Hillary was too perfect in an imperfect race

I cast my vote on Tuesday, November 8, with tears in my eyes, a bounce in my step and a broad smile cracking my aging face.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, for me, was no compromise candidate. She was “amply qualified” to be president, as the Washington Post and many other old-media outlets declared. I supported her over Barack Obama in 2008. I supported her over Bernie Sanders in 2016. Turns out, she was the right woman at the wrong time.hillary_mic

Weeks later, her stunning loss is doubly difficult. Our country fell back into the dark reaches of protectionism and fear with the ascension of “the Donald” as our president. But I also can’t shake the reality, the awakening, that Hillary brought this loss upon herself.

Consider this less a political analysis than a primer for women well into middle age who need to step up, speak up and shake up a system that continues to marginalize and overlook us, both in politics and at work.

Lesson 1: Be real.

Bernie Sanders was wrong when he told Clinton, in October 2015, that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” Instead of smiling and nodding and declaring, “Me, too,” Hillary needed to explain.

Why did she set up a private email server as secretary of state? Why did she delete 30,000 messages that she deemed to be private? Nothing is private in the digital hemisphere, and this bright woman is smart enough to know that.

Why did she not explain the logic behind the “zone of privacy” that she first made public back in 1994? The suspicions about her then never entirely were erased and may have obliterated her once-promising campaign.

A communications professional and the daughter of a onetime politician, I badly wanted to get inside the Clinton war room and advise her to drop the façade. To be real! (It’s advice that a female vice president once gave me, in commenting about my outsize work ethic: “You need to let your direct reports see that you are human, Amy.”)

“I made a mistake” with the emails wasn’t good enough, not even (or especially) for this diehard supporter. I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand her better. “That would require Hillary to look inside herself,” a friend and Clinton supporter told me days before the election.

Lesson 2: Be bold.

Perfectionism is the self-defeating disease of too many girls and women — evidenced by our obsession with looks and weight, our cautious tendency to play by the rules, our earnest efforts to be the hardest working participants in any venue, from the classroom to the boardroom.

Damned if the astonishingly accomplished Hillary Rodham Clinton — the woman who came closest to breaking the nation’s highest, hardest glass ceiling — isn’t hobbled by perfectionism, too. It may have cost the race for this candidate who can’t seem to be herself in public.

Straight talk, plainly and imperfectly delivered, played well in this election cycle. Hillary — ever the student — instead favored nuance and the latest talking points from her data-driven campaign. “She’s a policy wonk, and I like that because I’m a scientist,” a neighbor said the day after the election. “But she isn’t a politician.” She didn’t have to be.

  • When Trump paraded Bill’s former female conquests before a national audience at the second debate (two days after his own lewd behavior was revealed), Hillary could have squared her shoulders and declared that she was no more responsible for Bill’s behavior than Melania was for Donald’s.
  • When Sanders hammered on the Goldman Sachs speeches, which later revealed her reasoned preference for free trade, she could have explained global markets in terms that the average worker would understand.
  • If coal jobs and auto manufacturing are never coming back, she could have won over millennial voters (and scientists, like my neighbor) by talking about the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy, solar power and mass transit.

She could have helped us as Americans see beyond ourselves and come together as a nation for our common good.

Lesson 3: Be yourself.

Reportedly a charming and plain-spoken woman in private, Hillary could have risked speaking the bold, brazen truth in this “wild west” race. If it cost her the election, at least her supporters would have felt more pride in her defeat. At least then, I could have squared my own shoulders and declared: She lost, but she did not fail.

Too often, I felt Clinton was running for president rather than telling me how she would serve. “Make America Great Again” proved to be an irresistible tagline, and she didn’t articulate what she stood for in the face of it.

I supported Hillary, who is 10 years older than I am, for her lifetime of consistent service to women’s rights. I wanted her to play the woman card in 2008 — when instead she got caught explaining her 2002 Senate vote to approve the Iraq war.

Then and now, I wanted her to run as who and what she was: a path-breaking woman who naturally has been a target since her days at Wellesley College. I wanted her to talk about her evolution in the 1960s from a so-called Goldwater girl to a liberal activist. I wanted her, as an attorney, to talk about this president’s potential to appoint two to three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and about the reality of what life will become — for poor women, for rural women — if women’s reproductive rights get reversed.

Instead, in long discussions with my Bernie Sanders–supporting sons, I came to wonder if Hillary would say anything to get elected.

And so, the final lesson: Be of service. Action and involvement are the only options left for those of us who believed in a future that did not come to pass. Hillary will go down in history as a courageous woman whose caution overrode her conviction, who — in the face of bigotry and misogyny — consulted her poll numbers and played it way too safe.

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7 thoughts on “Hillary was too perfect in an imperfect race

  1. Carol Pine

    Thank you Amy. I continue to recoil when I hear “president-elect trump” and I will for some time. This is a very accurate analysis. Sending you love from Tybee Island. Carol

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. TheTruth

    Yeah, if you mean too perfect as in a candidate that mishandled classified government documents and is married to a rapist for a Husband then yeah she was the perfect candidate. LOL, Liberals live in their own fantasy world. Hillary was the worst candidate to ever run for public office and it had nothing to do with her having a vagina. Hell, in 2020 or 2024 will probably have our first Female President but it won’t be some crazy Liberal that’s for sure. Too bad Liberals only support people based on their race and gender not who’s more qualified to run a Country. The good thing is that there’s many Conservative Women qualified to run this Country without promoting Abortion as if it’s a great thing to take Human Life.

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  3. Dodie Thomas

    Thanks for this article, Amy. I couldn’t agree with you more. Any suggestions on How to address all of the inaccuracies (lies) of Trump and others within minutes of rolling off their lips? The whole idea of him having a legal basis for prosecuting her for the emails is ridiculous!

    I haven’t spoken with my brothers since November 8th and didn’t go home for thanksgiving because of their “outstate, lack the of real news, white male opinions.

    Let’s get together after the holidays. I should be civil by then.

    Hope you had a terrific thanksgiving!

    Sent from my iPhone Dodie Thomas

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  4. Jane Beauchamp

    Thank you Amy for again articulating what was niggling me in the back of my mind about Hillary. I am still devasted and so sad that her critics could not see beyond her very human imperfections to the sincere desire to serve this country for the good of all.

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  5. Karen

    I agree with everything you have said and still find the shock has not worn off. Several days after the election, people were posting candid photos of them with Hilary- hiking with her dogs, browsing in a bookstore, purchasing produce in a grocery store. When I saw these photos, it became so clear to me that this is the Hilary we needed to see, little to no make up, hair not perfectly coiffed, dressed in the kind of clothes I would wear to these places. Why did she hid herself from us – we will never know.

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  6. Helene Haapala

    thanks for posting this Amy. i’ve been feeling the shock of the election aftermath reading daily about the rise of hate crimes in every section of the U.S. HRC wasn’t perfect, but certainly was way way more qualified for the job than her narcissistic blowhard opposition. the election once again seemed to prove that it’s not expertise and qualifications that count but who had get the most airtime. i fear for this country and all of us in it since it seems we are truly living in something akin to 1930’s Germany.

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