FINALLY. A politician who’s not pretending to be perfect.
The first time I read about Hillary Clinton in the news, she was wearing a headband. In fact, the headband was the story.
It was 1992 and I was 16 years old. Hillary was playing the part of loyal spouse on the campaign trail with her saxophone-playing, fast-food-eating presidential candidate husband, and all the media could talk about was Hillary’s hairstyle, skirt length, and smile. Back then, it didn’t even occur to me to be angry about it. It seemed normal. Women were fair game where their appearance was concerned. After all, being pretty is the most important thing for a woman, right? At least, that’s the message I got growing up.
Soon enough, Gennifer Flowers came forward claiming that she and Bill had carried on a longstanding affair, and stories about Hillary’s hair and fashion choices were supplanted by stories about whether or not her husband had cheated on her. Later there was Paula Jones, then Monica Lewinsky and her blue dress. Through it all, Hillary stood by her man — and I hated her for it.
When I watched her walking across the White House lawn with Bill and Chelsea, the three of them holding hands for the camera, making a show of their strength and solidarity, I thought of my own family — the way we swept terrible secrets under the rug and put on a happy mask for the world. It made me sick to my stomach. I wanted Hillary to stand up for herself, to say it wasn’t okay and she wouldn’t stand for it. I wanted her to shake things up and walk away.
As Hillary went on to become a United States Senator, then Secretary of State, my lingering resentment toward her faded, but never entirely went away. When she ran for the Democratic nomination against Barack Obama, I voted for Obama without really examining Hillary’s stance on the issues — or my feelings about her. It wasn’t until this latest presidential campaign that I began to see Hillary in a new light.
When I listened to Hillary being interviewed by Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton on the Another Round podcast, I found myself actually crying. They asked her about a moment during her 2008 campaign, when she lost her composure and teared up after someone asked her how she managed to get out the door every day.
Back then, she joked about having help getting ready in the morning, before explaining that the thing that kept her going was her belief in our country. “Some people think elections are a game: who’s up or who’s down. It’s about our kids’ future. It’s about all of us together. Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some difficult odds.” Her voice broke and her eyes got red, and the press jumped all over it, eagerly reporting on her “emotional moment.”
Looking back on that moment, she told Heben and Tracy, “As a woman, you’re really held to a totally different standard. And you’re expected to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. That’s not easy to do. And so you just have to be who you are to the best of your ability.”
I’m not a presidential candidate, obviously. I’m not even that savvy about politics. When Heben and Tracy asked Hillary whether she resents the fact that when choosing a candidate, people seem to prize relatability over decades of public service and real ability, they had me pegged. And yet, I do relate to Hillary Clinton — and that’s a big part of why I support her.
While I was once critical of Hillary for not walking out on her philandering husband, I no longer hold people to the impossibly idealistic standard I did back then. (That goes for Bill and Hillary both.) I understand now that relationships are complicated, and that compromise isn’t always a dirty word. I’ve made enough mistakes and had to ask for forgiveness enough times to drive that lesson home.
And while writing about my personal life online isn’t in the same league as running for office, it still opens me up to a fair amount of scrutiny and criticism. Sometimes it’s hard for me to open up my laptop in the morning. Sometimes I make myself sick with anxiety over a piece I’ve pitched. But now I have Hillary’s words to live by:
“If you do it, you’re criticized. If you don’t do it, you’re criticized. We’re all different. We may all be women, but we all have our strengths, we have our weaknesses, and we get up every morning and do the best we can. Eventually people either get you, or they don’t.”
Comment: What are your thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s election campaign?