First let me say this: “I’m Ready for Hillary” is a terrible campaign slogan that the Hillary team should seriously reconsider. It not only implies that there is something bad on the way for which we need to brace ourselves, it invites a negative reaction, “No. I’m not ready for Hillary” from everyone who is not already a supporter. And it’s all about her – no hope/change or broader message. For this and other reasons, I will not be changing my Facebook profile photo to “I’m Ready for Hillary” any time soon.
I love Hillary Clinton. I admired her grit and toughness as first lady. She had me at vast right-wing conspiracy. She is brainy and hard-working. I appreciate her edgy sarcasm, like when she made the “I’m not going to stay home and bake cookies” gaffe. She has had to stand by her man, propping up her lying and cavorting husband in public, and has managed to do it in such a manner that she doesn’t seem desperate or dysfunctional. That is character.
Hillary is also a policy wonk who cares deeply about her country. She has been a passionate, effective advocate for women and girls, not just in the United States but around the globe. She understands how badly men continue to botch everything with their wars and oil companies and testosterone (yes I realize she voted for a war but she wouldn’t have started one). By all accounts Hillary performed her job as Senator from New York effectively, working hard for her constituents, caring about the grassroots.
She admirably mended fences with Barack Obama, after losing the primary. She gave an awesome speech, convincingly persuading her band of bitter, disappointed feminist supporters to throw their electoral weight behind the upstart male who grabbed her place in line for the presidency right out from under her. That must have been incredibly hard, but she did it.
Hillary has a progressive heart but a Democratic Leadership Council mind. And it’s the DLC part of her that makes me cringe. I hated her 2008 campaign. I was appalled when she said “shame on you, Barack Obama” purely for effect. Her stump speeches seemed phonied up and plastic, not inspirational. Other than just before New Hampshire when she teared up as she talked about how much was at stake, I got little sense of the real Hillary beneath her campaign advisors’ sound bytes and talking points. This was disturbing because it lent the feeling that she was being controlled by ambitious politicos with their own agendas, that it wasn’t really Hillary who was running the show.
Fast forward to now, looking ahead to 2016. Some Iowa caucus goers say that she should campaign in Iowa, kiss our ring and allow us to put her through the drill. My view is that it is entirely up to her whether she campaigns in Iowa, and I do not hold it against her if she does not. It seems perfectly understandable that this former first lady, Sec. Of State, heir-apparent to the presidency, etc. would not want to grovel around Iowa for months on end eating corn dogs if she doesn’t have to. I have no problem with that. It’s not for everyone. And after all, we betrayed her in favor of the upstart kid the last time she tried.
Strategically, it could be risky for her to skip Iowa entirely because of the chance that she would leave space for another upstart candidate to move in and make a race of it. Like Brian Schweitzer for example, the likable, red-state Democratic governor from Montana who has been quite successful getting things done in his state and who recently pledged to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties.
In the end, the Iowa caucuses are not really about or for Hillary’s kind of candidacy, the big money, huge name recognition, established candidate. The Iowa caucuses are for the lesser-known, less well funded candidate with an appealing message who, if they can do well here, can possibly make a race of it. As Joe Biden has said, the Iowa caucuses are the last bastion of retail, grassroots politics where anyone who is willing to work hard can launch a campaign even without Wall St. backing and tons of cash. The Iowa caucuses are important to Democracy for that reason. Our value to the process is not to help an established, well bankrolled, front runner candidate like Hillary. Our value lies in giving a long-shot candidate a chance. We provide the best chance at an even playing field in an otherwise corrupt and money-driven system that depends on ad buys.
So Hillary, what this likely Iowa caucus attendee hopes to see from you as we approach 2016 is not that you pay homage to Iowa, but that you speak well of us anyway, that you recognize our part in the democratic process even if you don’t participate, and that you run your very own authentic, progressive, feminist campaign that inspires us and shows us the amazing, wonderful, real you who would make an awesome president.
Reprinted with permission from the January 2014 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!! Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.