Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reflections on Democratic Candidates: Hillary Clinton

Continuing my series on politics, it's time to talk about the Democratic front-runner: Hillary Clinton. Again, since I largely agree with liberals, I think it will be more interesting to discuss my concerns about the Democratic candidates rather than the things I agree about, so this will likely take a critical direction.


The first thing I need to address is that, while there are many things I think Hillary can be criticized for, it's easy to accidentally slip into criticisms that are rooted in sexism. As a society, we've been passively injected from an early age with a long list of expectations for what we should consider a proper lady. Man or woman, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, these expectations color our perception of the women around us, subtly impeding the advancement of women into positions of power. It's better now than it used to be, but it's been a fight all along the way.

As such, I want to make sure that my criticisms are things I'd be critical about even if Hillary were a man. A "William" Clinton, perhaps. Maybe even a "Bill," to sound more familiar. Yeah, "Bill Clinton" has a nice ring to it.

Anyway, Hillary has a pretty good resume going into this. She's been an ambitious woman since long before her husband became President or even the Governor of Arkansas. She was a law student at Yale, doing post-graduate work on medicine the rights of children. For years Hillary was more successful than her husband, right up until he became President. And even then, Hillary was a core member of the White House, perhaps moreso than any other First Lady before her. If anyone has a right to feel comfortable going into the White House, it's Hillary Rodham Clinton. So, when I hear people say "I'm all for a woman president, just not Hillary Clinton," I don't know what they're talking about.

That said, I've come out in favor of Bernie Sanders so far. So, what's the issue?

Well, first, as I've said before, I consider myself an Independent. I'm not a big fan of the two-party system, and I think it contributes to some pretty weird labels and politics. The Democrats and the Republicans are a couple of clubs that together somehow run the country, and while each club only gives you a chance to political success, if you're in neither club your chances of success are practically zero. As someone who has spent my life questioning every label that's ever been hurled at me, I find the very idea that I can't get elected without pledging loyalty to a club insulting. And if you are part of that club and you decide that you can't, on principle, support certain key party stances (even if you stand with them on most everything else), you'll likely soon find your support taken away.

Suffice to say, establishment politics bug me, and Bernie represents a change I'd like to see more often: something to shake up that establishment and make them realize that there's a world of ideologies outside of their club, and that party support sometimes isn't as important as the support of the people. If Bernie loses, the establishment may simply view his success up to this point as an anomaly and move on. But if he wins, though, Bernie would be setting an interesting precedent that may shake establishment politics to its core.

Is that a more important precedent than having the first woman President? Hard to say. I think a woman President is more inevitable than an Independent President, but since neither has really happened yet it's kind of moot. Either would be monumental. I think "first woman president" is a slightly more superficial victory, but only just; I'd love, say, for my niece to have concrete proof that, yes, she can in fact become President some day.

Anyway, how about a criticism that goes beyond my general frustration with the Democrats?

I'm concerned that Hillary has been too long separated from civilian life. I don't doubt that she has great compassion for the poor, but even before she became First Lady she was on the board of directors for major companies, including Wal-Mart, making more money per year than most people can actually imagine themselves making. She came from an upper-middle-class family, but for over three decades now she's been a part of another world, and I can't help but wonder how much she really understands about what it means to be poor.

That criticism could be hurled at most politicians, of course, but for the past 22 years Hillary has had yet another bubble around her: the secret service. It's a great irony that becoming president now effectively insulates you from the people you've sworn to serve, and Hillary has been insulated in that way since 1992 thanks to her husband. How likely is it, do you think, that she knows the price of a gallon of milk?

Does that make her unfit to lead? No, I don't think so. But it is a valid concern. I can't help but wonder how much of what she understand about the country and the people who live in it now comes from what basically amounts to market research rather than actual experience.

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