We do not see, often enough, the people who love Hillary Clinton, who support her because of her qualifications rather than because of her unqualified opponent, who empathize with her. Yet millions of Americans, women and men, love her intelligence, her industriousness, her grit; they feel loyal to her, they will vote with enthusiasm for her.
Human beings change as they grow, but a person’s history speaks to who she is. There are millions who admire the tapestry of Hillary Clinton’s past: the first-ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley speaking boldly about making the impossible possible, the Yale law student interested in the rights of migrant farmworkers, the lawyer working with the Children’s Defense Fund, the first lady trying to make health care accessible for all Americans.
There are people who love how cleanly she slices through policy layers, how thoroughly she digests the small print. They remember that she won two terms to the United States Senate, where she was not only well-regarded but was known to get along with Republicans. They have confidence in her. There are people who rage at the media on her behalf, who see the coverage she too often receives as unfair. There are people who in a quiet, human way wish her well. There are people who, when Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to be president of the United States, will weep from joy.
Hillary Clinton was guilty immediately when she stepped into the view of the American public as the first lady of Arkansas. She was a lawyer full of dreams. She had made sacrifices for the man she loved, waived her plans, and moved to his state. But she also dared to think herself her husband’s equal, to assume herself competent enough to take on expanding access to healthcare and reforming the Arkansas public education system. She was guilty of not being a traditional first lady. She offended the old patriarchal order. The conservative media loathed her.
Politicians are ambitious; they have to be. Yet for Hillary Clinton, ambition is often an accusation.
A conservative writer labeled her a congenital liar when she was first lady, and the label stuck because it was repeated over and over—and it was a convenient label to harness misogyny. If she was a liar, then the hostility she engendered could not possibly be because she was a first lady who refused to be still and silent. “Liar’ has re-emerged during this election even though Politifact, a respected source of information about politicians, has certified that she is more honest than most politicians—and certainly more honest than her opponent.
Because she is already considered guilty in a vague and hazy way, there is a longing for her to be demonstrably guilty of something. Other words have been repeated over and over, with no context, until they have begun to breathe and thrum with life. Especially “emails.” The press coverage of “emails” has become an unclear morass where “emails” must mean something terrible, if only because of how often it is invoked.
The people who love Hillary Clinton know that the IT system at the State Department is old and stodgy, nothing like a Blackberry’s smooth whirl. Hillary Clinton was used to her Blackberry, and wanted to keep using it when she became secretary of state. Hackers could have broken into her system, which was not as secure as the State Department’s. But an exhaustive investigation has found no hacking and no nefarious intent—and intent is what matters above all else. Hillary Clinton has apologized. She made an understandable mistake. She did not commit a crime, and did not intend to commit a crime.
The American conservative media saw an opportunity to blow the “emails” story out of proportion, soon followed, almost bashfully, by the rest of the American media, obeying the noble rules from journalism school, insisting on false equivalencies even where it makes no sense, which is partly why it has become common to hear that both candidates are equally corrupt. Or equally disliked. Hillary Clinton is a knowledgeable, well-prepared, reasonable, experienced, even-tempered, hardworking candidate, while her opponent is a stubbornly uninformed demagogue who has been proven again and again to be a liar on matters big and small. There is no objective basis on which to equate Hillary Clinton to her opponent.
Millions of Americans do not expect a politician be perfect. They are frustrated that Hillary Clinton is allowed no complexity.
The people who love Hillary Clinton see the failings of the general American media, where news entertains rather than informs. They bristle when benign stories about her are covered with an ominous tone, and book-ended with layers of innuendo. They see that for actions deserving of outrage, the outrage in her case is always outsized.
They know that she is a bit too careful, but they understand that she has to be, that she cannot afford spontaneity. At the debate, when she began a response with “As I recall … ” the people who love her held their breaths because they knew how it came across, as a little staged, a little planned, but they understood. Her words have been so often plucked out of context and turned into scalding weapons, her actions so falsely magnified, that she leaned into caution, wrapped herself in a kind of caution that sometimes makes her appear stilted and in the media world of appearances, stilted can mean insincere. Hillary Clinton is not a performer. She does not have that charismatic flair—which she does not need to be a good president. But she is running for president in a country that expects news to be entertainment, and politicians to be performers, and so suspicion automatically hangs over her lack of public charisma.
Because Hillary Clinton is a woman, she is judged too harshly for doing what most politicians do—hedging sometimes, waffling sometimes, evading sometimes. Politicians are ambitious; they have to be. Yet for Hillary Clinton, ambition is often an accusation. She is held responsible for her husband’s personal failings, in the gendered assumption that a wife is somehow an adult and a husband a child.
There are millions of Americans who do not have the self-indulgent expectation that a politician be perfect. They are frustrated that Hillary Clinton is allowed no complexity. And they love her.