Matthew Rozsa explains a quality he admires about Hillary Clinton.
Whenever I write nice things about Hillary Clinton, I’m compelled to preface them by mentioning that I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter. Inevitably I receive angry letters insisting that no one who truly Feels The Bern could say anything positive about his current arch-rival, but the reality is that I don’t simply respect Clinton out of a desire for party unity. Although ideologically I align more closely with Sanders, Clinton has a certain intangible quality that I believe doesn’t get nearly enough credit: Sheer grit.
Her closest analogue in the annals of presidential history may be Richard Nixon. Like Clinton, Nixon was a prominent political figure in American life for more than two decades. Right from the beginning, they inspired the most vitriolic hatred in their enemies – Nixon for his red-baiting in the McCarthy era and Clinton as a symbol of second wave feminist idealism. Both played prominent roles in presidential administrations later viewed fondly for being periods of economic prosperity and pervasive optimism, Nixon as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president in the 1950s and Clinton as First Lady in the 1990s. Finally, each one faced a flurry of scandals that would have destroyed other politicians – Nixon’s secret funds and ties to organized crime, Clinton’s tendency toward exaggeration and reckless use of power (see the email scandal). This remarkable resiliency has, over time, almost taken on the appearance of battle scars. By now, Clinton is almost immune to having her political prospects harmed by scandal simply because her opponents have tried and failed to destroy her so many times.
Unlike Nixon, however, Clinton’s need for toughness has been heightened by her struggle against sexism. Within the American zeitgeist, no single woman is associated with the term “female politician” as frequently as Clinton (I base this on my own observations), and as a result she has faced an unending barrage of sexism from the moment she became a national figure. During the 1992 presidential election, her strong-willed personality was often viewed as a liability to her husband’s presidential ambitions; attacks on her are often laced with sexist verbiage (“bitch,” “shrill,” “pushy”); she is regularly derided for her physical appearance as she wears pantsuits, gains weight, and grows older. I would argue that any politician who maintains a career amidst these adverse conditions is, by default, going to develop the fortitude to withstand almost any other pressure. For better or worse, it seems inevitable that the first female president is likely going to have to be someone with the hide of a rhinoceros. Skin even slightly less thick would likely bust open and hemorrhage in this climate.
This praise needs to be made about Clinton for two reasons:
- Because of her disproportionate support among non-white voters and superdelegates – as well as her massive leaders in most of the upcoming primary states – it is impossible to imagine that Clinton won’t be the Democratic nominee. If she was a candidate without redeeming value, this would be truly terrible, but…
- Her redeeming quality is the fact that she is still here, and isn’t going anywhere. That is called tenacity, and it’s a good attribute for a president to have.
Obviously I hope that Clinton won’t repeat many of Nixon’s mistakes. It would be devastating if America suffered another Watergate (and under its first female president, no less), and any kind of terribly flawed second Clinton administration might undermine the legacy of the first one. Nevertheless it’s important to remember that Nixon, after being defeated in his first presidential bid in 1960, was elected eight years later because he was tougher than the Democratic candidate (Hubert Humphrey) and third-party challenger (George Wallace). Clinton, having been bested by the John Kennedy of our times in 2008, now seems poised to defeat Sanders for the Democratic nomination and Donald Trump in the general election. If liberals can’t find it in our heart to rejoice, we can at least take comfort in the knowledge that the White House will be left in the charge of someone we already know is abundantly equipped to withstand terrible pressures. It’s worth noting, at least.