YOU LOVED Bernie Sanders. You loved his policies. You loved his personality. You loved that in the backstabbing Hollywood-for-ugly-people that is politics, he seemed like a real human. You voted for him in the primary, and you wanted to vote for him in the general.
But you’re a goddamn adult, and you’re making peace with the fact that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was the one to accept the Democratic nomination at the Democratic National Convention last week. You know the alternative is Donald Trump, and you know how a two-party system works, and you’re going to vote for Clinton in November, but you’re not, like, excited about it.
Well cheer up, Gloomy Gus. I hear you. I’ve been you. And I’m here to help.
First: This is not going to be an in-the-weeds discussion of the DNC email leak, or a point-by-point rebuttal to the most common two-sentence HRC criticisms currently clogging up my social media feeds, which are not-infrequently regurgitated GOP talking points. Plenty of smart people have already addressed these things. I’m not going to. So if you’re truly #BernieOrBust (and given that a recent Pew Center survey found that 90 percent of consistent Sanders supporters plan to vote for Clinton in the general, there aren’t many of you), Google “Symone Sanders,” “Michael Arnovitz,” or “Sara Benincasa,” and go ahead and sit this one out.
But if you’re a disaffected registered voter who loved Bernie, and you’re Just Okay on Clinton, even though you’ll still vote for her, however lukewarmly—and you’re open to the possibility of feeling better about exercising your civic duty come November? Let’s do this.
Here are three ways to stop feeling so glum about Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Vote for Hillary Clinton
THOUGH SHE'S come the closest to the White House, Hillary Rodham Clinton was hardly the first woman to cast her ambitions toward the highest office in the land. That honor belongs to Victoria Woodhull, circa 1871. Others followed: Republican Margaret Chase Smith in 1964, and perhaps most notably, Shirley Chisholm made a pioneering run in 1972 as the first African American woman to throw her hat in the ring for the Democrats. All of these women were intelligent upstarts who weren’t dissuaded by impossible odds, or the fact that women had only won the right to vote in 1920. And they all failed.
All of them, that is, but Hillary Clinton, the woman who—now twice—has come the closest to the presidency. This hasn’t happened by accident, and some of the reasons you’re a little cold on HRC are the same things that have helped her make it this far in a decidedly uneven playing field. The disappointing fact is that many “first” candidates aren’t the most radical, something the historian Ellen Fitzpatrick explains with regard to both Clinton’s candidacy and President Obama’s in her book The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency. “Sweeping movements over many decades had made both Obama’s and Clinton’s candidacies possible,” writes Fitzpatrick. “Perhaps for that reason, neither standard-bearer would fully satisfy their varied constituencies.”
We don’t like Hillary because she isn’t progressive enough. Because she’s taken some objectively bad votes. She’s a politician with a past, which is normal, but she’s also a woman with a past, which is one of the trickiest things to be in public life. And yet she’s more than survived. Eighteen million people voted for her in the 2008 election (or as Clinton called it in her concession speech, they made “18 million cracks” in that “highest, hardest glass ceiling”) and so far 15 million have in 2016—251,739 of them in Oregon. And here’s the part you probably don’t like: Hillary Clinton has succeeded against some pretty shitty odds by learning to play the game, which is something all politicians do—it’s just that some are better than others at hiding the seams.
Hillary has never been particularly gifted at hiding the seams.
Perhaps because some of my favorite people are outspoken, complicated, smart women, I love that about her. But “Her pragmatism and toughness remind me of my working mom!” is not an argument that holds much sway with die-hard Sanders supporters. And Republicans straight-up hate it—and have since Clinton first entered the national scene during her husband’s campaign in 1992, when she had the audacity to say on the record that she didn’t think a First Lady’s role need be strictly ornamental (a pretty reasonable proposition given that our current FLOTUS is a goddamn ESQUIRE and a powerful orator whose DNC speech was an undisputed highlight of the convention).
A graduate of Yale Law who’d worked as an attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund in Cambridge, Massachusetts; served on the impeachment inquiry staff that advised the House Judiciary Committee on the Watergate scandal; and was one of only two female faculty members at the University of Arkansas’ School of Law, Clinton, like a lot of women, didn’t want her marriage, however high-profile it may have been, to blunt her own ambitions. She wanted to influence policy, and she had the chops to do it. “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” she once told the Boston Globe.
It was an offhand comment that became notorious. Even though this was true—or perhaps because it was true—Clinton almost instantly became a symbol for conservative fears of ambitious women, especially when her proposed health care reform plan failed spectacularly. Vitriol spewed in, from “hundreds of letters” and the GOP establishment alike. Clinton was called “an insult to American motherhood,” “grating, abrasive, and boastful,” and the Antichrist.
When Donald Trump calls Clinton “Crooked Hillary,” when Ben Carson invoked Lucifer while discussing her at the Republican National Convention, when Trump supporters put terrible “Trump That Bitch!” bumper stickers on their terrible cars, and, yes, when the Bernie or Bust crew uses disquietingly similar language, they’re feeding into a painful and longstanding history of anger at women who have ambitions beyond being a wife and mother. (Of course, Hillary Clinton is both—she’s even a grandmother now.)
Clinton was attacked in 1992 for saying something that today would probably be written up lovingly on Jezebel and turned into a viral feminist meme. But if she’d continued to behave that way, she wouldn’t have survived her husband’s administration, much less the Senate, where she was known for building alliances with her colleagues—even those she disagreed with—in order to get things done.
Clinton’s feminism is something that’s complicated her career from the beginning. At times, she’s been unapologetic about it (look up her “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” speech from Beijing in 1995 on YouTube if you haven’t seen it), at others, disappointingly cagey, as when, in 2008, she basically operated her campaign as if she were a man, to her own detriment.
I’m not interested in making the case that Hillary Clinton is perfect, or that we should forgive her missteps just because many of them seem motivated by self-preservation. But if we’re expecting perfection from any politician, we’ll be disappointed sooner or later. It seems especially unreasonable to expect perfection from a politician who’s been hated and feared by the GOP since she first came on the scene, and who started her career in damage-control mode.
And if we’re interested in Hillary Clinton’s mistakes, we should at least examine whether she’s able to correct course when she’s wrong.
I think she is.
Consider, for example, her view on marriage equality (which I suspect she personally supported long before she did so publicly); or her recent stance against the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding from covering abortion, and which impacts low-income women on Medicaid; or the fact that after deserved criticism of her husband’s role in the mass incarceration of black men in the 1990s, she’s made racial equity part of her campaign platform, including criminal justice and police reform. Her campaign has consistently reached out to activists from Black Lives Matter, including the mothers of Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin, all of whom spoke at the DNC.
This time around, Clinton’s also put her feminism front and center. She’s willing to acknowledge the historic precedent of her candidacy, a candidacy enabled by women like Shirley Chisholm and Victoria Woodhull. She used the word “abortion” 16 times in a speech advocating for women’s reproductive rights—a word even some nominally pro-choice Democrats avoid saying out loud—and she’s running a much more inclusive, well-organized campaign, on a much more progressive Democratic Party Platform, whose move leftward we owe in part to (who else?) Bernie Sanders. If you liked Bernie’s policies, you’ll probably find something to like here, too.
Hillary Clinton may be a flawed civil servant with a long and visible history that includes some major blind spots. But she isn’t so intractable in her stances that she can’t change them meaningfully. And whether that shift is genuine or motivated by political expedience doesn’t really matter to me, as long as we can count on it to happen. I think we can.
Vote Against Donald Trump
SOME PEOPLE will probably tell you it’s better to vote for one candidate than against another. This is a nice sentiment that ignores how most people actually think about elections, which frequently don’t seem like an affirming exercise in choice so much as a desperate attempt to stave off the worst possible outcome, even under the best circumstances.
Friends, these are not the best circumstances.
They weren’t ideal in 2008, either, when I filled out my absentee ballot for Barack Obama at my out-of-state college. I was thrilled to be voting in my first presidential election, and I was thrilled to be voting for a Democrat whose policies I mainly felt okay about, and I was thrilled to be voting for the first African American candidate to earn a major-party nomination for the American presidency. I’d supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, but it ultimately didn’t matter—as a young woman of reproductive age, I’d known all along I would vote for the Democrat, because my excitement about voting was matched equally by my terror of what the Supreme Court would look like if Obama didn’t win. My greatest fear was that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that barred restrictions on abortion, could be overturned, which didn’t seem outlandish given the GOP’s obsession with far-reaching anti-abortion legislation. So I voted for Obama, but I also voted the fuck against John McCain and Sarah Palin.
As I watched the returns come in for the junior senator from Illinois on the evening of November 4, in the joyful, coven-like atmosphere of my single-sex college’s campus center, I started to cry. I retreated to a hallway, where I bumped into a friend who’d been my canvassing partner for the Obama campaign a week before in Keene, New Hampshire. We could not contain our messy excitement. She couldn’t stop gushing about the now-very-real prospect of health care reform. “Roe v. Wade isn’t going to be overturned!” I croaked in reply.
When we stepped back into the room, the West Coast returns were in and the election had already been called for Obama. A sound not unlike a Xena: Warrior Princess ululation filled the room, and I promptly started crying again, and had to be physically propped up by one of my friends. I was crying with excitement, but also relief.
I know what it’s like to feel as though America’s Choice isn’t much of a choice at all. So if you’re not excited to vote for Hillary Clinton, go ahead and vote the fuck against Donald Trump. A Trump-Clinton contest presents two distinct results: If Hillary is elected, the next Supreme Court appointee isn’t likely to be a frothy-mouthed puritan who hopes to punish women, queer folk, and people of color for existing. A Clinton presidency also means that, at the very least, your nieces will grow up seeing someone who looks like them in the highest elected office in the land.
But if Hillary isn’t elected? We’re getting a burnt-orange case of textbook narcissism and hate speech masquerading as foreign policy, gently cradling Mike Pence, a man who does not believe in science. In November, two names will appear on the ballot, and let’s be real: One of them belongs to man who looks a lot like Mad Max: Fury Road’s Immortan Joe in all the ways that matter. Vote against him.
Fuck It. Vote With Your Vagina.
I’M PROBABLY going to get some fun threats on Twitter over this one, but I don’t care. Guess what? The idea that women—and people who have even a passing interest in gender equality—shouldn’t support Hillary Clinton “just” because she’s a woman is a straw man argument that willfully ignores the complexity of representation. There’s a reason the mere prospect of a Ghostbusters with an all-female cast deeply upset a bunch of indignant egg icons on Twitter: Representation matters, and it has ramifications.
I grew up in a family of policy wonks. My parents were labor organizers in their youth, my dad worked on political campaigns, and my mom once appeared in the pages of Rolling Stone in a photograph of pro-choice activists at the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, holding a sign that read, “IF MEN COULD GET PREGNANT, ABORTION WOULD BE A SACRAMENT.” (This probably explains a lot). From the time I was a toddler, my dad took me to political rallies, including one for US Senator Patty Murray when Murray ran for national office in 1992.
There is no un-cheesy way to say this, but it means something for a girl, from a very young age, to see women in politics. And it means something to be represented by elected officials who understand the day-to-day realities of being a woman in a world that hates us, the better to combat misogyny through common-sense policies like equal pay, raising the minimum wage (the majority of minimum wage workers are women), paid parental leave, and expanded access to reproductive health care, including abortion. And those are just the essentials. If you hope to move beyond these fundamental rights, you need to be aware of the subtler ways women encounter misogyny. For example, the Oregon state legislature only relatively recently passed legislation allowing women to receive up to a year’s supply of birth control without a prescription. (I could also get into the injustice of luxury taxes on tampons, a blight found in almost every state but our own—but we don’t have all day.)
If these issues are important to you (and if you’re not a monster, they should be), you’ll be glad to know many of them are written into Clinton’s campaign platform. (Although not the tampon tax thing, so who knows, maybe she’s in the pocket of Big Tampax, in which case disregard this whole article?)
The day I heard the news Clinton had clinched the nomination was a weird one: The Associated Press called it the day before Clinton’s camp had been expected to. It was premature and mildly shocking good news. My primary leanings hadn’t been a secret, but I knew few people in my immediate orbit that shared them. When I talked to people about the election on a daily basis, I frequently downplayed my support for Clinton, because a condescending “Case Against Hillary” speech is not my idea of healthy discourse. But in the weeks that followed the announcement, I would find out that I knew many HRC fans who’d been hiding in plain sight, for similar reasons.
One of them was a friend I’d met up with for a drink the night the nomination news hit. I was the first to tell her.
“I have chills right now,” she said.
I did too. Everything else was the same, but the presumptive Democratic nominee for president was a woman, and not just any woman, but one whose policy positions we (mostly) agreed with. Our excitement was surprising and personal. That night, I watched on Twitter as women writers and journalists I know, some of whom had voted for Bernie in the primary, expressed something similar: We didn’t know how much this would mean to us until it happened, even if we thought we did—even if we’d been waiting for it our whole lives.
The exact same thing happened last week, when Hillary Clinton was officially named the Democrats’ nominee for president, after Senator Sanders interrupted the convention’s Tuesday roll call to move that Clinton receive the nomination by a vote of acclamation—a maneuver no less gracious for its also being choreographed and politically canny, and nearly identical to the one Clinton herself made at the 2008 convention after she’d lost the primary to Barack Obama.
This time, Hillary Clinton didn’t lose. Instead, she made history. I can only imagine what it will feel like when she does it again in November.
But we’ll only find out as long as Donald Trump doesn’t win.
AS YOU READ THIS, the major party conventions are over. The DNC in Philadelphia is all wrapped up, from its earnest liberals swaying to Paul Simon, to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s invocation of Maya Angelou, to that unforgettable speech from Michelle Obama (accept no substitutes). And the RNC in Cleveland is a done deal—with its influx of ostensibly porn-shaming GOPers into that city’s strip clubs, Melania Trump’s bizarre plagiarism, a speech from Donald that should have had “Springtime for Hitler” as a backing track, no shortage of hate speech and pandering to white supremacists, and the strange, sorry fact that the most respectable figure to emerge from those four days of hate was Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz, a man whose best feature is a creepy grin, and who once tried to filibuster the Senate by reading Dr. Seuss but who at least had the gumption to stand before a room of Republicans and acknowledge that perhaps American Boris Johnson is not the nominee they’re looking for.
However conflicted you feel about Hillary Clinton, this is not an election to sit out. We know what happens when people don’t vote—or when they vote symbolically, as if their civic duty has no real-world ramifications. Don’t be like those people in England who voted for Brexit, only to regret it later when what they thought was a “message” turned out to be a nation-churning reality.
When Hillary Clinton didn’t get the nomination in 2008, I was disappointed. I knew I’d vote for Obama, but I wasn’t excited about it. Politics can become extremely personal at times, and it can be heartbreaking not to get what you want, and it can feel forced and weird to have to get excited about a candidate you were just fighting about with your cousin. But now that the end of Obama’s final term in office is upon us, I feel silly and honestly pretty embarrassed that I was ever so grumpy about his nomination. As in 2008, the 2016 primary season brought us two perfectly good candidates for the Democratic nomination.
But only one will be president. As far as problems go, this beats the specter of fascism by a lot.
So cheer up. And vote for Hillary.