Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

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.

Mary, C.J., Alicia: Here’s to strong TV women

Surely it’s a sign of middle age that the youthful Saturday nights I recall fondly aren’t about dancing at Rupert’s Nightclub in Golden Valley or downing tequila sunrises to the bluesy sounds of Lamont Cranston at the Cabooze.MTM_hat

My memories go further back, to the early 1970s, when CBS had the best comedy lineup on TV. All in the Family at 7 p.m., followed an hour later by The Mary Tyler Moore Show — essential viewing for a shy but ambitious teenage girl — followed by Bob Newhart as a delightfully droll therapist and capped off by an hour with Carol Burnett.

I’ve been thinking of CBS Saturdays during this cold, icy Minnesota winter when finances, the frigid weather and the press of graduate school have conspired to keep me home most weekend nights. I find myself knitting again and curling up with my dogs to watch Downton Abbey, Madam Secretary, The Good Wife and, more recently, Mercy Street — a sometimes shockingly accurate Civil War–era drama set in a makeshift hospital on the border of North and South.

What these shows all have in common is what too many Hollywood films still lack: strong, vulnerable, believable female characters whose stories help me write and weave my own.

Long live C.J. Cregg

The best gift my older son, Sam, ever gave me was a boxed set of all seven seasons of The West Wing, the most inspiring drama ever made for television.

I loved the portrayal of Chief of Staff Leo McGarry as a recovering alcoholic, the poetic idealism of speechwriter Sam Seaborn, the soaring speeches of President Josiah Bartlet (a Notre Dame graduate and Nobel Prize–winning economist) and the identity struggles of his accomplished physician wife.

But I watched The West Wing for C.J. Cregg, the tall, sharply dressed, fast-talking press secretary who — like most women — found her voice and professional confidence as she grew older, more experienced, less naïve.C.J. Cregg

C.J. made me wish I’d majored in political science instead of English in college. She helped me see the value and trust inherent in office friendships. Lacking any life outside of work, she helped me appreciate the hard-won balance I sustained during my years of commuting and raising children.

A natural evolution of Mary Richards’ TV producer some 25 years on, C.J. showed viewers that women can be smart and soft, tough and tender, feminist and feminine. Name one mainstream American film besides the obvious — Thelma and Louise, Norma Rae, The Kids Are Alright — that dares to show the lined faces and toned bodies of middle-aged women in all their hope and heartbreak, their character and complexity.

Today’s television heroines

Premium cable channels and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have created opportunities for women on surprisingly sophisticated shows. (House of Cards and The Newsroom, from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, are among my favorites.)

TV series about “women of a certain age” catch my attention, because I seldom see those stories in Hollywood films.

  • The Servants of Downton: From Daisy, the cook’s assistant who is getting an education to get out of a life of service, to Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper and head of the maids, the women downstairs in Downton Abbey resonant more with my paycheck-to-paycheck existence than the fancy clothes and silly romantic troubles of the Crawley sisters upstairs. Anna’s rape at the hands of a visiting valet in season 4 — her shame and her fear of telling her husband — was harrowing, realistic, must-see TV.
  • Mercy Street: Women had no property rights and couldn’t vote during the time of the Civil War. The first women’s rights convention was held in 1848, and out of that social movement and the reality of men being away at war came women’s emergence into relief work and nursing. Reformer Dorothea Dix was an advocate of female nurses. Her courage is channeled on the new PBS series Mercy Street by Mary Phinney, a widow and woman of privilege who seeks a new purpose in life.
  • The Good Wife: Google “Alicia Florrick,” and it’s no wonder you’ll find stories about her hair, her clothes. The character is too perfectly put together for my taste, and the series never achieved the promise of its premise. (Why not explore what Alicia gets out of staying married to her philandering husband?) But I still watch, occasionally, for The Good Wife’s focus on the compelling female friend — for five seasons the sassy, savvy Kalinda and, this season, Lucca Quinn.
  • Madam Secretary: It’s no West Wing, and conservative commentators say the series’ purpose is to get Hillary Clinton elected. That’s one reason I like it. More important, though, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord shows the real-world struggles of maintaining a family and an always-on career. If husband Henry McCord is too much of a women’s wet dream (an academic, a dad who cooks, a sexy guy who insists that he and his wife talk), that’s OK. I tell my husband that Henry is a role model he can aspire to.

We’ll be reminded this Sunday night about the #OscarsSoWhite movement. Check out the Best Director category; women are underrepresented, too.

So even though TV remains, for me, an “only if I have time” pastime, I am watching television more often than I am going to the movies. Enough of the action flicks, the December-May romances. For my own sense of self, especially as I age, I want to see women whose lives feel real.

We liberal women owe Hillary our support

Five days before the all-important Iowa caucus, CNN ran a story about why “women” are wary of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The reporter based this generalized conclusion on one visit with a group of middle-aged women gathered for conversation and Chardonnay.

Their reservations were not the understandable concerns of conservative voters who differ with Clinton on issues from abortion rights to amnesty for immigrants.

These were liberal women — educated, middle-class, Midwestern voters like me who came of age at a time of unprecedented gains in women’s rights.Hillary magnet

Unlike me, these Iowa voters were women whose fear or reluctance to proclaim themselves feminists could tilt the race against a woman whom the New York Times is calling “one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.”

Let’s examine these women’s concerns point by point:

  • Point 1: Hillary is less “authentic” than Bernie Sanders, they said. She displays what one columnist calls a “plasticity” that leads some to conclude she is merely ambitious. She wants to be president and has cast herself accordingly — especially in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State.

Think again: Where some see plasticity, I see professionalism and poise. What some denigrate as ambition, I call a singular focus.

Unlike so many women her age — who have moved in and out of the work force, setting aside their careers for families and channeling their talents into unpaid labor — Hillary Clinton has built a career as a consistent champion of women, children and society’s marginalized. Her post–First Lady life has given her a global perspective that Bernie Sanders lacks. And one that none of the Republican candidates seems to value.

  • Point 2: Hillary stayed with Bill Clinton for political reasons, the Iowa women said. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, whom Mrs. Clinton admires, Hillary took a shrewd look at her marriage and concluded that the partners could do more good together than alone.

Consider: The Clinton Foundation has raised $2 billion, with more than 88 percent of those funds going directly to programs. The foundation’s five interest areas include climate change and global health, and its Clinton Global Initiative focuses on education for girls and reducing gender-based violence. Surely the wine-drinking women from Iowa aren’t opposed to that.

I find the criticism of Bill and Hillary’s marriage particularly odd — and disingenuous— when it is leveled by women, historically the keepers of family ties. What Hillary has chosen to live with in private is not the public’s business, but it is a matter of our concern. No divorced woman would be elected president. Hillary knew that. And whatever sacrifice she made on behalf of her ambition (a word considered pejorative only when applied to a woman) is not merely self-serving.

It’s time for feminist women to recognize the literal and symbolic importance of electing a liberal female president — just as African Americans saw the meaning in electing a first-term U.S. senator to the highest position in the land.

  • Point 3: Hillary and Bill represent the past. The Iowa women noted a malaise that they called “Clinton fatigue” and seemed to lean toward Sanders for the same reason that young people do — his impassioned if impractical call to throw out the old political system in favor of a “Democratic socialism” that no contemporary U.S. Congress would abide.

Let’s get real: Sanders is 74 years old. He officially became a Democrat only after launching his presidential bid. His celebrated “America” ad — an emotional, narration-free pitch — is set to a 48-year-old Simon and Garfunkel song.

But no one declares him “dated” or “inauthentic.” None of the Iowa women claimed that his quarter century in Congress makes him a candidate of the past. Failing, perhaps, to remember that Ronald Reagan took office a month shy of 70 and began his battle with Alzheimer’s disease barely into his second term, supporters don’t see Sanders’ age as a potential handicap.

I respect Sanders’ doggedness and his focus on income inequality. His presence in the race has drawn Hillary to the left and rightfully earns him a spot in her cabinet. But I also believe he is getting a pass — on age, authenticity, ambition and temperament — that is not being granted to his more able and experienced challenger.

The women of Iowa better wake up, and quickly. I’m a fan of Paul Simon’s songs, too, but unless more women of all ages who benefit from feminism are willing to stand up and support one of the movement’s true champions, then come November, I fear, we’ll be humming not “America” but “Slip Slidin’ Away.”