In a time where we teach our kids that mistakes are learning opportunities, emotional vulnerability is courageous, and hypocrisy is a dangerous moral practice, it seems that we are conveniently willing to forgo all of this when it comes to the election of our country’s next leader.
This election season, I watched as Donald Trump openly vindicated his Vice Presidential Candidate Mike pence for his views on authorizing the Iraq. He argued, as Democrats had for years, that there was a lack of proper information out there and it was easy to be misled by the administration’s motives. Everyone is entitled to a mistake once in a while.
Yet, Hillary Clinton was attacked for this War on Iraq from the right and the left. Never mind that more Democrats in the Senate voted for than against the Iraq resolution. Even for a vote she has called a mistake in retrospect, which many others have, she is reviled for it.
This theme has been a strange and ongoing phenomenon throughout the election season. Bernie Sanders attacked Hillary Clinton for her husband’s crime bill, one that he had also signed. He attacked Clinton for her large campaign contributions, eventually revealing that his campaign has gotten five notices about over-the-limit contributions from the FEC. She has been consistently vilified for her positions on LGBT rights, ones which even Bernie Sanders was unclear about for decades.
On the other side of the aisle, we have a Presidential candidate whose temperament is well-known. He is focused on personal vindictiveness, bigotry, narcissism, and gullibility, and defensiveness. We have someone who refuses to acknowledge mistakes and is happy to even forgo decade-long international treaties to indulge the most far-reaching nationalists in his base. His twitter account reads like an insecure man’s Catcher In The Rye. In any other election, this would be a slam-dunk for the other candidate.
Yet, Hillary Clinton remains an enigma. She has been marred for likability issues, many posing the charisma of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as a foil to Hillary’s campaign style. When she listens instead of talks, she is criticized for not commanding the room. When she evolves on an issue or compromises to accept a new perspective, she is immediately knocked for “pandering” or “selling out”. When she snaps at unfair criticism, she is seen as rude and crass. Remember when Ronald Reagan yelled at the moderator in 1980 that he should be able to talk more because he was paying for this microphone? He was immediately applauded. Hillary Clinton would not stand a day with that same comment.
If you just learned about Hillary on the Internet, you would think she was the inspiration behind theThe Devil Wears Prada or House of Cards — someone icy, emotionless, and unable to empathize with simple requests. When she shows human emotion? Nope, she gets marked for that too. She isn’t allowed to be on SNL or do the Nae Nae on the Ellen Show, suggest her detractors. Such an obvious campaign ploy. In 2008, when Clinton was found in tears, one reporter even cringed: “We are at war. Is this how she’ll talk to Kim Jong-il?”
On top of that, she is marred for her “Wall Street Ties” and connection with corporate America. Being rich, connected, and well-networked suddenly suggests that Clinton is part of a larger scheme of cronyism where she’ll use manipulation to push policy and attract scandals like magnets.
In a Recent Vox article, Data Lind asked if there was anything Hillary Clinton to redeem herself to her detractors, suggesting that some simply cared less about the issues they were protesting and wanted to discredit Hillary herself. No amount of change could earn her 100% buy-in.
When we evaluate a candidate’s character, we tend to overuse binary thinking. If Hillary shows emotion, there is no way she can be serious. If Hillary doesn’t show emotion, there is no way she can be warm and empathetic. If Hillary is rich, connected and well-liked by those on Capitol Hill, she isn’t the people’s candidate. Simultaneously, if she pushes support for Medicaid, Food Stamps, Marriage Equality, Minimum Wage, and Voting Rights- she is suddenly just talking to get votes or pandering to the progressive left. This laziness and one-dimensional thinking often overlooks the essential conundrum of the Presidency: we want all these things. We want a President who covers multiple ends of the spectrum.
Remember the President who once praised Hitler to German-American audiences during his early campaigns, bragged to Italian-Americans that Mussolini had credited him for Fascism blueprints, and shamelessly used government agencies under his power to dole out money as a quid pro quo for votes? He was the ultimate definition of a unrestrained panderer. His name was Franklin Delando Roosevelt.
Remember the President whose ego and hubris led him to bomb Libya, help the Khmer Rouge terrorize Thailand, impose brutal trade sanctions on Nicaragua, fund the murderous brutal Contras, sell missiles to Iran, give assistance to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, and have 138 members of his administration indicted? His name was Ronald Reagan.
Remember the President who pushed policy through a style that was ruthless and favored his own political capitol over the perspectives of his Senators? A President who used badgering, cajolery, favors and threats to push through legislation that he wanted? A man who was not afraid to corner you if it meant that you were on his side? His name was Lyndon B. Johnson.
These are some of the most popular Presidents of the past decade. Put Hillary Clinton’s name after any of theirs and ask yourself if you would still support her. You likely wouldn’t. You would call her a corrupt self-serving politician, a master of manipulation, and a foreign policy imbecile. Heck, Ronald Reagan is revered by the very conservatives who are tearing Hillary Clinton apart over her foreign policy. Keep in mind that these Presidents were some of our success stories — this doesn’t even include the President who went through Watergate, or the President whose administration got us into the War in Iraq.
This isn’t to suggest that there is a perfect side of Hillary Clinton the media is missing out on. She’s had various policy blunders, white lies, and suggestive activities that have made some uncomfortable in their praise. There are even critiques I have of Barack Obama, a President whom I have largely liked.
But when PolitiFact has rated 24% of Hillary Clinton’s contentious claims as receiving a perfect “True” score and just 15% of Bernie Sanders’ contentious claims have rated out as “True”, is it outrageous that we paint one as a liar and the other as a mark of integrity?
While I will not litigate every single claim against Hillary as sexism (although it is true that powerful women are subject to some abject stereotypes), we need to measure the methods of madness for which we praise other politicians and affirm that they are not simultaneously used to denigrate Hillary Clinton. We need to study what made our most successful bipartisan Presidents triumphant and ask ourselves what strides we’ll allow Hillary Clinton to take to get what we want. Lyndon B. Johnson, known as one the century’s most powerful progressives, knew how to work the gridlocked (and ostensibly racist) congress to push Civil Rights legislation. Do yourself a little social experiment — watch “All The Way” with Bryan Cranston playing LBJ and put Clinton in that same role. Would you continue to praise her like we praised LBJ?
If we decide we want Hillary Clinton to be a villain, we need to make this decision for every President in our history who was able to get things done. If we can’t simply accept the fact that she is willing to embrace vulnerability and open to compromise, we need to accept the alternative.
The problem isn’t Hillary. The problem is that we want Presidents to evolve, to yell, to laugh, to cry, to be stern, to be warm, to be tough, to be emotional, and to be human. All at the same time. Hillary Clinton is no exception. The presidency doesn’t come with an instruction manual and we can’t keep expecting perfection from Hillary Clinton when there is no precedent for it. As long as we keep making special rules for her that are not afforded to any other Presidential candidates, we continue an uncomfortable relationship with double standards that extend from the higher office to our own lives.
I expect that Hillary Clinton, like all other Presidents, will have to make tough decisions. While I don’t see a world war on the horizon (although this is a strangely feasible outcome with Donald Trump’s mouth), I see a woman who has seen what many of her interventionist policies have done to the world and someone who is under an intense amount of scrutiny to improve. Donald Trump does not and cannot have this same chip — as long as we continue putting in the roadblocks that push Hillary Clinton to impossible standards, there may no winners.