Why I’m Sad to See Hillary Go

First off, let it be known that I absolutely hate politics. I find it almost stupefyingly boring — do politicians ever say anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? How do people swallow all that b.s. without yelling at their TV screens?

But it isn’t just that: I also find the whole damn system offensive. It’s my completely jaded belief that politicians everywhere are corrupt liars, that even the fresh, young faces (read: Obama) either have skeletons in their closets or will stock up on nice, fresh new ones once elected. I guess I’m a firm believer in the old chestnut that power corrupts.

I’m also not a big fan of democracy itself. I know it’s a controversial thing to admit to in our “land of the free,” and it’s true that I can’t think of a better way to do things. But leaving the fate of the world in the hands of people of dubious intelligence — we might not have elected W. the first time around, but what happened in ’04? — just makes me nervous, to say the least. We live in a country that chose a liar of questionable abilities (to put it nicely) to lead the free world into the drastically changing landscape of a new century, and I’m embarrassed and terrified by that fact. How exactly are we qualified to make a decision like that again?

Primaries tend to bother me even more than general elections. First off, the hypocrisy reaches disgusting heights. Candidates who will surely be endorsing each other in glowing language a few months down the road (read: Hillary Clinton) feel no shame about going for the throat until the candidate is decided. Besides, living in Illinois, in the past my primary vote has almost always been meaningless. The whole situation basically makes me want to tune out until it’s time to see what’s going on with the general election.

Feeling as I do, when an election season rolls around I spend a lot of time roaming the radio and television dials trying to find a station that is irresponsibly ignoring the latest news from the campaign trail. Don’t get me wrong: I vote. Always have, always will. But when an election’s all anyone can talk about, I just tend to tune it out. It’s not that I don’t care (well, okay, sometimes I don’t). But more importantly, I don’t really believe my caring makes any difference, so I’d just as soon watch a Simpsons rerun or listen to some tunes. People whom I don’t like repeating things that have all been said before just doesn’t seem to rivet my attention the way it does so many other people’s.

In the beginning the recently completed Democratic primaries did nothing to change my usual feelings about politics. All the “Obama love” gets on my nerves, to be honest: people seem to think he’s uncorruptably squeaky clean and honest. Don’t they know that sooner or later he’ll turn, that he’ll do shady deals and shake unclean hands to get things done once he’s in office? No one — no one — is immune to the corrupting power of power. For some of you this opinion defines me as a crackpot not worth listening to, but to me it’s just a plain fact: a clean politician is an oxymoron.

At the same time, with some shame I must admit to being one of those folks who never really liked Clinton, and for purely irrational reasons. She seemed vaguely bitchy and bossy — just plain unlikable and unattractive. I wasn’t proud of it, but it was the gut reaction I’d always had to her, starting way back when she was just Bill’s wife.

And then something happened that changed all that. At a café table in little Portsmouth, New Hampshire, big bad bitchy Hillary Clinton almost cried. And for the first time in ages, I found myself caring about politics.

Did she win me over with her (almost) tears? Absolutely not. I’m not that easy. But the news coverage of the event started me actually caring about politics for the first time in a long time. Suddenly I started thinking about what a fine line Hillary had to walk in her political life; how, in so many ways, she was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t; and how the entire way her campaign was covered was just different — and, to me, ridiculous — because she is a woman.

Clinton had to seem “strong” and almost masculine in her actions and appearance in order to be considered “presidential,” but that strength was often held against her by voters, deemed masculine, inappropriate, and a turn-off. Meanwhile, did reporters ask Obama how he managed to keep his hair looking so perfect, or how he chose his outfits for big events? Of course not. But it was a question exactly like that that set Hillary off that day — that somehow in her mind gave her permission to stop being a candidate, to stop walking that tightrope, and, for only a moment, be just a woman again.

And the media took that moment and dissected it to a degree far beyond what it merited. I listened to the debate about how the lapse had been a “good move,” for Hillary, that it “softened her” in the eyes of voters, made her seem more feminine and therefore more attractive. If she had really broken down and let the tears flow, they opined, it would have been scary, not presidential. But a little show of weakness, a little bit of emotion, was apparently just what Clinton needed to show the world that maybe she wasn’t such a bitch at heart. She did, after all, wind up taking New Hampshire.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with the realization of what a load of crap this woman had to put up with to try to run for office. And beyond that, that if Hillary — clearly one of the most politically viable women ever to enter the American public arena — couldn’t take what they were dishing out without breaking down once in a while, what chance did anyone else have?

What if, in 30 or 40 years, my own daughters decide to run for office — will they have to walk this tightrope too? Will they have to find some way to show the world that they’re tough enough to do the job but still a woman on the inside? Why is that even a factor? Apparently it’s not enough that Hillary is intelligent and qualified, determined and experienced; it’s not enough that she’s been demonstrably devoted to public service throughout her entire adult life. She also had to have just the right amount of sugar and spice to reassure us that that’s what little girls are made of, even when they’re trying to earn the right to become the next leader of the free world.

When I brought these thoughts up with my friends (who tend to be way more fascinated by politics than I am), they posited that Hillary was faking those almost tears. I thought about that possibility, and while I don’t think it’s true, I came to the conclusion that in the end, I just don’t really care. All that says to me is that Hillary is playing the game the same way the boys play it (that is, sneakily), and what choice does she have? This brings me to my response to those who favor Obama because they’re so turned off by Hillary’s past — those who say she’s a corrupt liar who will sling whatever mud she has to sling in order to get where she needs to be. Is it true? I think probably it is, and in a way that just makes me like her more. Don’t we need a president who isn’t afraid to play rough? If you’re so naïve as to think that Obama won’t give in to the way the game is played after a few months in office, you deserve whatever leader you get. (Just like last time around.)

And what kind of leader would you be getting with Obama? Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it: no one really knows. He’s a promising rookie, an up-and-comer. Does he have talent, promise? Sure. But in my view, you don’t put an untested rookie in charge of the team with the whole damn world on the line.

As a midlevel manager in a small business, I’ve done a lot of interviewing for new hires. There’s always that one person who comes in and really wows you despite a lack of relevant experience. They might be charming, fun to talk to, somebody you just think would be cool to have around, and for a minute you think to yourself, “Maybe I’ll give him a shot. He seems like a fast learner.” But then someone comes in a few days later and, while maybe he or she doesn’t make the personal impression of the first candidate, you know that this other person already knows how to do everything you need to be done on day one. To my mind, that’s Clinton and Obama in a nutshell, and my choice would have been to go with the one who’s already been there and done that. As one friend and fellow Hillary supporter put it: “She already knows where everything is.” Beyond that, she has one of the best political advisors in the world across from her at the dinner table at night.

Hillary had the whole package: she’s smart, she’s tough, she’s tenacious, she has the experience, and she’s electable in the swing states. The only thing she didn’t have was Obama’s squeaky clean reputation. And for me — a person who believes he just won’t be that squeaky before long — that just wasn’t much motivation to give him my vote.

There was one other factor that made me like Clinton. As I thought about everything she was putting up with in this election, I wondered why she bothered with the whole thing. Why would she put up with the b.s. when she could obviously find more lucrative positions in the corporate world, or feed her ego in any number of easier ways? She’s already rich and powerful beyond what most of us could ever hope to achieve. To my mind, there’s no way to explain why she would run for president except for the fact that she really, honestly does want to help people, and believes she can do it. (Okay, I guess I do have some small shreds of naiveté and idealism still lurking in my psyche. Sue me.)

In any case, as everyone knows, all of these arguments are moot now. Obama has won, and we need to turn our attention to the primary election campaign that’s finally under way. I may sound a little bitter about Hillary’s unsuccessful campaign, but I’m not one of those who will vote for McCain out of spite. Obama will have my vote come November. But I still think it would have been nice to get Hillary into office so that the next time a serious, qualified female political candidate came along, it just wouldn’t be that much of a novelty anymore. Maybe after four (or eight) years of Hillary, we would have been able to look at a female politician without really seeing the “female” there at all.

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