, Hillary Clinton has tackled some vital issues and won some difficult battles.
Following the defeat of the health care initiative in 1993-94, Hillary Clinton took some of the most popular aspects of the bill and helped to craft the Children’s Health Insurance Program, extending health care to over 8 million low-income children through federal subsidies.
In 1995, she delivered a landmark speech on women’s rights in Beijing. In fact, her history on human rights is perhaps her greatest achievement: She used the State Department to lobby for the first-ever UN resolution on the rights of LGBT individuals, called for an end to internet censorship abroad, and was the lead sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, calling for equal pay for women.
Add to this the sanctions she helped levy against Iran which ultimately led them to the negotiating table, the U.S.’s evolving strategy in Asia (the U.S. saw a 50% rise in exports to China while she was Secretary of State), and her work on the DREAM Act (which she co-sponsored in 2003, 2004, and 2007), and it’s clear that, despite her opponents’ claims, she has achieved great things in her political career to date.
It’s important to note that when she’s not running for office, when she’s in a particular job, her approval ratings are exceptionally high. She was not a divisive senator, an unpopular First Lady, or a troubled Secretary of State. People decisively approved of her in all of these roles. That says something about how we view women at work vs. how we view women seeking work, but it also says that people view her as being competent and strong at her job.
Temperament and Leadership Style
For me, the greatest asset Hillary Clinton brings as a presidential candidate is her style of leadership. Ezra Klein wrote a terrific piece on Vox about her history of listening to voters and crafting policy based on the direct needs of her constituents (there’s also a video version of the same article, if you prefer). In summary, Clinton is unique among modern politicians in that she is not dogmatic, she does not act wholly of her own gut instincts, but rather she is shrewd, careful, and open to outside ideas and suggestions. This can come across as vagueness, or even a sense that she’s hiding things. But she’s not cagey. She’s wise.
Hillary Clinton is not a transformative public speaker. She has never brought a room to its feet through sheer energy and force of will. Her words are extremely thought-out and practiced, and it shows. This hurt her greatly in 2008, against the charismatic and exciting Barack Obama, and it may be hurting her amongst some voters again in 2016, when her opponent is all noise and bluster. But the words she chooses to use are telling, and regardless of her ability to deliver speeches, her ideas are no less than revolutionary in global politics.
It’s more than the fact that she’s a woman running for the highest office in the richest country on Earth. It’s the way that feminism defines her foreign and domestic policy which provides the potential for significant change. Feminism is more than a slogan, it’s a doctrine which weakens extremists and broadens ties internationally. Hillary Clinton has been one of the world’s leading advocates for women’s issues because she knows, and has said, that the better conditions are for women in any given country, the better off that country is by any metric.
More importantly, Hillary Clinton’s careful choice of words and willingness to listen to outsiders, though it has tagged her as a “flip-flopper” by some opportunists across the political spectrum, leads to a more honest and realistic view of the state of the world. Honest? Politifact has said that she is the second most honest politician they’ve fact-checked, and considering the volume of statements they’ve viewed, that’s astounding.
It’s astonishing when you see how many Republicans admit that Hillary Clinton was one of the most professional and generous people in Washington to work with. There are many reasons why she’s drawn endorsements from Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike, beyond fear of her opponent.
She’s also racked up more newspaper endorsements for any presidential nominee in American history, including an endorsement from The Atlantic, who have only endorsed three presidential candidates ever: Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, and Hillary Clinton.
Presidential politics are rarely simple. The people we elect are complex figures with many competing interests and unforeseen challenges to face. Often, the best available choice is not the most symbolically obvious, the most uplifting, the most pure. But the best leaders are the ones who are willing to do the work, to take the long view, and to remain open to the possibility that they don’t know everything. They put their heads down and get the job done, and when they make mistakes or face failures, they fix their problems or take the blame head-on.
Hillary Clinton is that sort of leader. She’s not flashy, but she’s brilliant. She doesn’t loom large, but her reach is wide. She tempers her dreams to improve her reality. We need a president who cares about the needs of the people ahead of her own. We need a president who will not wither under criticism, but also won’t lash out at her every opponent. We need a president who recognizes that the world isn’t perfect, but that progress does not have to be a pipe dream, and that every fight for the poorest among us is a fight for the betterment of all of us.
I am a liberal Democrat. Barack Obama was the first candidate to receive my vote for President of the United States. Hillary Clinton will be the second. And I’m proud of both.