This isn’t going to be a full-throated piece about how one politician will be the solution to all of America’s problems. It won’t convince you that any candidate is best on the issues, and it certainly won’t get you excited about another election year. But I’m to the point where I’ve weighed my thoughts on this and want to share them, because it’s a little different from the perspectives I’ve been hearing.
Here’s the short version: I really want Hillary Clinton to be the next President. Not because of her stances on the issues. Not because of how her campaign is going. It’s because Hillary Clinton is fucking presidential. I think she will be the best president in decades in terms of accomplishments that move the country forward.
“Hold up, Zeke. Didn’t you vocally oppose Hillary Clinton in 2008?”
Yep, and this was part of my path towards wanting her to win in 2016. I got excited about Barack Obama in 2006, before he formed the exploratory committee for his campaign. In short, he seemed like the most promising candidate for the presidency since John F. Kennedy. His campaign centered around a politics of common ground and bringing a fresh start to Washington. You don’t need to look farther than this blog to find plenty of fierce criticism of then-Senator Clinton’s campaign. I felt like Senator Clinton represented the status quo, and that she ran a campaign with all the usual ugly tactics while Senator Obama offered an inspiring campaign and a preferable platform.
“So what happened?”
Barack Obama won. The Republican party started its mission to obstruct President Obama above all else. But along with the presidency, Democrats held both houses of Congress for Obama’s first term. They made some major achievements they campaigned on; most significantly, the biggest improvement to healthcare in 50 years (albeit on the model that Hillary Clinton advocated in the 2008 primary – Obama originally preferred single-payer healthcare). But ultimately, Barack Obama’s campaign for hope fell far short of what many hoped for. I could write a whole piece about this, but for now I’ll just link to PolitiFact’s “Obameter” which tracks his campaign promises.
Throughout his presidency, I’ve had mixed feelings about Barack Obama’s legacy. In the last seven-plus years, America has in some ways become a better example of the ideals it strives to stand for, and in others, we’ve gotten worse. President Obama’s administration owns partial credit or blame for this, as does an obstructionist Republican Congress built on overtly racist gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics.
Since 2008, I’ve thought a lot about what makes an effective president. Only the hardest problems make it all the way to the president’s desk, and usually none of the options will match perfectly with the president’s ideals. I’ve studied each president since the Johnson administration with an eye for both their expressed ideals and their actual effectiveness during the presidency. We’ve had strong idealists from both parties, as well as plenty of pragmatic administrators. Ultimately I don’t think idealism or pragmatism determines a president’s effectiveness, but it has led me to believe that what’s said during a presidential campaign is an utterly poor predictor of how good a president will be. In shorter terms: I loved Barack Obama the campaigner, but it wasn’t enough to deliver on much of his vision.
“Enough about President Obama. Why Hillary Clinton?”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned me around. My bitterness about her primary rivalry with my preferred candidate was turned into a high opinion of how she represented the United States and addressed complex policy issues during a time of significant international upheaval.
As I studied other aspects of American history, especially Bill Clinton’s political history (which I did from a fairly neutral academic perspective), I learned more about Hillary Rodham, and her long history of work to improve conditions for all kinds of American families. She has always been a policy wonk and has a keen interest in finding a path to progress, especially through political obstacles. And since 1991, she’s been doing this on the national stage. In terms of knowing how to get things done in Washington, I can’t think of any person better than Hillary Clinton.
“Laaaaame, don’t you #FeelTheBern?”
I’m so glad Bernie Sanders is in this campaign. And he’s got a great platform. I just think Hillary Clinton will accomplish more for his cause than Bernie Sanders could if he won the presidency. I will vote for Sanders if he wins the nomination, and would love to look back at this post in eight years in embarrassment if it means his platform became reality. I just am more fired up about what Hillary Clinton has been accomplishing in positions of leadership for her whole life.
“You’ve got to be kidding. What about Clinton’s record on ______?”
I’ve disagreed with Hillary Clinton about plenty of things, big and small. But I agreed with campaign-Obama on almost everything, and now I find myself looking for qualities beyond just politicians’ positions on the issues or how well they’ve avoided controversy in the past. If Clinton wins, I’ll continue to participate in activism that challenges her on many fronts. Ultimately, I am more interested in effective governance than I am in politicians who I like most on paper.
This has been a frustrating election so far. I find myself disillusioned with the disconnect between what seems to matter in a campaign, and what actually brings progress in Washington. It means that I’ve been trying to tune most campaign coverage out. But since I started watching Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, and learning more about her history, I’ve been silently wondering just how much she could get done from the Oval Office. I’m excited by the prospect and really would love to see her there in 2017.
(Photo via US Embassy in New Zealand – cc-by-nd)