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Voices / Viewpoint

She’s earned her seat at the table

Hillary Clinton has been treated unfairly, mythologized, unduly doubted, diminished, and insulted without cause. It’s time for all that to stop.

Saxtons River

Now that she is the Democratic candidate, can we give Hillary Rodham Clinton her due?

She’s not perfect — what politician, or human being, is? But she has taken more heat than anyone running for office should have to, and now the time is here to “put a sock in it,” as the British say.

Or, as my high school typing teacher taught us, “Now is the time to come to the aid of the party.”

* * *

Like lots of others, I’ve had issues with Hillary. For a start, I don’t like political dynasties no matter which side they represent. I think she made a mess of health-care reform during her husband’s tenure, and I don’t like that she stood with him for the punishing 1996 welfare reform legislation.

Some of her senatorial votes, especially regarding military intervention, were clearly questionable. Recently, I could have throttled her as she pandered to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in her unconditional support of Israel with nary a mention of that country’s transgressions against the Palestinian people.

I get that she sometimes acts as if she were exempt from the rules. And I wish she had donated her Wall Street speaking fees.

But Hillary Clinton is a woman of extraordinary intelligence, sound judgment, and experience that runs wide and deep. Her skill set is amazing. So is her patience and her cool in the face of contempt. (Think Benghazi and emails.)

Much of that contempt derives from Hillary Clinton’s being a woman. A lot of old white guys don’t like smart, powerful women and, sadly, neither do some women. Hillary has shown real fortitude as she’s faced unfounded attacks on her character, personality, and ability. It’s time we gave her credit for that.

I can say with some authority that she is also nicer than people give her credit for.

The first time I saw Hillary up close and personal was at an event honoring the late, great feminist leader Bella Abzug. Hillary greeted the audience warmly, her big blue eyes and wide grin a portrait of genuine friendship. She joked about Bella’s hats and told tales about their shared experiences.

When her remarks grew serious, she moved us all, speaking passionately about issues she and Bella cared deeply about, women’s rights and children’s welfare topping the list.

We felt her real concern and commitment to these and other matters, witnessing how they moved her.

We saw in her the ability to act forcefully on behalf of others less fortunate than those of us in the room that day.

We left inspired.

* * *

Several years later, I was in another room with Hillary. It was an auditorium in Huairou, China, site of the 1995 non-governmental forum at the Fourth World Conference on Women.

She was First Lady of the United States, but that didn’t stop her from speaking truth to power in Beijing’s political halls. A few days earlier she had declared to China’s leaders and the world, “Women’s rights are human rights! And human rights are women’s rights!” It was a stunning and courageous statement.

When she came to the NGO forum to speak, she was no less forceful and daring. Her words about the denial of women’s human rights all over the globe resonated to the 3,000 women lucky enough to have gained access to the auditorium, to the more than 35,000 conference participants who heard or read her speech later, and to all the world’s women waiting in homes and huts to learn what was happening at that awesome event.

The power and passion in that speech was unforgettable.

* * *

I’m not suggesting that I’m on Hillary Clinton’s Rolodex. I’ve never broken bread with her, nor have we had personal exchanges.

But having been in close proximity to her on a few occasions, I can say that she has been treated unfairly, mythologized, unduly doubted, diminished, and insulted without cause. It’s time for all that to stop.

For far too long now — indeed, through the ages — women have been punished for revealing their intellect and their agency. They’ve been pilloried for being political, privately and publicly.

Many women have been silenced, tortured, murdered for daring to speak their minds or make their own choices. (Just a few days before I wrote this piece, a young Middle Eastern woman died in an honor killing for refusing to marry the man her father had chosen. Elsewhere, a teenager died as a result of forced female genital cutting.)

The world must come to realize that women, who constitute the majority of the Earth’s population, deserve to have a seat at the tables of decision-making and conflict resolution, and to rise, with demonstrated competency, to positions of leadership.

Here in our own country, we must acknowledge that women like Hillary Clinton deserve to be taken seriously, treated with respect and honesty, and recognized for their immense abilities, especially in critical, dangerous, and divisive times.

It’s time now for us to have Hillary’s back, and to have her back in the White House. She may not be perfect, but she is perfectly capable of leading the country forward and, yes, carrying with her the best of the Obama legacy.

Who could possibly say that about her dangerous — and, dare I say, deranged — opponent?

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Originally published in The Commons issue #372 (Wednesday, August 31, 2016). This story appeared on page E3.

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