Hillary Could Win With Humility and Empathy

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, Jan
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

No one really disputes that Hillary Clinton is the most experienced candidate in the presidential field of either party. She also represents an historic opportunity to demonstrate gender equality. So why then isn't she the walkaway winner?

My "ready for Hillary" bumper sticker has decorated my car for several years. Readily understood by my neighbors as an endorsement of the former Secretary of State, for whom I worked as a U.S. Ambassador, others less known to me apparently understood the sticker as advocating being "ready" for Hillary in the same way that wild-eyed, far-right militia groups are ready (as in lying in wait) for federal agents. Never the master of subtlety, Donald Trump is leaving nothing to chance interpretation selling instead "Hillary for Prison" bumper stickers.

With the primary season upon us, it is no secret that Hillary's campaign has failed to generate the public support, her resume and her policies favoring greater economic fairness for the middle-class and inclusion of women and minorities should arguably warrant.

What's happening?

Part of the Hillary malaise reflects how the American voter resents being told by pundits and the cognoscenti that they "cannot" vote for the far left or far right -- Bernie is not electable, goes the narrative, and Trump simply cannot be taken seriously.

With apologies to Clint Eastwood for borrowing an old movie title, but dismissing the good (Sanders) and the bad (Trump) in favor of the default choice (Hillary Clinton) is still seeming too electorally ugly.

Can Mrs. Clinton do anything to inspire her campaign? Yes -- but it requires a deeper, more genuine level of empathy and humility than the campaign has thus displayed. Indeed, in terms of empathy, it was not a campaign event, but the Benghazi hearings that House Republicans planned to be her undoing where Secretary Clinton admirably demonstrated immense presidential-level patience, but even more importantly, how heavily the loss of my friend and ambassadorial colleague Chris Stevens still weighs upon her.

In recalling the horrific attack that took Ambassador Stevens' life and that of four other civilian and military members of the diplomatic mission in Libya, Mrs. Clinton revealed her human side. She did not deny that the attack took place on her watch. To the contrary she took ownership of the problem giving the backside of a tough to change Foggy Bottom bureaucracy that too often disregards field advice a good swift kick. She also schooled Congress on its own neglect of the so-called AFRICOM region which left our interests and personnel far too vulnerable. Her retelling of how Chris likely perished in a safe room because of lack of ventilation and her recounting of how she called the crew of my own rescue operation out of Libya in the midst of gunfire and a horrific winter storm at sea were powerful and poignant.

Hillary demonstrated on the job as it were tremendous knowledge, strength of character and genuine concern for the sacrifice of the Stevens family and diplomats generally. Yet, in the campaign, she is seen as humorless, short-tempered and willing to do anything to be president of the United States.

The last proposition is simply false; and yet, I am betting you have heard more than one version of this personal attack. Without humor? No, but her humor is often subtle. Mrs. Clinton likes a good joke as much as the next person. Asked if her opponents are suffering from some form of political insanity, she is likely to quip: "suffering, no, they seem to be enjoying it." As for being impatient, she knows this to be true, but like Lincoln; she will turn the criticism around asking pardon for the failing since there's no time to waste.

More of that witty, self-deprecating Clinton, together with her own misty-eyed recollection of the Simon & Garfunkel America into which Bernie has wrapped his progressive, but sometimes otherworldly, impracticality, and soon any email blunders will be seen for what they are -- trivial.

Perhaps, however, Mrs. Clinton might try to do what no other candidate in modern time has done, and that is don't pretend to be without flaw. How and why would confession of error help? First, it would illustrate how her positions and ideas have changed over time. A mind not open to change or the ideas of others is not well disposed to govern wisely.

Second, it is reasonable for the people of America to yearn for a presidential candidate who is: believably and actually trustworthy to the core, as selfless as human nature allows, and as experienced and capable as one's life preparation permits. These are qualities much in need at any time, but because right this moment we desperately need to stand up to manifold threats to our economic and national security, they are today indispensable. These threats are real, and as much as many of Mrs. Clinton's natural supporters remain enamored with President Obama and his various achievements, it is a mistake not to see the long road of especially economic fairness that still must be traveled.

Not every action in our immediate national past has lived up to our ideals. Mention of persistent under-employment, stagnant and declining middle income wages, questionable drone usage, and untold administrative difficulty yet to be addressed in the well-intended, but stumbling health care reform should not be blinkered. And as much as Mr. Obama talked common ground, it is hard to say he found much. How will Hillary differ?

It takes enormous humility to even ask the question, and to see the need for better answer. The same is true of Mrs. Clinton's acceptance after leaving office of substantial speaking fees from high-roller financial entities. Mrs. Clinton needs to square this with her opposition to the unlimited corporate funding of campaigns unleashed by problematic Supreme Court rulings that confuse the protection of free speech with the preservation of wealthy prerogative.

For me, Mrs. Clinton's most egregious failing was initially approving the Iraqi occupation undertaken by George W. Bush. Embarrassingly, I share in that error. Yet, as history has proven, our deployment into Iraq was a deeply mistaken misadventure costing far too much in human life -- both American and Iraqi. In recent years, American presidents have pursued actions that have introduced our sons and daughters in the military into conflicts supporting dictators unworthy of our assistance and reformers unprepared to govern. Soldiers, we are told, are not to reason why. That being the case, presidents must insist on the on-going review of military and nonmilitary options.

Unfortunately, the premature declarations of "mission accomplished" have obscured the need to constantly re-evaluate the purpose of our presence in volatile regions, and thus, destabilized those areas even more.

President Obama has correctly lowered our profile but we remain mired in the near inscrutable, often mindless, bickering among radical fundamentalists whose so-called "religious" instruction doesn't even honor the sacredness of their own lives, let alone those of others. Here a careful line between diplomatic initiative and cowering appeasement must be drawn. In Libya and Egypt, it is far from clear that either Mr. Obama or Secretary Clinton got it right, but as Hillary seeks our continued confidence, it is in her recognition of that shortcoming that is necessary. The pledge to never betray or surrender our lives, liberties and the pursuit of happiness to radical groups that seek by barbaric and indiscriminate violence to impose upon us, and all other free peoples, one, narrow-minded, way of life is essential, but it must be a believable pledge.

Humility might also assist Mrs. Clinton in answering questions from some feminist leaders. This is an area of personal hurt and tragic choice where Mrs. Clinton, in my judgment, should be respectfully given a wide berth to answer or not. As a friend, I would counsel not hiding either the great sadness that attends such unfaithfulness or the justifiable anger at the rightward partisans who saw the entire matter as an opportunity for political advantage. After all, the misguided nature of the independent counsel abetted impeachment effort became belatedly self-evident to all, even the Congress that allowed the very statute to elapse altogether.

If Mrs. Clinton wanted to respond to the very recent complaint that she did not react properly to her husband's bad behavior prior to their arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania, and it is not clear that this complaint deserves a response, honestly explaining how she survived in those dark moments would be a powerful corrective of the specious claims of aloofness or arrogance weighing down her campaign. More than that, it would make Hillary into a teacher to a culture that is too slow to marry and took quick to divorce. Speculating more from intuition than personal knowledge, but I would bet that Mrs. Clinton might say something along the following lines: "first, I made my own promise to love Bill in good times and in bad and in sickness and in health. And while I know even the Bible gives entitlement to a spouse wronged by infidelity, the Bible also tells us of the son who has done unforgivable things, and yet, he is forgiven. I chose this path of mercy and forgiveness. Second, and quite simply, I love Bill. I also know many people in the United States have come to love him as well and for very good reason -- despite his flaws, his public service, including his presidency was working for, and succeeding for, the average American."

With these humanizing answers, there would remain only one final, overarching question: why does she want to be president of the United States?

The answer to this question is easy compared to the personal matters, giving answer is simply this: "despite any rough edges, I have been privileged with a set of experiences that for whatever reason most women of my generation have been denied? In God's providence, however, I was given those experiences in abundance. I believe these experiences -- in the White House as first lady, in the United States Senate, and most recently, as Secretary of State -- were given to me for a purpose larger than myself, and that is to reaffirm the equality of all."

Here Mrs. Clinton could untie what sometimes gets confused -- and that is how voting for a woman to prove the irrelevance of gender isn't a contradiction. The seeming tangle disappears when it is realized that while it is generally foolish to cast one's vote on the basis of gender or race or sexual orientation, the reason why this is foolhardy is that these things tell us little about the qualities of the human person. In a world observant of the civil rights of all, allowing our vote to be influenced by gender or other criteria would be unnecessary.

Yet, the day of gender equality is still aspiration like Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of having his children judged not by "the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Neither race nor gender should matter, but since inequality persists, a vote for Hillary Clinton whose lifetime of labor in opposition to discrimination is the important - and potentially historic -- vote against wrongfully continuing to employ gender to exclude half of the population from boardroom and oval office.

In short, the one final basis for allowing humility and empathy to reshape the Clinton campaign is that it will preclude her opponents, who have not exhibited the strength of personal character to enlighten us of their own failings, to not let Mrs. Clinton's miscues be just another excuse to hold women back.