Why I Changed My Mind About Hillary Clinton
In in the lead up to the 2008 election, I was ecstatic — I'd been a political junkie since middle school and I was finally old enough to vote. Despite the fact that I was living abroad that year, I took great pains to follow the Democratic primary as closely as possible, and I enthusiastically cast my vote for Barack Obama. I was less thrilled with his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton — at the time, I questioned whether or not a real feminist would stay with a man who had disrespected her by engaging in a highly publicized extramarital tryst with an intern. And I unfortunately bought into the media's depiction of her as a disingenuous individual who planned on riding her husband's coattails in order to obtain the Presidency.
To be clear, I don't regret supporting Obama and I believe that history will prove he has been one of our greatest presidents. But I absolutely regret the disrespectful view I had of Clinton in 2008. People who didn't know me then are often shocked to learn that there was a time I didn't enthusiastically support and admire her — but my views of Hillary Clinton have evolved a great deal since college.
In all fairness to my younger self, I had other reasons for supporting Obama over Clinton. I had concerns about living in what I thought felt like a dynasty — did I really want four back-to-back presidents who came from the same two families? And, more importantly, Obama's policies aligned closely with my own. Throughout the 2008 primary, I knew that I would absolutely cast my vote for Clinton if she became the Democratic nominee — but I made clear that I wouldn't be especially excited about it.
There are a number of reasons I went from a Clinton skeptic to an ardent supporter. By the time she announced that she would once again run for President, I'd left the bubble of the liberal women's college where I'd spent four years, and had experienced sexism in the workplace and many other areas of my life. These experiences threw me for a loop and I got a tiny, unpleasant taste of the sexist attacks that are relentlessly hurled at Clinton by the media, Republicans, and even some Democrats. I paid close attention to Clinton when she accepted the role of Secretary of State and was inspired by her work ethic, tenacity, toughness, and refusal to let sexism stop her from furthering her political career. It's no surprise that Obama's former speechwriter, Jon Favreau, recently stated that he was "not a fan" of Clinton in 2008 but he grew to admire her and has repeatedly described her as the "hardest working member of the administration."
But I didn't begin to like and admire Clinton overnight — and I was surprised when I finally realized she had slowly but surely become an inspiration to me. Although her work ethic, intelligence, and toughness absolutely inspired me, there's another major reason that I grew to respect her enormously. When I heard up-and-coming female politicians, like Kirsten Gillibrand, speak out about how much Clinton had supported and mentored them, I also realized that she does something many women don't do in the workplace — she champions young women in politics and genuinely wants them to succeed, even if it means the public and the media will pay more attention to the younger, fresh-faced women entering the field. Again, my teenage self just assumed that adult women will support their hardworking colleagues — but one year in the workforce made me realize that the opposite is often true. Although Clinton has been criticized for being "power hungry," it's clear that she's devoted to all members of the Democratic party — even if she knows that another woman may take the spotlight from her. She's deeply committed to the greater good of the party and she's a team player.
I learned a lot about both Clinton and myself over the eight years between her first run for the White House and her second. And when the 2016 primary rolled around, for me the choice seemed obvious. Sanders' economic policies felt unclear to me, and his lack of foreign policy experience and knowledge concerned me. Although I certainly don't agree with every policy decision Clinton has made throughout her lengthy career, her qualifications are seriously impressive to me and I know that she'll continue to fight for equality for the most vulnerable members of our society. In fact, her one-time rival Obama put it best when he said, "I don't think there's ever been someone so qualified to hold this office."
Last year I moved from New York City to Seattle, which meant that I attended my first Democratic caucus in March. I live in arguably the most liberal neighborhood of Seattle (one of the most liberal cities in the country) and at the time of the caucus, I overheard two guys saying that, "it's just not a good time for a woman president." My jaw hit the floor.
And things only got worse from there. I've been vocal about my admiration for Clinton and my excitement about her campaign, and I've been shocked by some of the reactions I've gotten. Of course, after praising Clinton online, I got a ton of hate from Trump supporters — but I totally expected that. After all, to me, this man's entire campaign is based on racist, sexist, and anti-LGBT rhetoric. And I'm accustomed to being trolled on Twitter — it comes with the territory of being a feminist. But I will never be able to unsee the sexist insults that were hurled at Clinton and her supporters from fellow liberals. It was incredibly painful to see that a handful of people who favored Sanders had stooped to the level of name-calling and hurling sexist insults like "c*nt" and "b*tch" at Clinton and the women who support her. These people were absolutely a very small minority within the Sanders' camp — they just happened to be very vocal on social media. However, it did wake me up to the fact that sexism is present everywhere we turn — even within the most liberal political parties.
Meanwhile, she continues to campaign under a relentless double standard. Obama has been honest about the fact that Clinton had it harder than him in the 2008 primary because, as a woman, it takes longer to get ready for a debate or any public appearance. As he told Politico:
She had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels... She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her.
This is why it infuriated me when people complained that she'd gotten an expensive haircut prior to a debate and worn an Armani jacket during a speech. Did everyone forget how much grief she's received over the years over her damn hair and pantsuits? Clinton is in it to win, and part of that is dressing the part. It sucks and I doubt she's enthused about it, but I would hardly call it "selling out" to make sure she looks put together if it'll help her chances. Again, a few years in an office setting gave me a painful reality check on this issue. In many fields, women aren't expected to just "look professional" by wearing slacks and a button-down — when I got a new boss at a corporate publishing job, many of us were told to wear heels and our "most expensive" clothes every day she was in the office because it would increase our chances for a promotion. I wanted a good shot at a promotion, so I dressed accordingly — but I was furious about the fact that appearance mattered just as much as merit and work ethic (if not more).
Although I have grown to see Clinton as a feminist role model, I have to be clear that I didn't vote for her because she's a woman. However, I'm angry that I have to repeatedly clarify that and defend my vote. When I cast my vote for Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, no one asked if I was voting for him because he was a man. Many of my friends (both male and female) supported Sanders in the primary and no one asked them if it had anything to do with his gender. I prefaced comments about my Clinton vote by adding that I'd supported Obama in '08, just to ensure that everyone knew I didn't vote with my vagina — then I kicked myself for inadvertently playing a role in dignifying that mindset.
I have no problem with Sanders, but he was praised for his passion every time he raised his voice during a debate — and let's be honest, he did this quite often and his supporters viewed it as part of his charm. Meanwhile, in a since-deleted tweet that will forever live on through screenshots, The Hill's editor-in-chief Bob Cusack stated that, "When Hillary Clinton raises her voice, she loses." Although he apologized for the tweet, Cusack was sadly stating a sexist sentiment that many Americans share. After relentlessly being criticized for sounding "shrill," it's clear that Clinton makes an effort to keep her tone as even as possible — regardless of how heated a debate becomes. So, naturally, people's complaints have shifted accordingly. She comes off as "guarded," "disingenuous," and as though she's "hiding something."
To be fair, I do have concerns about Clinton's policies. I wish that she'd come out in support of gay marriage far earlier than 2013. Her foreign policy style is a bit too interventionist and hawkish for my liking and it's my main concern about her candidacy. But I believe that no one who cares deeply about political issues is going to find a candidate whose policies and beliefs align with theirs 100 percent. I support Clinton with pride, but I also acknowledge her shortcomings and my areas of concerns. They just don't happen to include her alleged "dishonesty" — as the bipartisan website Politifact found she and Sanders to be the most honest candidates in the Presidential primary. And, in the years since I first saw her name on the Democratic primary ballot, I have come to realize that Clinton's marriage is simply none of my business, and not something I should judge her about.
I also feel like I personally understand why she comes across as guarded — who wouldn't after being criticized and having their name dragged through the mud for decades by Republicans and Democrats alike? I was living abroad during the 2008 primary, so it was difficult to watch full debates and I often had to rely solely on print media coverage. When I moved back to America and could more easily watch Clinton on TV, I was surprised by how likable I find her. And I take great joy in seeing her confidence since she became the presumptive nominee. She looks like she's having fun, her guard has been let down a bit, and she's genuinely enjoying getting under Trump's "very thin skin."
And, yes, she inspires me both as a person and as a professional woman who has worked incredibly hard to get where she is today. Despite the barrage of sexist attacks she endured during the 2008 election, she decided to pursue her dream anyway — even though she knew that she would once again be put through the wringer. Nothing rattles her and that's an inspiration to me as a young woman who sometimes struggles to find her voice. Although I logically understand I'm not the problem when sexist trolls on Twitter are eager to tell me that "feminism is for ugly women" when I dare publish an article about the wage gap or rape culture, it still bothers me. I can't imagine what it's like for Clinton to endure sexist attacks in person, in the media, and on social media literally 24 hours a day, every day.
I will continue to support Clinton enthusiastically, but that certainly doesn't mean I won't hold her to a high standard of following through on her campaign promises if she is elected. And no matter what, I'll always be grateful that during my twenties, she inspired me to be a stronger, tougher, and more outspoken young woman who won't let sexism deter her from speaking her mind or following her own path. At a time when intelligent, ambitious women are still viewed as threatening and "feminism" is considered a dirty word, Clinton is an incredibly important role model for many young women. I have high hopes that she'll do amazing things as President — but she's already accomplished so much by showing us what strength, resilience, and work ethic truly look like.
Image: Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; Giphy