Since I was 18 years old, Hillary Clinton has punctuated my life. As I grew up, she’s been a compass for me — a woman I looked to as a model of female leadership and strength. I often listen to my inner Hillary Clinton as she urges me, in a gracious but all-knowing tone, to be a strong woman who picks her fights wisely. That’s why I hope to vote for her for president — even though I’m a lifelong Republican. I started at Wellesley College in the fall of 1993 — the same year Clinton, our most famous graduate, became First Lady. My fellow first-years and I (at Wellesley, we do not call them "freshmen") watched her be vilified in the press — for working, for playing too large a role, just for being. Dozens of major magazine articles that first year compared her to Lady MacBeth (who, as you'll remember, nagged her husband until he killed himself).
But, in a way, that vilification was a great gift to us. Everyone goes off to college thinking they will change the world, but my classmates and I may have felt it more than most — a real sense we’d make a contribution on our own terms. If people criticized us in the process, like they did Hillary, that criticism became a badge of honor. Criticism, it seemed, was a sign of success, not its antithesis. Watching Hillary, I also learned how important it is to support your fellow women, even if you disagree with them. Too many men, then and now, would rather stick together than promote a woman. It was in college that I learned from my advisor (incidentally, he was also Hillary’s advisor) never to apologize for being “bossy.” I learned not to turn down more work or a new experience because, if I did, there would be a man who would take it for himself, even if he was less qualified than I. To be a woman growing into herself, in the time of Hillary, has been a powerful experience — one that probably would have been very different if Hillary had never existed. I was still an undergrad when Hillary gave her amazing speech at the U.N. Conference on Women, where she stated the (obvious, but until then unrecognized) aphorism that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. It was such a simple sentiment, it may have changed the world.
Now, 20 years later, I’ve graduated, set up a law practice, and settled into a more conservative set of political views. And yes, through that lens, the past decades of Hillary Clinton’s public life give me doubt. I questioned how, as Hillary's husband was leaving the Oval Office, she carefully selected a state in which to run for Senate. I felt like she was a reverse carpetbagger — a woman born in Illinois, first lady of Arkansas, then of Washington, cherry-picking New York simply because it was a northern state she had the best chance of winning. This reeked of the elitist privilege that I, as a feminist, seek to untangle. During the 2008 election primaries, I was irritated at some of Hillary’s backhanded insults against Obama, her sly allusions to racism and Islamophobia. And yes, more recently, I was shocked to learn that she had both maintained her own email server as Secretary of State and also deleted what are essentially government records. We’re both attorneys, and if there’s one thing a lawyer knows, it’s the importance of document retention. Why then, would she do something so bizarre if she didn’t have something to hide? It seems sloppy at best and incriminating at worst.
Are her foibles, gaffes, and perhaps illegalities enough for me to say I can’t vote for her? No.
While I try not to wonder why she stayed with Bill despite his obvious chicanery (since it’s impossible to know what goes on in someone else’s marriage), I do wish she’d address the issue in an honest way. If only to clearly establish there is a real love there that stretches beyond his misdeeds — not just the mere opportunism from being part of a political power couple. Are these foibles, gaffes, and, perhaps illegalities enough for me to say I can’t vote for her? While I would love to be an idealist, no, they’re not. It’s too important to have a woman president. Haven’t men done these sorts of things for centuries? Made decisions for women and the populace at large from smoky back rooms? Promoted their fellow undeserving men over hard-working women? Stolen or destroyed records? Fixed elections (all over the world)? How can I be a feminist who stands for the improvement and promotion of women and not support Hillary’s machinations? Isn’t this what it will take to accomplish some measure of female success in what is still a male-dominated society?
Strange as it may seem, I’m still a Republican.
I’d put my chips on Hillary as the woman who could shut down the roadblocks, whether via a more gracious approach or by simply dismissing them as she did in her GIF-worthy Benghazi testimony. Watching her sit in front of a panel of mostly men as they tried, time after time, to latch onto her, was inspiring. She was masterful in her bottled disdain, and many of us — Republican me included — could identify. Strange as it may seem, I’m still a Republican. The GOP is in accord with my feminist spirit — believing in individualism, judging one on one’s own merits, and not feeding my hard-won gains back into a system that benefits mainly men. I know this line of argument, culminating in a vote for HRC, won’t win me any arguments among Republicans, but I don’t need to. Other groups can speak up for themselves, and we can see where we all end up.