What is your reaction to those two words? Not in the middle of a headline, or during the fireworks at a debate. Just the name on a blank slate: Hillary Clinton. I am willing to bet your answer is found in a memo. You might have seen the memo, especially if it reflects your position. It says: I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou wrote it to offer wise words about human kindness, but it also captures the spirit of the times: the politics of movements in 2016. At this stage in the race, the U.S. presidential elections are much less about gun rights, abortion rights, tax plans and healthcare—compared to previous years. Hillary Clinton may have a solid position on all key policy issues, but that is not necessarily what will take her to the winning position.
It’s about feelings. Most voters know where they stand on the policy issues. They also know which candidate best reflects that position—to the extent discernible. When it comes to the candidates, Democrats, Republicans and independent voters have also largely formed their conclusions about everything Hillary has “said” and what Donald “did”. There have been more than enough court exhibits to help them do so since both campaigns began. Putting aside the October “surprise” video, which struck its own ungodly threshold, there is little that will make voters change camps at this stage. Allegiances have mostly been formed.
So the majority of this election is about two things: swing voters that will decide who wins, and secondly, how they feel. That’s the majority of the race ahead. The alchemy of those two combined elements has played out in debates most of us have had with someone. The topic was about our feelings (or theirs) toward one candidate—or against another. I recently had this very debate with an American friend of mine who went to Duke, then Oxford, works in Switzerland and admires Bernie Sanders. It was a debate about feelings.
In professional contexts, using feelings, emotions or instincts in decision-making is often questioned, and can even provide grounds to invalidate a decision. But it’s the reason many Republicans won’t vote for Trump, and some Bernie supporters won’t vote for Clinton. It’s a force that Hillary Clinton can no longer undermine. Her challenge in the days ahead is to address the feelings that came up—in the debate with my American friend—sincerely, without being defensive or forgetting to paint a vision that inspires votes. Hillary, please pay attention to the ways in which the f-word kept surfacing, in my debate, which went something like this…
She isn’t warm.
Her childhood friends strongly disagree. I hear you say, “But of course, they’re her friends!” So let us turn to you. If you had a choice between being defined by your closest friends, or by a scandal craving media: who would you choose? I also hear you say, “I’m not running for President”, but don’t you want the full truth about who is—before voting? If so, why don’t we pay equal attention to the media (which probably provides your current definition) as we do to the people who knew her before we were born, before her public persona was born, and before the enduring headlines? (By the way, mostly, about another Clinton!) How many of us care to actively find out about Hillary off-camera, as much as we cared to discover a young community organizer on the south side of Chicago.
She isn’t charming, like Bill. She is too scripted.
Charisma is just one element associated with being President. Being measured or scripted is another—equally valid—part of the job. When last did a U.S. President ad lib their way through a General Assembly speech? Or improvise their State of the Union address? Obama can be found in as many scripted contexts as Bill. Even Trump knows there is a time for teleprompters, so the reality television genre does not transfer well to every context we wish to be entertained in. Perhaps the issue is juxtaposition. Her unsteady experiences have produced an observable scar: steady communication. You “feel” differently with the words coming from the others, compared to her. Why?
Touches on the next point. A presidential candidate once said these words: “I turn to the American people to share my hopes and intentions, and why and where I wish to lead. And so tonight is for big things. I’ll try to hold my charisma in check and, uh, no, I reject the temptation to engage in personal reference.” George W. H. Bush acknowledged the elephant in the room at his Republican convention acceptance speech. He poked fun at the fact that he was given a pass for being short on charisma. So why do we hold her to the charisma standard of Obama and Bill, but not the one set for him? Times have changed?
Not exactly. In fact, the historical backdrop is the very issue here. Ezra Klein explains this best, speaking about the Bernie Sanders fallout: “Presidential campaigns are built to showcase the stereotypically male trait of standing in front of a room, speaking confidently. A campaign built on charismatic oration feels legitimate in a way that a campaign built on building deep relationships does not.” Is it time we begin to value the listener, and not only the articulate people we’ve been listening to?
This is all about her — literally — have you seen the slogan?
I’m with her because she spent 30 years working on children’s wellbeing, women’s rights, poverty and healthcare. If you are not convinced about that at this stage, it is unlikely you will ever be convinced. If you don’t believe it matters, then that’s just unfortunate. How many aspirants have done more for at least two generations, including ours? People often blur the lines between leaders, and the missions they serve. Whatever the motivation, the bottom line is: Would she work hard for America? Would she get things done when the show actually starts? Many will agree, she would. And even more would join them, if asked in private.
What about the emails?
There is a Trevor Noah skit about these emails. You should watch it. The point is: Are you willing to forgive whatever wrong may have been done to avoid a Trump presidency? (Assuming it does not that drive you toward him.) In some countries — if using a private email was among the worst wrongs of a politician, compared to say having about US$20billion allegedly just go missing from your organization’s treasury (that’s a real story) — they would be celebrated. From a global perspective, relativity forces perspective. From an American perspective, poor handling of intelligence can risk the lives of those serving a repeatedly targeted superpower. That’s fair. Will she do it again? If you think so, is your verdict (aka choice) going to make things better? Finally, if her predecessors did similar, and there is no proof her server was intercepted (even when Donald prompted for it), then who are you really punishing?
About punishment: Trump threatened to jail her in the theater of the second presidential debate, that historically rewards entertainment value, zingers and bravado in equal measure with intellectual honesty. What if she stood up and returned the (dictator-esque) threat, with a matching pledge to jail Trump for tax evasion or sexual assault if she wins? She often suffers an artificial loss—whatever she does.
Her record as Secretary of State? Benghazi?
That’s the issue. Mention her name and secretary of state in the same sentence and it conjures up Benghazi. My compatriot, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, warns us about the danger of a single story. You cannot hear that message too many times.
Staying fixated on the single story also ignores the fact that seven investigations into Benghazi, mostly by Republicans in Congress, have been unable to link her to any wrongdoing. With seven attempts, it’s not for a lack of trying. Why would we condemn her for a crime her witch-hunting rivals have cleared her on—seven times? By the way, why is all the investigation time and money not being spent to make U.S. diplomats safer? After all, that was the key recommendation from the investigations.
Isn’t there just so much lying—even about her health?
If we accept that Americans are “employing” their next president, let’s think about this in that context. Have you told your employer about every sickness you’ve ever had, and every concern till today? I doubt any affirmative answer. If you say no, why not? An undeniable disparity of expectations is found in reporting the health of U.S. Presidents. This is matched with an equal fascination for any story with a trace of the best-selling “Hillary cover-up” theme. Bill Maher, joking about people’s right to know, says he would still rather vote for a “dead Hillary.” The summary? I’m 29 and if I had her schedule or Trump’s—since April or June 2015—I’d have collapsed at least once. Wouldn’t you?
Hmmm. Ok, the Clinton Foundation. What about the pay-to-play talk?
The latest episode of this story comes from Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash. He admits to some extent that he has “no direct evidence”. I could stop there. He is the editor-at-large at Breitbar News. Some investigation shows that the Chairman at Breitbar news is Stephen Bannon, Campaign CEO for Trump 2016. I could stop there. One last thing, her Foundation may not be above reproach (just like Trump Organization) but they receive a better transparency rating than the Red Cross. The Clinton’s also released 30 years of tax returns showing income—mostly coming from speeches.
Ah, on that note, what about those speeches? And the WikiLeaks exposé?
Again, some international perspective forces a more relative view. Earning significant money after serving is more honourable than misappropriating public money while in office. That’s a false choice? Or a low bar? Here’s your challenge: take a look at what she is actually proposing for Wall Street reform, and hold her to that. Surely, it’s as believable a position as building a wall?
The WikiLeaks! Do you know anyone who confided something to you, which they wouldn’t say in public? Yes but, they’re not running for office. Flawed humans run for sacred offices, there are no sacred humans in the run for those offices. That’s the human reality of political choice. You pick an imperfect messenger of worthy causes—not the inverse. When she is frank, when she calls “half” of Trump supporters something we have all heard others characterize in much harsher terms, we condemn her for that too. By the way, can we see Julian Assange’s own private messages before making him our moral compass?
This one is personal: Why stay with Bill after Monica and others?
We all know someone who has chosen to stay in a relationship “perceived” to be bad. “Perceived” because we are not in the relationship and cannot fully appreciate what the parties deem to be good. We don’t all have the same forgiveness thresholds. We don’t all have the luxury of managing “till death do us part” the same way—she, somehow, remained. People feel comfortable reading into her character from that decision to find long-suffering ambition, calculation and even complicity, extrapolating more from it than her 30 years of service. Let’s remember John 8:7.
Well, she has been ambitious long before that…
Similar point, so I’ll say just one thing. I come from a country where a lack of (wholesome) ambition among political leaders is exactly the problem. What is wrong with preparing for leadership? Saying so? Why isn’t that conversation unpacked with more maturity? We need to take a second look at Princess Diana’s legendary words about the intentions of every strong woman in history (who seeks to do good) being questioned.
I can’t forgive the way she was nominated.
Democratic party set their rules. They use super delegates. They might have even looked on her favorably for bowing out in 2008. Yes, they may also need to reform to bring in more voters—in future. In the meantime, can we be brutally honest and accept that their rules (and any reform agenda) is their prerogative. As Obama said, which organization is immune from bias? Bernie has moved on from where you are still located, taking away your license to be a victim of feelings.
Well, Daniel, there is something I can’t put my finger on about her.
Do you know any prolific career politician who has spanned three decades without a taste of controversy? Or a gut “feeling” stemming from it? No, but she has to be held to a higher standard. Higher standard? Why? Haven’t some of us given her opponents a pass on matters we wouldn’t give her? For example, having a child out of wedlock before their current spouse (Bernie Sanders), or what if she had five children by three husbands (Donald Trump). Without judging those men, let’s put our finger on the fact that, sometimes, higher standards are the enemy of real equality.
Oprah Winfrey points out that you don’t have to like Hillary to vote for her. Think about that one. She is not coming to your house for a tea party. In many ways, we’ve become prisoners of our expectations, having been spoiled by all-in-one candidates like Obama. To Oprah’s point, Hillary might just be like medicine. Some may not like the idea of taking it in, but doing so will ultimately help and heal you.