The idea of voting for "the lesser of two evils" is nothing new in American politics. In fact, the first presidential election that I can vividly remember — the 2000 showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore — was a time when I repeatedly heard the term used by unenthusiastic voters in my life, as they debated whether to vote for a major party candidate or cast a protest vote. In 2016, the issue has arisen once again in a major way — although Republican candidate Donald Trump has consistently polled as more unpopular than his opponent, the bottom line is that Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most disliked candidates in modern American history. As a result, countless Americans are hesitant to vote for either candidate.
After the release of the 2005 Access Hollywood tapes, where Trump stated that he felt he had the right to assault women, and Trump's many troubling and questionable comments at the three presidential debates, Clinton's poll numbers increased rapidly — and many people who had previously been hesitant to vote for Clinton changed their tune and decided to vote for "the lesser of two evils," begrudgingly acknowledging Clinton as a better option than Trump.
As a Clinton supporter and volunteer, I'm incredibly grateful that so many people have chosen to join us — although I wish we could at least refer to a Clinton vote as being "for the greater good" rather than "the lesser of two evils." But, something important is being overlooked — like many others, I'm voting for Hillary Clinton because I believe she is an amazing candidate, not because I think she's the better of two bad options. I believe there's nothing "evil" about Clinton as a politician or a person.
To be 100 percent clear, I am appreciative of every person who has gotten behind Clinton, whether they (like me) enthusiastically supported her in the primaries, decided to cast a vote for her after Bernie Sanders did not receive the Democratic nomination, or are Republicans who are disgusted by Trump and his deplorable rhetoric and actions, and have opted to vote for her (like several of my Republican family members). Regardless of why these people dislike Clinton in the first place, I'm happy to see them come to the table.
But while I acknowledge that many voters aren't casting their ballots with enthusiasm, I resent the automatic assumption that I'm simply voting for Clinton because she's the lesser of two evils — or, worse, that I've deluded myself into believing she's a great candidate simply so I can cast my ballot with a clear conscience.
Everyone who knows me is fully aware that I adore, support, and admire Clinton as both a politician and an unbelievably strong woman — but when the election comes up at casual social gatherings, there's often an automatic assumption that everyone in the room is voting for her because she represents the lesser of two evils, to the point where people have given me a variety of disrespectful responses when I tell them that I'm thrilled she's our nominee. Look, I've seen the data and (with sadness) I accept that Clinton is not universally well-liked — but it's condescending to assume that everyone who votes for her will leave the booth with a bad taste in their mouth, feeling guilty about casting a ballot for the person who is slightly less evil than her opponent. On the Oct. 16 episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the host concluded his show on a more serious note, as he sometimes does:
“Anyone who goes into a voting booth on November 8th and comes out saying, ‘I feel 100% great about what I just did,’ is either lying to themselves or did something unspeakable in that booth.”
Although Oliver is the one who made this statement on TV, he's really just the messenger. Because this particular message was delivered by a privileged white man with millions watching, it angered me. But, the real issue is that I'm fed up with the responses I get when I tell people that I'm genuinely excited about Clinton's candidacy. As Oliver expressed, these people think that I surely must be either lying to myself or committing a sin by voting for the "evil" that is Hillary Clinton.
First of all, no one has the right to tell ardent Clinton supporters that we're "lying" to ourselves. The condescending implication is that we're unintelligent and they know us better than we know ourselves. This is obviously false; I, and most other Clinton supporters, am fully aware that Clinton is imperfect and acknowledge her flaws as a candidate. I acknowledge the mistakes she's made in the past, in addition to any reservations I have about her current policy proposals.
I'm not here to lecture anyone about Clinton's long career in public service, which began when she went undercover as a young lawyer to gather data on school segregation. I'm with her because of her impeccably researched policy proposals on gun control, reproductive rights, immigration, and health care. I won't deny the mistakes she's made (and apologized for), such as her use of a private email server and her vote to authorize George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. I've personally addressed all these points both in person and in writing multiple times — but like a lot of Clinton supporters, I find that my statements frequently fall on deaf ears.
So, to address the question I get asked frequently: how can I vote for Clinton with a clear conscience? Well, contrary to popular belief, she is a human being, in addition to a politician. Please, find me a person who hasn't made mistakes on the job and I'll reconsider my stance. In a Facebook post that went viral and was picked up by multiple news outlets, Pam L. Houston wrote:
"I'm officially done with the 'she's so flawed but she is the lesser of two evils' rhetoric. Cause, you know, I'm flawed. And you are flawed. And Bernie Sanders is flawed and Barack Obama is flawed and even Michelle Obama is flawed. But the difference between all of them and me--and probably you, is that they have all given their flawed lives to public service. And now, they are all working together in their inevitably flawed ways, to save all of us, and the whole world from a sociopathic narcissist. And every day, Hillary puts a hopefully unflawed bullet proof vest on her flawed and aging and sometimes unsmiling self and stands up in front of people who have been incited by her opponent to shoot her, and she says calm and rational and intelligent (and sometimes flawed) things about how to make a difference. In my book that makes her a fucking rock star. And in the words of another flawed and resilient rock star: There is a crack in everything. That's where the light gets in."
People like Obama and Clinton are rightfully held to higher standards because they chose to pursue career paths that give them the immense responsibility to make decisions that impact our lives. They're bound to make mistakes along the way and, when they do so, they make national news and all aspects of their errors are dissected by the media and the public. But, the bottom line remains that they're human beings who are doing their best to make America a country where everyone gets the fair shot they deserve.
So, to reply to John Oliver and the millions of people who agree with him, I didn't do anything "unspeakable" when I mailed in my ballot today. I also didn't do anything unspeakable when I spent hours volunteering in the cramped Hillary For America Seattle Headquarters — often during times when there was sitting room only because so many volunteers were packed into the office. (An important fact for Hillary skeptics who believe that no one is enthusiastic about her candidacy.)
We can all hold different views without making condescending, offensive assumptions about why people have chosen to cast their votes for Clinton. I have tremendous respect for those who have reservations about her policies, but are voting for Clinton because they recognize just how much is at stake — perhaps most importantly, our next president will nominate at least one (and very like more) Supreme Court Justice.
But I believe that it's unacceptable to insult the intelligence and integrity of those of us who wholeheartedly support Clinton — many of whom have sacrificed time and money that we don't really have in order to ensure she moves back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January. It's reprehensible to tell me that, as I excitedly selected Clinton on my mail-in ballot and hurried to the post office in the pouring rain because I simply couldn't wait another moment, that I was doing something morally wrong.
I'm not asking the new wave of reluctant Clinton voters (or anyone else) to suddenly decide they love or even like the candidate. But, I hope people will rethink their stance that those of us who vote for her without apology should hang our heads in shame because we're either ignorant, in denial, morally decrepit, or all of the above. But, if you must insist that voting for one of the most tenacious, highly-qualified, well-prepared candidates in history makes me evil... then deal me in, I suppose.
Images: Caitlin Flynn (2)