I’m voting for Hillary.
You should, too.
This is why.
WINNING THE WHITE HOUSE is about sales and endurance; succeeding in the White House is about sales and endurance and a plethora of other attributes, some more vital to the job than sales and endurance, and not all of them much prized on the campaign trail. This is one of the fundamental flaws of the increasingly juvenile way we decide who gets to run for president, and who wins. We tend to pick the candidate who has run the best campaign, and that’s not always the one best suited to actually do the job.
Our last three presidents—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton—were all better on the campaign trail than they were in the Oval Office. Clinton, the first Baby Boomer president, with his seductive style and his saxophone and his boxers-or-briefs. Bush, the compassionate conservative, the jokester, the folksy baseball fan you’d like to have a beer with. Obama, the orator and community organizer and presumed liberal wunderkind. None of them was as good as we’d been led to believe. Clinton triangulated his way into centrism before being impeached, Bush presided over 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq and the almost-destruction of the global economy, and Obama has turned out to be more 20th century Republican than 21st century progressive. Yet despite the bait and switch, all three won, and then won again a second time.
In each case, they were opposed by Beltway insiders, system men, policy wonks, whose talents were better suited to governing rather than campaigning. Mitt Romney would have been a good president, in the sense that he had impeccable qualifications for the job. He was a Republican who was governor of a blue state, an early adopter of health care reform, and a smart businessman. I would not have agreed with his policies, but if the presidency were an actual job he was applying for on Monster, his resume and skill set were markedly better than Obama’s (to say nothing of the parade of nebbishes the GOP is now choosing among). This was also true of John McCain with respect to Obama, and of John Kerry and Al Gore, who ran against Bush, and of Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush, who ran against Clinton.
Poppy Bush is an interesting case. He brought to the White House one of the all-time best C.V.s. He was a very good president. He was also a popular one, with approval ratings higher than even his now-apotheosized predecessor’s. And yet he still lost to Bill Clinton, because he was lousy on the campaign trail. Remember how clueless he looked when he went to the supermarket? How he had no idea how much a gallon of milk cost? Few presidential candidates appeared as out of touch with everyday Americans as George H.W. Bush in ’92.
Campaign managers learned from the Bush I loss: it’s more important for candidates to run well than to govern well. The success of Donald Trump demonstrates this, as does, to a lesser degree, the rapid ascent of Bernie Sanders. Right or left, progressive or reactionary, we love a good, entertaining, inspirational figure on the campaign trail, a dark horse, a meteoric riser. But I’m not so sure the country isn’t better off with a superb administrator whose personality isn’t something you’d build a cult around.
Which brings us to Hillary. Look, I’m bored of Hillary. You’re bored of Hillary. Bill’s been bored of her since at least 1998. Hillary’s probably bored of Hillary. Even the scandals involving her are boring. I mean, an e-mail server? Yawn yawn. The most exciting tidbit we’ve learned about Hillary this election cycle is that she attended Donald Trump’s wedding. Otherwise, Hillary is old news, yesterday’s news, 1993’s news. Her campaign, which is now in what the prognosticator Nate Silver calls “a poll-deflating feedback loop,” seems more concerned with not fucking up than with, you know, winning. Hillary’s played it careful and close to the vest. That’s fine when you’re taking that phone call at 3 a.m. But careful and close to the vest does not work on the campaign trail. We don’t want safe and steadfast. We want shiny and new!
Ah, but there is the rub: shiny and new is not always better. Sometimes shiny and new is George W. Bush. Sometimes shiny and new is Donald Trump. Heck, Adolf Hitler was shiny and new, once upon a time. It’s a huge gamble to elect a “blank slate” candidate just because they’re perceived as the next big thing. Far better to find the best qualified person for the job who shares your values. For me, and indeed for every liberal, progressive American, that individual is Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is the most qualified candidate for the Oval Office since…since…well, maybe ever. Eight years as First Lady, twelve in the Senate, and then her tenure—more successful than the Benghazi crowd would like to admit—as Obama’s Secretary of State: no one can match that.
Opponents on both sides of the aisle are quick to point out her failures: she was unable to reform health care in 1993; she voted for the Iraq invasion; she presided over the State Department during its handling of Syria, and thus had a hand in the creation of ISIS. But to be tagged with these failures, she had to be in a position to make them. Anyone with her resume is bound to have similar missteps. She at least tried to reform health care; she was hardly the only Democrat to vote for the Iraq war, and who made the mistake of trusting the Commander-in-Chief and his underlings on matters of national security; and, really, what better option was available to us in Syria? Sending in troops? Please. Hillary is not perfect, but I don’t know that I would have made different calls under the circumstances.
I know, I know. Bernie! Feel the Bern! Bernie can win! Bernie will bring progressive socialism to the White House! He will stick it to special interests! He will help us make America great again!
Look, I love Bernie Sanders. And if he could get elected, and somehow manage to enact the reforms he’s proposing, I’d be over the moon. But I don’t think a 74-year-old self-styled socialist is going to win a general election, no matter how appealingly populist his ideas. And I’m not alone. Nate Silver Who Is Never Wrong agrees: “it would also take a lot of work and entail a lot of embarrassment to unwind the establishment’s support from Clinton,” he explains. “These party elites would have a lot of explaining to do to Democratic voters about what had changed and why they were revoking their support for the first potential woman president in favor of a septuagenarian white guy.” And if said septuagenarian white guy were to somehow win the primary, and then the White House, he’d face an obstructionist Congress from hell who would in some cases cross the aisle to oppose him.
But here’s the thing: how do we know Hillary is not just as progressive as Bernie? How do we know she’s not like the narrator of “First We Take Manhattan”: They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom for trying to change the system from within. To me, the interesting thing about Hillary is that, as experienced as she is, she’s never really been in charge of anything before. As First Lady, she advised Bill. As Senator, she depended on working with her colleagues (who started off hating her, but whom she won over). As Secretary of State, she was implementing Obama’s foreign policy, not necessarily her own. Even Bernie was once in charge of Burlington, Vermont, but Hillary has always been a #2. What happens when she’s the one calling the shots? Don’t you want to find out? Isn’t Hillary exactly the person we want driving the car at this point? Give her the keys!
I know the negatives. Hillary presents as a pragmatist, a cool customer who blows with the wind, who is slave to polling data, who is terrified of screwing up. But I suggest that beneath that veneer is a rank idealist, the starry-eyed dreamer who tried to reform the nation’s health care system all those years ago. Her idealism was not beaten out of her; it’s just been incubating, waiting for the right moment to reveal itself. If she wins the White House, the liberal genie will pop back out of the lamp.
And if she were elected Chief Executive, I believe we’d be treated to one of the most accomplished presidencies in recent memory. I think she’d take Bernie’s talking points and run with them, like FDR did with Al Smith’s, and I think she’d have a better chance of implementing them than he would. And you know how the job has a steep learning curve? How it takes new presidents a few months to figure stuff out? Yeah, she’ll be ready to roll on Day One. No one has ever been as prepared to be president as Hillary.
(Furthermore: if Hillary’s the Chief Executive, Bill Clinton becomes the nation’s first First Gentleman, whose job would be to entertain the wives of visiting heads of state. How fun would that be? Plus Kate McKinnon would get to do more of this on SNL.)
Hillary is not the sexy choice. The 74-year-old white dude from Vermont somehow is. But barring unforeseen disaster—a legitimate scandal, a serious health issue, the revelation that she was born in Kenya—she will be the Democratic candidate for president. And that’s a very good thing. It may seem anticlimactic when Hillary takes the White House, like when the Patriots beat the Jets. But when all is said and done, she may well go down as the best president of my lifetime.
Don’t believe the lack of hype.