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2nd Letter from K

August 8, 2016

[Letter 1]

Last night I listened to the week’s radio broadcast of On the Media.  The host interviewed Nathan Robinson, editor of the progressive periodical Current Affairs.

Robinson made a persuasive argument against what he believes is the misguided notion we have in this country that a vote for a presidential candidate is the highest expression of our moral selves.  He argues instead that we should think of our votes more pragmatically, basing our decisions largely on a calculation of best results.  Then, after voting, make all of our other political actions the expression of our moral and ethical beings.

Those actions can (and should) include laying the groundwork so that we have better and better options in each subsequent election, but when we go to vote – especially for president – we shouldn’t project onto that vote our best and highest ideals.  Simply vote for the candidate that will bring the best results on balance, then go home and get back to the real work of controlling the board, so to speak.

This strikes me as a great way of thinking of presidential elections like this year’s, when the results that would flow from two very different individuals are in fact very different (one set of results that is compromised, another that is utterly devastating).

I’ve also been thinking a bit about Clinton herself, and how it is that older women who remember who she has been over the course of 30 years can find ways to support her both personally and politically (enthusiastically even), whereas younger women – who, if they have any knowledge of her at all, it’s as Secretary of State – feel near revulsion.

Clinton came of age as a politically active woman right at the moment when the world was just beginning to accept such a creature.  She was at the very front guard of women’s rights in an era when being active in resistance against power meant being a young man engaged in the battles against Vietnam and for civil rights (African Americans’, of course, not women’s), and being a woman meant staying home.

Clinton’s early biography suggests that she was a brilliant human with an urgent desire to fight against injustices.  Young women today would surely see a reflection of themselves in the photographs and actions of a youthful Clinton in college and law school, traipsing through impoverished communities on behalf of poor and disabled children, anxious to discover crimes and culprits.  Having experienced the public sector, she felt she belonged there, in government service where one can help large groups of people in meaningful ways.

As a woman, however, nearly every political actor she encountered could not deal with a woman in a position of authority.  She must have been incredibly frustrated, especially seeing how much more intelligent and competent she was than nearly all of them, including her husband.  She must have learned quickly that if she wanted to develop experience, authority, and efficacy she would have to create a public voice and persona which – though not authentic – could enable others to allow her presence among them and accept her contributions.

Everything we know about early Clinton reveals an amazing women with a radical human rights agenda early in her life, prepared to devote herself to public service but trying to figure out how to become, as a woman, someone who could do the work she wanted to do in a world filled with, frankly, mean and small-minded men.  And in fact she ran straight into a phalanx of those men when Republicans combined to destroy her as a First Lady attempting to have a political voice in health care and women’s rights.  From all accounts that was the crucible in which the unlikeable Clinton was forged, and she’s been under a sustained, incredibly effective smear campaign ever since.  From that point she knew that if she wanted to remain effective in government she would have to compromise in ways that men did not.

The politician we see now is the product of decades spent insisting on being involved in the highest levels of political power in order – I still believe – to do the good work.  I believe she’s compromised in many ways, but I also believe she’s learned a lot of lessons.  She will make many mistakes as a president, and she may be more vilified in office even than Obama has been.  But I think that fundamentally she is still the brilliant, driven human rights advocate that she was in her youth, even if layers of political patina have made her an individual upon whom it is difficult to project our dreams the way – as Nathan Robinson has reminded us – we always want to do.

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