Yes, I’m Conflicted About Hillary Clinton. But I’ll Damn Well Get Over It.

Image by Chatham House (CC 2.0)
I have lots of feelings about Hillary Clinton. Heck, I used to work for Hillary Clinton. She had no idea, of course, but for about three months as 2007 turned into 2008, I was a media researcher for her presidential campaign, more or less the guy standing at the castle parapets yelling “incoming!!!” whenever anything of any note whatsoever was said about her in more or less any medium. (It was so stressful and frenetic that my body almost entirely shut down, and I had to quit after being on the job for what were, admittedly, the worst three months of the campaign for her. At one point we actually thought I might have brain cancer!)

(I didn’t.)

Showing up hither and thither in my social media streams this weekend has been this excellent piece at Elle by Rebecca Traister, and it in many ways echoes my own panoply of loves and loathings in regard to Secretary Clinton. For Traister, I gather, the internal conflict is mainly about the ideological boxes Clinton has not checked (or checked too late), versus the burning need — personally for her and for society as a whole — for a brilliant, mega-qualified woman to be, not even just elected president, but even be treated fairly as a presidential candidate.

My conflicts are in a similar vein, but they are more strategic, I suppose, than ideological. Like Traister, I too desperately want us to get over this ridiculous hump and finally, for the love of sweet flappy jeebus, elect a woman president. Like Traister, I fume and nurse ulcers over the grotesque personal scrutiny to which this woman is regularly subjected, the grossly unbalanced way she’s covered as a candidate, and the need the press establishment feels to bring her down, to make her “sorry” for, well, whaddaya got?

But I’m far less ideologically conflicted. I understand that she’s never been the Perfect Liberal. I totally get that my well-meaning friends who support Bernie Sanders do so because he holds positions that satisfy most liberal orthodoxy (which I largely support as well), and that he has skillfully positioned himself as a man of the people who tells it to you straight. It’s probably mostly sincere! And that’s great. Go, Bernie! Seriously!

But that’s not the kind of person who gets shit done from the highest reaches of global power. Running any government is often compared to steering a giant ship, where one can only make minor adjustments to the course at any given time, given the speed, weight, and size of the vessel. Running the U.S. government, including its innumerable foreign-policy tendrils, must be more akin to trying to steer an Imperial Star Destroyer. In the water.

What I’m saying is that being an effective President of the United States means being able to intellectually process vast amounts of data; to have extraordinary insight and empathy into myriad sensibilities, needs, and hopes; to have the grit to make extremely difficult decisions, not just about war and peace or life and death, but about what small concessions to make or what humiliations to endure to advance a larger cause. To put it more starkly, this person needs to be able to wisely and decisively know when to compromise even foundational tenets of morality, democracy, and ethics in order to score a meaningful win for the greater good.

(The Bush administration believed it was doing so when it decided that systematized torture and a doctrine of preemptive war were an acceptable trade for national security and economic pillage. But that’s another thing.)

I’d bet there are only a few people on Earth who can even bring themselves to even make such decisions, let alone make the right ones. I don’t think Bernie Sanders is that kind of person. He’s clearly a good, intelligent man, but frankly, he’s not Machiavellian enough. Not to my tastes. I’m sour on Sanders the presidential candidate because I don’t think he’s ready to confront the ugly and the uglier, and figure out the difference.

Clinton is. This woman is better suited than probably anyone on the planet to steer the star destroyer, nudge by nudge, by crucial and perilously timed fractions of degrees. She’ll have the brains and the guts, I think, to make the tough calls, and even the horrible calls, to do the right thing. Yes, I want The Prince, and I want The Prince that’s on my side.

And guess what, this is also where my conflict sets in. Look at the 2008 campaign, and you tell me if she made all the right horrible calls in order to advance the greater good. Was doing anything suggested by Mark Penn ever a good idea? Was refusing to say outright that Barack Obama was not a Muslim a good idea? Was hiring a staff that bullied and belittled the journalists covering the campaign a good idea? (I was in the room for a lot of those calls.) No, they were not.

So she’s willing to do the dirty work, she’s willing to go for the throat when the times call for it. I’m not 100 percent sure she’s sufficiently wise enough of the time to go for the right throat at the right time. Just as there is something pathological about the press corps’ need to see her suffer, there is something strangely chronic about Clinton’s ability to set her own landmines, and pretend they’re not there. I felt queasy as journalists were tweeting banal (and even at times endearing) personal emails from Clinton’s servers, but I feel just as sick over the idea that she had such a server, and seemed to think nothing would come of it. Why does she (and/or her universe of functionaries) let these things happen?

Ideologically, I’m more or less fine with Clinton. She came to gay marriage late, fine, so did most of anyone in the party who matters. She made the wrong horrible choice on the Iraq vote, but, again, she was hardly alone. (And I’m more sympathetic to foreign adventures than most of my liberal brethren, but come on, even I knew the Iraq invasion was a contrived bullshit boondoggle right off the bat.) But on the vast array of issues before us, she’s on the right side. She “cozies up to Wall Street”? Good! I hope she cozies up to them so close that they don’t even feel it when she sticks a knife in them and bleeds them out.

And the bottom line for me is that we essentially have the choice between a flawed but fiercely powerful and qualified Hillary Clinton, or the political equivalent of an asteroid strike with the election of any of the Republican candidates to the presidency. It’s hard to calculate the damage such an impact would cause, but it would blot out the sun for ages.

To beat whichever craggy planetoid the GOP throws at us, I want the candidate who will come at them with ruthless, superior force. Because I want more, not fewer liberal justices on the Supreme Court. Because I want a stronger wall of separation between church and state. Because I want economic policy that stops simply shoveling money toward the already-rich. Because I want a president who gives two shits about equality, education, science, and fucking nuance.

And I want a goddamned woman president.

So I’ll get over my conflicting feelings. Let’s get this damned star destroyer pointed in the right direction.