When Bush was elected in 2000, I was unhappy, but optimistic. I believed that he was an empty suit and that our republic was strong enough to withstand four years of conservative rule. One term. Like father, like son. Even after 9/11 and three years of reckless fiscal policy, I was positive.
After the heart-breaking election of 2004, an election in which anti-gay marriage amendments were used to GOTV and religious conservatives were credited with saving Bush, I wrote off politics for good. I never thought that I would ever care again. I never thought that I would ever again support a politician. But I was wrong.
In January 2007, a candidate entered the race for the Democratic nomination, a candidate who has inspired my confidence like none other. This candidate has made me excited about politics again and made believe that America’s best days really are ahead of her. This candidate’s story and message have made me optimistic about the future and proud to be an American. This candidate’s record demonstrates that there was finally a politician who understands people like me, people who exist on the margins of society, people for whom there are no easy choices. This candidate is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Time and again throughout her life in and out of the spotlight, both as a politician and the spouse of a politician, Hillary Clinton has had to choose between was it best for herself and what is best for others. She has made difficult choices, putting her husband, her daughter, and her country before herself. Attacked from the right for being too unconventional, attacked from the left for not being unconventional enough, Hillary has been remained committed to one principle—public service is about putting the interests of others before oneself.
There are two reasons that I really relate to Hillary and that I believe that Hillary really understands people like me. And yes, both involve her gender.
First, throughout her career, Hillary has been attacked for refusing to conform to traditional gender norms. As a gay man, I can certainly relate to being punished for refusing to fit the mold. In addition, Hillary has often been criticized from left, for not being a true feminist. She has taken hits for standing by Bill after his infidelities and for supporting a tough foreign policy to avoid looking "weak."
Second, Hillary knows what it is like not to have any easy choices. She knows what it is like to be expected to conform. She has had to make very difficult decisions, decisions that straight men would be far less likely to make, decisions for which she was criticized from both directions.
In her book, Living History, she talks about her decision to move to Arkansas to be with Bill (pgs 69-70).
"Are you out of your mind?" said Sara Ehrman when I broke the news. "Why on earth would you throw away your future?"
...My decision to move did not come out of the blue. Bill and I had been pondering our predicament since we started dating. If we were to be together, one of us had to give ground. With the unexpected end of my work in Washington, I had the time and space to give our relationship—and Arkansas—a chance. Despite her misgivings, Sara offered to drive me down. Every few miles, she asked me if I knew what I was doing, and I gave her the same answer every time: "No, but I’m going anyway."
I’ve sometimes had to listen hard to my own feelings to decide what was right for me, and that can make for some lonely decisions if your friends and family—let alone the public and the press—questions your choices and speculate on your motives. I had fallen in love with Bill in law school and wanted to be with him. I knew I was always happier with Bill than without him, and I’d always assumed that I could live a fulfilling life anywhere. If I was going to grow as a person, I knew it was time for me—to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt—to do what I was most afraid to do. So I was driving toward a place where I’d never lived and had no friends or family. But my heart told me I was going in the right direction.
As first lady of Arkansas, she was, yes, a corporate attorney who sat the board of Wal Mart, but she was also an advocate for children’s issues. She did a lot of pro bono work for children and families during that time. And once again, she had to choose between being Hillary and conforming to a role (pgs 91-93):
The pressures on me to conform had increased dramatically when Bill was elected Governor in 1978. I could get away with being considered a little unconventional as the wife of the Attorney General, but as First Lady of Arkansas, I was thrown into an unblinking spotlight. And for the first time, I came to realize how my personal choices could impact my husband’s political future....
The winter after Bill’s defeat, a few of our friends and supporters came to talk to me about using "Clinton" as my last name. Ann Henry told me some people were upset when they received invitations to events at the Governor’s Mansion from "Governor Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham." Chelsea’s birth announcement, also featuring our two names, was apparently a hot subject of conversation around the state. People in Arkansas reacted to me much as my mother-in-law had when she first met me: I was an oddity because of my dress, my Northern ways and the use of my maiden name.
Jim Blair joked about staging an elaborate scenario on the steps of the Capital. Bill would put his foot on my throat, yank me by my hair and say something like, "Woman, you’re going to take my last name and that’s that!" Flags would wave, hymns would be sung and the name would change...
I decided that it was more important for Bill to be Governor again that for me to keep my maiden name. So when Bill announced his run for another term on Chelsea’s second birthday, I began calling myself Hillary Rodham Clinton.
When Bill humiliated her in front of the entire world, she didn’t cower. She didn’t run away and hide. And when she decided to stick with him, she was, again, criticized from left for not being feminist enough and criticized from the right for continuing in a sham marriage. In the midst of the politics of the scandal people forgot that she had a daughter to consider. Her book alludes to her motives (pg 61):
My mother had suffered from her parents’ divorce, and her sad and lonely childhood was imprinted on my heart. I knew that when I decided to marry, I wanted it to be for life. Looking back to that time and to the person I was, I realize how scared I was of commitment in general and of Bill’s intensity in particular. I thought of him as a force of nature and wandered whether I’d be up to the task of living through his seasons.
People say that Hillary doesn’t know who she is, that she doesn’t have a strong sense of self. I emphatically disagree. Throughout her life, Hillary put the needs of others before her own ambitions. She moved to Arkansas so Bill could pursue a political career. She changed her name to appease the conservative Arkansas electorate. Throughout Bill’s career, when her husbands’ supporters felt she was a liability, she stepped out of the spotlight and kept her mouth shut.
Some say that it is part of a pattern of behavior. Indeed, it is. Hillary has faced nothing but tough choices throughout her career, indeed, throughout her life as a public figure. She has no compunction about taking the difficult road, and when she does, she stands by her decisions.
She has been willing to take on battles that she knew would leave her bloody and bruised. After Bill was re-elected in 1982, she took on education reform (pg 94):
...Bill and I agreed that the Arkansas would never prosper without an overhaul of its education system. Bill announced that he was forming an Education Standards Committee to recommend sweeping educational reforms, and he wanted me to be its Chair.
I had chaired the Rural Health Committee, and Bill asked me to tackle education because he wanted to send a signal about how serious he was. Nobody, including me, thought it was a good idea. But Bill wouldn’t take no for an answer. "Look on the bright side," he said. "If you’re successful, our friends will complain that you could have done even more. And our enemies will complain that you did too much. If you accomplish nothing, our friends will say, ‘She should never have tried this.’ And our enemies will say, ‘See, she couldn’t get anything done!’" Bill was convinced he was right to appoint me, and eventually, I relented.
Perhaps this was the reason that she was willing to step into the spotlight, the wife of a first term president, and tackle health care reform. She knew from past experience that she would please few, infuriate many, and emerge a target of scorn, but she did it anyway.
What does this mean to me personally? Why am I so passionate in my support? I have lived in China for almost five years and I have been in a relationship for the last two years. Unfortunately, my career and my relationship have reached a fork in the road, and because of the discriminatory marriage laws in the United States, I am faced with a difficult decision—return to the United States to work on my PhD, something I have dreamed of doing for many years, or continue in a job that I no longer find fulfilling in a city where I have very limited career options.
I know many men who have come to China to find (often much younger) wives who will wait on them hand and foot, quickly marrying a woman with limited English and whisking her back to the United States. I am in a loving, committed relationship with a man who has lived in three countries, speaks four languages, and has his own promising career in business. It is hard, at times, for me not to feel bitter about the choice I’m being forced to make.
When I see Hillary, I see somebody who has face similar impossible choices. She has faced them because she is a woman, she was criticized for them because she was a public figure supporting her husband's career, and yet she soldiers forward. To me, that is inspiring. For the first time, I have the opportunity to vote for a candidate who understands people like me, people who live at the margins of society, people for whom there are no easy choices. That is why I am supporting Senator Hillary Clinton. That is why I hope you give her another look. That is why I am standing by her no matter where the campaign goes this week.
NOTE: As I was working on this dairy, over a period of several weeks, I realized something. When you feel inspired by or feel a connection with a candidate in the way that I do with Hillary and as the majority of the readers here do with Obama, there is a lot of emotion involved. As I discovered, it often is very difficult to explain those emotions, but that doesn’t mean that your commitment to a candidate is not rational.
I realize that it is wrong for anybody to compare the Obama campaign to a cult. I am very emotional and passionate about my support for Hillary, much like many of Obama’s supporters. Those emotions may be difficult to understand if you don’t experience them, but that does not mean that those emotions are irrational. In light of this discovery, I am going to make an effort, regardless of what happens this week, to be more positive in my advocacy of Hillary’s candidacy and in my criticism of Senator Obama.