Part of me wants to be happy for her. She appears at a Broadway showing of Hamilton, they give her a standing ovation. Her husband introduces her as a Grammy Winner at a Fleetwood Mac event, the crowd goes nuts. She shows up at the actual Grammys, reading “Fire and Fury,” and she steals the show. In some ways, it’s poetic- the woman who took 25 years of public ridiculing and shaming, on everything from her husband’s policies to her being “over prepared,” is finally being applauded and cheered. She’s finally the former First Lady, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and first ever woman nominated for President by either party, the woman who won the popular vote with an inspiring 65 million votes. The feminist movement we all hoped would push her to the White House, finally broke out in her political memory. Hillary’s finally the patron saint of a big chunk of American liberals, and that’s both cool and well deserved. We may even find out she was robbed of the Presidency by Russians, voter suppression, James Comey, and severely biased news coverage (oh, wait…).
There is something absolutely maddening though about the cult of Hillary that still exists, especially for someone who was on the campaign. She was the best candidate running. In fact, I think she would have been the best President of my generation, even with my undying love for Bill and Barack. But she’s not the President, and that’s because she lost the election. Did the stuff I mentioned above perhaps tip the election against her- I obviously believe so. Did her campaign let it get so close? Yes. I keep going back through and asking myself the why’s. Why did she get that private server? Why didn’t she go to Wisconsin? Why did she think the only places that existed in Pennsylvania were Philadelphia and Pittsburgh? Why did Bill Clinton think it was a good idea to have a meeting with Attorney General Lynch on a plane tarmac? Why didn’t she hit Bernie earlier and try to knock him out before he could damage her? Why did she buy into myths about demographics being destiny, and that they were the reason Barack Obama won? Why was an algorithm setting her campaign schedule? Why did the field program skip persuasion? Why, why, and why? I could go on all day. I love the woman and think she would have been a great President, but the campaign left so many questions that I often find myself frustrated while I watch Donald Trump’s daily blooper roll that we call a Presidency.
I was not originally a Hillary Clinton fan in 2008, in fact I really questioned why she should be our nominee over more experienced people like Chris Dodd and Joe Biden early on. As the race wore on though, I became an admirer, and joined her campaign in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, basically for the price of food, gas, and a bed to sleep in. I then moved on to Ohio, where they gave me a real paycheck, and I served as her Deputy Field Director for Early and Absentee voting. The whole experience was draining. Our team in Horry County, South Carolina was the only team in the state that had a good primary day- it was the only county she won in the whole state against then-Senator Barack Obama. My month in Ohio came as Obama’s campaign dropped more than a dozen victories in a row on us, and every Tuesday was a nightmare, as we dealt with loss after loss, and I saw the long, sometimes teary-eyed faces of colleagues who had put their lives into her Presidential hopes. Ohio was an awful, grueling, gritty campaign experience, one that I must confess was not usually all that enjoyable. She did win the state though, and I celebrated election night right where one might expect an Ohio staffer to- a bar in Pittsburgh. I was done with the 2008 campaign, and I went home after that, eventually even working for President Obama. I loved Hillary, I wanted her to win, but it was just done for me. I would spend the next six years hoping she would try again, because I felt she would do the job well. President Obama did win, he did hire her as Secretary of State, and she did the job well.
So along came 2016, or should I say 2015, when she entered the race for President again. I wanted to work the campaign at first, but after seeing what was available to do at the time, I really wasn’t looking to run all over America again. So I stayed in Pennsylvania, and I raised money for the campaign. It was all small donations, and I’m betting was only a couple grand, but it’s what I could do. The campaign was frustrating to watch from the start, with negative coverage and questionable decision making. Even friends in Brooklyn seemed less than receptive to constructive criticism, and things just never felt right. I went to some primary states, most notably New York, to help with get-out-the-vote, and the outcome was never really all that close or in question, but things just never felt easy. The media coverage was negative. The campaign plan seemed like it targeted “too narrow” of a vote. She seemed to not even contest the places she had been winning in 2008– as though she was a different candidate.
I spent a couple of days of the convention in Philadelphia, and the bug bit me again. I didn’t care where I had to go, I was down for it. So I made some calls, and started interviewing with states, and by the time Labor Day rolled around, was going to North Carolina for GOTV. I ended up being brought on quicker for internal reasons I won’t discuss here and now, and off I went. The people I worked with were actually really awesome, talented, inspiring people. I met some people I really liked down there. The people I worked for were people I’d run through a wall for again in a future race. I made some deep, last connections down there, and got to spend the final seven weeks of the election in the Outer Banks. The campaign though, because of factors beyond anyone I was dealing with’s control, was a bit of a mess. The field program seemed to assume there were no persuadable voters, it seemed rigidly set to the plan, even if the data was contradicting it, and it seemed like the organizing principle was quantity- not quality. Despite the fact that my 15 counties had been a very close swing area in both 2008 and 2012, I never saw Hillary, and only got Chelsea in to campaign three days before the election (on the final day of early vote). Number crunchers were driving the ship from Brooklyn, rather than some of the amazing pastors, community leaders, and organizers I had on the ground telling me what they thought we needed to do. The entire experience was rather frustrating, and I guess I should have seen how the ending would go- a group of my organizers and volunteers crying or in shock, sitting in a hotel room in Elizabeth City. Things looked so good in the first week of early vote, but there were signs in the last two weeks of how things were turning. By the final days, the KKK was actively out campaigning, which should have been a sign of the changing mood in rural North Carolina.
Without commenting on the talent of the people I worked with, which I think was probably about a wash, I do think the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign would have smoked the 2016 one. It was more nimble, it was more flexible to the conditions on the ground, and it’s appeal was far more broad. In 2008, Hillary Clinton simply lost to a once-in-a-lifetime talented candidate in Barack Obama. In 2016, Hillary lost 101 electoral votes across Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona by a grand total of roughly 457,000 votes. Against a guy who had a skeletal ground game, a lack of message discipline, and less money spent on ads. There is no doubt that Trump marketed himself well, and understood his base, but I can’t help but feel like it should not have ended up this way. This brilliant woman deserved a better campaign. America deserved better, after all, more of it voted for her. Like I said, it’s majorly frustrating.
Let’s be honest though- “but her emails.” Did we ever really have a chance? Let’s be honest with ourselves…
I wish the above was a joke, I really do. These tweets pretty much tell the story though. Her opponent in the November Election was literally a racist, old, ignorant, incapable imbecile who literally bankrupt casinos (how?) and didn’t pay his contractors. He is somehow the candidate of the working class though. Part of this is the inadequacies of her campaign. More of it is the garbage you saw above. The problem is, that garbage is all from January 29th, 2018, over a year after her former opponent took office as President. It’s never going to change, which is why we basically have to move on.
This week’s controversy over a staffer (who I vaguely know) accused of sexual harassment not being fired in 2008, at Hillary’s discretion, is par for the course again. Should Hillary be getting this scrutiny from this? No, of course it’s being blown up. Her response though was somehow so inadequate that it left people on all sides being upset. Should she have just said she made a mistake in judgment towards a staffer who she knew and trusted? Yeah. Could she have done that? Look at the tweets above and tell me she would have been treated fairly. Seriously, look at that. If Hillary announced that she had the cure for cancer, that would be debated on equal par with Donald Trump being able to read complete sentences off the teleprompter tonight at the State of the Union. The false equivalency that was 2016 was totally mishandled by Hillary and those closest to her, but that also doesn’t change that she probably got the worst treatment from the press in the history of American electoral politics. I know though, but her emails…
My take on Hillary is that she was a giant of her generation, a figure for history that will be judged very kindly. As a Presidential candidate, she will be a far more revered version of Al Smith (the first Catholic nominee for President, by the Democrats in 1928), a trailblazer who lost, but who’s opponent ended up being a disaster in office, and a candidate who’s candidacy opened the door for a future woman to break the glass ceiling, in a similar way to the relationship between Al Smith and JFK, some 32 years later. She’ll get high marks overall for her time as Secretary of State, and history will be much kinder to her very progressive record as a U.S. Senator from the state of New York. I think she earned that positive space in history, as someone who America battered and blamed for everything from her husband’s infidelity, to the Iraq War, to our own ignorance in electing Donald Trump. Time will be on her side, history will be much more kind.
But hot damn, we’re all left her wondering “what if”…