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Hillary Clinton: An Appreciation


I finally got around to reading Hillary Clinton’s 2017 memoir, What Happened.

It’s a terrific read, and reminds me all over again why Hillary Clinton has been one of the most outstanding political activists of the last 40 years.

She says so many important, wise things in the book that it’s hard to single out just a few, but here’s one that really struck me: “I’ve never had much respect for activists who are willing to sit out elections, waste their votes, or tear down well-meaning allies rather than engage constructively.”

She’s referring, of course, to the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of so-called “liberals” or “progressives” who either didn’t vote for her in 2016, or who voted for third-party candidates with no chance of winning. By so doing, those “liberals” handed the election to Donald J. Trump. This made Hillary very angry—and me, too. As she writes, “Making the perfect the enemy of the good is shortsighted and counterproductive.”

The poster child for these shortsighted, counterproductive “liberals” was, for me, a next-door neighbor I’ll call Sam. He was a lifelong liberal-radical, in his late 30s, white, from rural Maine. His politics veered to taxing the rich, strengthening campaign finance laws, overturning Citizens United, breaking up gigantic corporations, and similar lefty-liberal positions. That was all fine with me—but we parted company over Hillary Clinton.

I’ve been a Hillary fan forever, just as I was a fan of her husband. I campaigned for Hillary in 2008 and again in 2016. Like Hillary, I consider myself a pragmatic idealist. You can’t change anything by standing on the outside and complaining. As Hillary notes, the only way to bring about lasting change in matters like voting rights, environmental concerns, women’s rights and tax policy is to get elected to public office and then work with your fellow politicians, on the left and on the right, through the delicate balances of negotiation and compromise. Anything else is just spitting in the wind.

That’s what Sam was: a wind-spitter. He was as passionate about the issues as anyone I’ve ever met, but he had this crazy, obstinate hatred of Hillary Clinton which even he couldn’t explain. I’d ask him every time we chatted why he loathed her so much, but this normally articulate man couldn’t find the words. He would just sputter. “She’s a pathological liar.” Really? I asked him. What did she lie about? “Everything,” Sam said, not being able to come up with anything specific. When I pointed out to Sam that he was parroting the smears about Hillary propagated for more than 30 years by the rightwing attack machine, he professed extreme umbrage at me. “You’re telling me I don’t know my own mind?” Yes, I replied; the Republican propagandists have infiltrated your brain, the same way a virus infects a computer’s hard drive, and you don’t even know you’re simply a shill for the likes of Breitbart, Fox “News” and Rush Limbaugh.

Well, Sam never forgave me for that. Shortly afterwards, he moved back to Maine, and we’re no longer in touch.

But my point about Hillary Clinton is that this woman has stood up to the most nefarious and deplorable lies and insults from the Republican Party for almost 40 years, and she has done so with dignity, intelligence and love. Do you know, when Bill Clinton lost his bid for re-election as Governor of Arkansas in 1980, religious conservatives said they hadn’t been able to vote for him, even though he was a good Governor, because his wife, Hillary, hadn’t adopted his last name? She went by Hillary Rodham. That was what millions of women did in the1960s and 1970s: they kept their birth last names out of honor to their parents and grandparents. But the “Christians” in Arkansas were outraged that a wife wouldn’t know her proper place and kowtow to her husband, in good Biblical fashion. Hillary eventually did adopt Bill’s last name, and he was re-elected in 1982.

That was just the beginning. During the 1992 presidential campaign Hillary was eviscerated for her humorous comment that maybe she should have stayed home and baked cookies instead of pursuing her own career as a lawyer. Once again, the faux-Christian conservatives were outraged. Hillary was insulting sacred Motherhood! After Bill won, Republicans attacked her more fiercely than ever: she was a controlling bitch, a conniving power behind the throne, a communist, a wicked person, a Lesbian, etc. etc. The megaphones on the far right—Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and their ilk—attacked her day in and day out. Later, in the new century, when she was a serious presidential candidate, came the utter bullshit about her emails, a fake scandal if ever there was one; we were treated to the ugly spectacle of Michael Flynn leading a hoard of vicious screamers at the Republican National Convention: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”

Well, it’s gratifying to see that if anyone’s going to be locked up, it’s Flynn and the other criminals gathered around this felonious president. And Hillary is still out there, fighting the good fight for families, children, environmental protections, LGBTQ rights, a sane foreign policy and campaign finance reform.If you haven’t read What Happened, I strongly urge you to learn more about this remarkable woman, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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