As this seemingly endless campaign season lurches toward its inevitable end, I am tired. My body feels exhausted, like every muscle has been tensed, ready to fight or brace itself for a hit, for the last 19 months. My nerves are frayed from the Twitter trolls I wake up to every morning and the ceaseless onslaught of “information” with which we are bombarded all day long.
In the days before the final ballots are cast, I find myself tapped out and weary of the circular arguments. So in an effort to provide some balm for myself, and hopefully for you, I want to unpack what gifts might be hiding beneath the rotten veneer of the 2016 presidential election.
Because one thing is certain: This will end. And regardless of who is announced as victor after the polls close today, this is one that will literally go down in the history books. I’m sure our children and our children’s children will study at least a brief paragraph about the first female presidential nominee of a major party, as well as the schisms and changes within the Republican party. But I want to excavate the subtler lessons my future daughter will hopefully learn from this chapter in the Great American Experiment. Ahead, what I want her (and you) to learn.
This is a woman who knew her calling from day one...she has never wavered in her desire to serve the public and her confidence in her own ability to do so, even when that flew in the face of social standards.
Viewed from a long-term perspective, this campaign represents just one in a long line of actions Hillary Clinton has taken in pursuit of her life’s purpose. She was a leader in student government all the way back in high school, and she never stopped directing herself toward leadership positions that would allow her to fight for social justice. As a teenager and college student she volunteered for presidential campaigns; after earning her law degree, she went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, where her contributions helped enact legislation that would guarantee public school education for children with disabilities. Before she ever became the first lady of Arkansas, Hillary participated in the Watergate inquiry into the possible impeachment of President Nixon. We all know how she championed healthcare reform during her time as FLOTUS and as a senator of New York, so I won’t wax poetic on that.
The point is, this is a woman who knew her calling from day one. Her ideas have evolved and her positions have changed with the times, but she has never wavered in her desire to serve the public and her confidence in her own ability to do so, even when that flew in the face of social standards.
Times change, and people change, if they’re lucky and if they have the humility to keep an open mind.
Hillary Clinton grew up in a family much like mine: in the suburbs of a major city, upper-middle class, religious, and Republican. So I understand how, as a teen, she supported and volunteered for the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. When I was 15, I believed pretty much what my parents believed, and if I could have voted, I would have voted for Bush.
But times change, and people change, if they’re lucky and if they have the humility to keep an open mind. Hillary has been criticized for many things in this election, but the one I find most confounding is the idea that she has “flip-flopped.” It’s a common insult thrown around in political rhetoric, and I find it terribly obtuse. It’s true: As a senator, Hillary voted in support of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq after 9/11, though she did so after he claimed that the resolution would be used as leverage to force Saddam Hussein into allowing the U.N. to complete its investigation of his weapons sites.
Hillary has not always been a vocal proponent of the platforms she takes today. She is also a 69-year-old public servant who has not only evolved as an individual, but has evolved the positions she takes in reflection of her changing constituency.
Hillary has not always been a vocal proponent of the platforms she takes today. She is also a 69-year-old public servant who has not only evolved as an individual, but has evolved the positions she takes in reflection of her changing constituency. And here’s where I have the trouble: While it’s nice to think that the candidate you support has always and forever believed fervently in the issues in which you believe fervently at this exact moment in time (because you’re allowed to change your mind, right?), I happen to think that it takes more courage to admit to your mistakes or problematic thinking when your entire life is public.
I’m also not looking for a Mascot in Chief. That’s not what we elect representatives to do. In our democracy, we elect representatives to vote in keeping with the views of their constituency, so if the majority of the American public shifts their perspectives on issues like gay marriage, it is only fitting that our elected officials should do so in kind. I see that as faithful representation, not pandering. So I find it admirable that Hillary has shared her personal and political evolution on the most public of stages and has acknowledged and examined her mistakes.
I find it admirable that Hillary has shared her personal and political evolution on the most public of stages and has acknowledged and examined her mistakes.
Hillary Clinton has been publicly rocking the pantsuit (have you ever noticed that it’s only a "pantsuit" when a woman wears it?) since her participation in the Watergate inquiry at the age of 26, and she’s been criticized for it just as long. Despite a staggering number of words published on the topic, and even our beloved Tim Gunn saying that the choice suggests that “she’s confused about her gender,” the notorious HRC has refused to relinquish her statement wardrobe.
She has been disparaged for every other element of her appearance over the years, of course, but that pantsuit seems to be the fixed mark of her public persona. In fact, she flaunts it, flagrantly, in azure blues, carnation pinks, and perhaps most meaningfully, in a stark white in her moving DNC speech, evoking images of the suffragettes marching through the streets in their white dresses. She seems to wear the pantsuit as a bold reminder that she is, and always has been, a woman moving through a historically male space, wearing the master’s outfit while she dismantles the master’s house.
(Did I mention that she’s the only FLOTUS ever to wear a pantsuit for her White House portrait, which still hangs there today?)
Deep breath, Nasty Women. This one's hard.
Throughout the campaign, but particularly in the last few months, Hillary has displayed a superhuman level of grace and patience in incomprehensible circumstances. I am thinking, of course, of the debates. I know I was not alone, watching those hours with a sick knot in my stomach, alternately screaming at the TV and remaining painfully silent.
But Hillary was not one of us. Hillary stood on that stage, each time, with her head held high, next to a man with no history of public service, evidently little understanding of public policy, clearly no respect for women, and zero regard for the rules of conduct on a debate stage. She was calm and prepared. She was Hermione Granger for President. And she maintained this grace despite knowing what would greet her when she went onstage, knowing that she would be interrupted; that her carefully thought out policies would be countered with logical fallacies; that regardless of the content of her responses, he who spoke loudest would be deemed the winner of the evening. She carried on, again and again, never losing her cool while he bullied and berated her with misinformation and personal attacks. Instead, she calmly laid traps into which he eagerly walked, hoping that the American public would watch the candidate reduce himself to a foul tempered child, and make their choices accordingly.
She carried on, again and again, never losing her cool while he bullied and berated her with misinformation and personal attacks.
Which brings us back to the beginning! This teenager who was a leader in student government, this twentysomething lawyer who helped bring down a criminal president, she’s not a one-hit wonder. She isn’t the candidate who ran and lost once, maybe twice, then was relegated to the backlogs of memory (remember that guy who tied his dog to the roof of his car?). Hillary comes back again and again, no matter what they throw at her; no matter how many investigations they launch to try to find a reason to get rid of her; no matter how many times she is cleared; no matter how they try to demean her and denigrate her, Hillary just keeps carrying on.
She keeps asking for our vote. She keeps asking us what we want in a leader. She keeps speaking up and refuses to be silenced. A lot of people I know have an idea that she is “conniving,” that she’s been plotting her way to the presidency all along, and I really have to ask what the hell is wrong with that? I want a president who has been working her entire life to get to this point, who has dedicated the last 30 years and more to getting here. I want someone who plays the long game, and frankly, I want my daughter to play the long game. Whatever it is she decides she wants to do, I would be beyond proud of her if she was willing to put 30 years of planning into it, 30 years of work and education and sacrifice. In boys, we call that ambition — and we call it a good thing.
I have to come clean about something. I think it’s pretty clear that this isn’t about my daughter. She doesn’t exist yet, but I am really, really hoping that she is born into a country with our first female president, where some of these lessons are on their way to becoming obsolete. I pray that by the time she’s 26, no one would dare comment on her clothing as it pertains to her abilities. But as a professional, unapologetically ambitious woman who is active politically and whose views have changed radically over the years, these are the lessons that I have learned from Hillary Rodham Clinton in this election. And if I had been looking, these are lessons she could have taught me before the Republican nominee ever showed up, before this election, or the last. These are lessons that she has been teaching all of us, all along, quietly and not so quietly, in her stunning pantsuits.
And these are the lessons that we will teach our daughters.