Under Fire, Clinton Again Shows The Stature Of A President

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage at a campaign rally in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. Nov
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage at a campaign rally in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A lesser candidate than Hillary Clinton might well have wilted in the face of FBI Director James Comey's vague but seemingly damning letter to Congress about yet more emails just 11 days before the 2016 election.

Donald Trump, of course, grabbed Comey's innuendo as if it were a magic wand, waving it wildly an effort to restore his staggered campaign.

Clinton, however, as is her style, reacted in a steady, deliberate way. She neither ignored Comey's half-cocked announcement (he hadn't even reviewed the emails) nor went full-Trumpian by charging that somehow it was proof all is "rigged."

Instead, she said, "The American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately." By the next day, her words were a bit stronger -- she called the FBI's actions "deeply troubling." But she still stopped far short of the hyperbole commonplace in Trump's off-the-rails campaign. And through it all she promised to forge ahead in her quest to serve the American public.

Hillary Clinton may not be this country's most exciting candidate. She makes mistakes and isn't terribly forthright in acknowledging them (witness this whole email fiasco). But she's smart, disciplined, deliberate, experienced and ultimately committed to governance. That's why I believe she'll surprise her detractors and be an excellent president.

That's also why I'm tired of this campaign's overriding press narrative: That this is an election offering Americans their worst choice in modern memory.

Yes, Donald Trump is a nightmare of a candidate. And yes, Clinton has her flaws. She's spent decades being dissected, so she does not cozy up to reporters. She stood by her charming, brilliant but oversexed husband through all his shenanigans and in the end seems to have gotten blamed for his actions more than he did. She is not a natural on the campaign trail. And worst of all to some, she did what I know I've done and I'll bet you have, too - she didn't pay enough attention to the whereabouts of hundreds if not thousands of emails pouring onto her computer every day. The FBI investigated her for many months and then, in July, Director Comey said that despite Clinton's significant carelessness he had no case against her (do you know how many gazillion things the federal government considers "classified?")

But there's another side to Hillary Clinton: her guts, her toughness, her calm in the face of fire, and her keen mind. Did you happen to watch the three debates? Enough said. Case closed -- at least until 11 days before the election.

Now, the actions of James Comey have roiled this campaign, have seared Clinton and could yet put a know-nothing narcissist in the White House. The media immediately salivated ("The FBI story ... broke at the exact time when the media was eager for a dramatic twist/complication in the 'Clinton coasts' narrative," tweeted big data guru Nate Silver.)

Tracking polls have shown Trump drawing even after being left for dead a few weeks ago. Clinton suddenly found herself viewed even more unfavorably than Trump, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. And as I write Tuesday night, the Washington Post web page has a headline that reads, "Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are some of the most unlikable candidates in political history."

Oh please. Wasn't it candidate Barack Obama who in 2008 said, "You're likable enough, Hillary," and got in trouble for it? Hillary Clinton, unlike Donald Trump, is most certainly likable enough. She doesn't grab strange men by the crotch, pick fights with the fathers of dead American heroes or smear entire religions or nationalities. But more importantly for a would-be president of the United States, she is as steady as steel, calm and focused when she most needs to be.

She continued her campaign as the three former attorneys general, two of them Republicans, criticized Comey for his actions. Her campaign found the little girl who appeared in the famous Daisy commercial during the 1964 presidential campaign to refocus concern on the dangers of The Donald with his finger on the nuclear trigger.

She kept campaigning as the media turned up yet more stories on Trump's possible Russia connections, the way he dodged taxes, his decision to stiff his own pollster by refusing to pay a $700,000-plus bill.

What we don't know is whether, come election day, her iron resolve will be enough. If not, the news media surely will share the blame for insisting on leveling the playing field between a man whose hateful, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric has roiled this country and a woman who, though too slick and too close to the vest, would bring this country under the leadership of someone who bridged partisan divides after 9/11 to aid New York's first responders.

Get real reporters: There simply is no "equivalency" here.

Back in 2008, I got one close-up look at Hillary Clinton that set the stage for my perception of her today. I'd taken a group of political reporting students to one of the primary's New Hampshire events, a town hall she'd organized. With me was a colleague recently retired from a prominent position in television.

My colleague had arranged for a photo of Clinton with our students after the event. But in a moment of exuberance that colleague surprised me by announcing to all present: "Hillary. I'd like to endorse you for president of the United States."

I could understand my colleague's enthusiasm (though I was a much quieter Obama supporter). But I was concerned, as a journalism professor leading a new generation of would-be reporters, that her remark had the potential of undercutting the reputations of our students, particularly if they were recorded posing with the candidate she had just endorsed. So as our students pressed toward the stage after the event for a picture with the candidate, I told my colleague within earshot of Clinton that we should not pose for the picture.

It was an awkward moment. Clinton stood patiently waiting, and then, without pique, turned toward us and said something like, "I guess we aren't doing a photo then?" That was it.

That moment to me still reflects Hillary Clinton. She may not be the flashiest candidate or the fanciest speaker. But she's a level-headed, smart and reasonable individual. And in this dizzyingly partisan and conspiracy-driven political universe that, to me, is far better and far more than we deserve.