I’m disappointed to report that I am 0-3 at meeting Hillary Rodham Clinton-I saw her speak in Nashville twice and last night at the Fox Theatre. The most striking point of the night was when host Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agnes Scott College asked if she would be running in 2020 (or encouraging support toward a particular candidate). “Let’s win in 2018,” Hillary replied with a knowing smile. “Then we can talk about 2020.”
I drove the 4 hours to Atlanta from Music City for this event. It was held at the Fox Theatre with 4500 strong. Secretary Clinton came onto the stage as a rockstar. The first student commencement speaker at Wellesley College, Children’s Defense Fund lawyer, former partner at the Rose Law Firm, former First Lady of Arkansas, former First Lady of the United States, former Senator from the state of New York, former Secretary of State and first woman to be nominated for president of the United States by a major party soaked up the sustained applause.
Secretary Clinton had four important points to make before answering questions. 1) After losing the 2016 election, it was critically important to send a message of resilience, “Everybody gets knocked down,” she said. “It only matters if you get back up.” Trump’s questionable victory demoralized decency but, Hillary declared, “The fever is breaking and the tide is turning.” This view was buoyed by Democratic victories across the country. 2) She revealed a secret: Had her critics let her alone she might have “stayed in the woods forever.” The visceral reaction to her, she argued, was not seen toward the runners up in other recent presidential elections: John Kerry, John McCain and Mitt Romney didn’t face a raging current telling them to ‘go away.’ To this she reflected back at the three men and saw only one major difference between her and them: she was the only woman. Sexism, she argued, is rampant in politics -as seen in the group of “elderly white men getting together to decide what women need in health care.” But in this too, Secretary Clinton struck an optimistic tone. “20,000 women signed up for [political] training,” Hillary exclaimed before adding that her belief is that the way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women in politics.
3) “The forces at work in 2016,” said Secretary Clinton, “Are still with us.” She rebuked the recent gossip from the former interim DNC chair making the rounds, without ever mentioning it, by pointing the finger not at fellow Democrats but to the Republican Party which has been systematically suppressing the vote for years. Her message to the GOP was simple, “If you can’t win an election fair and square, you shouldn’t win an election.” Clinton said that the massive voter suppression, hasn’t received nearly enough media attention-maybe she should have written her concern in an email.
By forces “still with us” that are getting more attention, she was speaking to the involvement of the Kremlin in American elections. “No foreign power,” she said. “Has ever attacked the United States with so few consequences.” The goals of the Russians continue to be pursued here, not only to attack Hillary Clinton but to do everything they can to divide Americans. She smarted, Trump’s public relationship with Putin is so ridiculous it couldn’t be sold for a Hollywood movie.
Her last point might have been the most important. 4) “There is no such things as an alternative facts.” Clinton explained that powerful interests have been wearing down the defenses of the public for years. “The first thing dictators do is distort the facts.” If the truth is obscured, one can hide among the lies.
The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA is ornate and for the short Q&A with Liz Kiss the raucous crowd watched under a starry sky. The friendly interview questions focused almost entirely on female empowerment. Secretary Clinton expressed an interest in where the paths of boys and girls diverge. She quotes research showing that success of men and women trigger a completely different response from society: the more success men have the more they are liked and the more successful a woman is the less likable she becomes. Even worse, she explained, “psychological stresses (on girls) are much greater today” than when she was raising Chelsea.
Responding to criticism in a productive way is especially important for women too, Clinton argued. Far from ignoring criticism, Clinton suggests you should learn from criticism where possible but, “Don’t let anyone drag you down or tear you apart.” In addition Hillary was adamant that women speak up. She described the familiar scene of a woman at a conference table suggesting an idea and getting ignored while a man making the same suggestion is taken seriously. She encouraged boldness-for instance, thank the man for supporting her position and clarifying the point.
She wrapped up the conversation by bringing it back to elections and the difference between advocating and governing. “Being an advocate means you find a position and push that position 24-7.” She described the frustrations of having to compromise on those positions when governing to further the cause. She described how Welfare reform in the 90’s had caused a rift between her and one of her heroes, Marion Wright Edelman. It was a difficult time and she admitted that if she had still been in the role of advocate at the time and not trying to pass legislation she would have probably opposed the bill too. But, she explained, you need both. Those who will keep pushing for the goal and those who will chip away for progress. And to make progress, elections must be won. Run for something or get involved in a campaign. Pay attention to local races and watch out for electoral “shenanigans.” Some of the things to watch for are early voting days being limited, more polling places in white upper class neighborhoods or polling stations being kept open longer in Republican heavy counties. These and other tricks are frequently used to give an unfair advantage at the expense of minorities and the poor. It’s up to us. In the words of Kevin from Home Alone, “It’s [our Democracy] we have to defend it!”
What Happened: The New York Times bestselling memoir about the 2016 election from the perspective of the Democratic nominee is an engrossing description about the ups and downs of running for president against a reality TV star. While exploring the shortcomings of her own campaign she describes other factors that contributed to her winning the popular vote by 3 million votes but being forced to cede the White House to the loser who managed to win the Electoral College with the help of his Russian friends, the systematic suppression of votes and an FBI director’s decision to talk about one investigation while keeping another secret. (originally published on November 14, 2017)
-Adam James is the editor-in-chief of Majority 60 and a political scientist. Before founding “M60” as a place for Democratic movers and shakers to meet and discuss important topics, he traveled the United States while earning his MBA and later his MA in political science. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife. Follow him on Twitter @adamjamesm60 Majority 60 was founded in 2016.