I haven’t been a fan of Hillary Clinton since the Monica Lewinsky thing. I know it’s judgmental and wrong, but it’s true. It wasn’t that her husband cheated or that she did the whole “stand by your man” routine — although I did find that part a little pathetic for such an intelligent, accomplished woman.
It was the lying that bothered me.
And it’s also probably judgmental and wrong to admit that I’ve pretty much discounted anything she has had to say since then. But it’s true. She and her husband can come across as so insincere.
So I am a little shocked to find myself liking the way she interacted with representatives of the Boston chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement following a campaign event in New Hampshire.
To recap for anyone not familiar, Black Lives Matter representatives had planned to storm Clinton’s forum on addiction in New Hampshire last week. They did not arrive at the event on time and were asked to wait in the runoff room, where Clinton met with them privately. Pundits everywhere are commenting on this opportunity to see her speaking in an unscripted fashion, and there are those who don’t appreciate her candor.
I found it refreshing, even if the representatives were disappointed. The main speaker of the group began by talking about mass incarceration and about Clinton’s role in the Violent Crimes Act when her husband was in office. He wanted to know how Clinton’s feelings had changed since those days.
The “feelings” issue was very important to the speaker who brought it up a second time after Clinton gave what I thought was a well-thought-out, well-rounded answer:
“I think that there has to be a reckoning. I agree with that. I also think there has to be some positive vision and plan that you can move people toward. Once you say you know this country has not recovered from its original sin, which is true … then the next question … is ‘So what do you want me to do about it? What am I supposed to do about it?’ That’s what I’m trying to put together in a way where I can explain it, and I can sell it. Because in politics if you can’t explain it, and you can’t sell it, it stays on the shelf,” she said.
“Your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair. But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, ‘Here’s what we want done about it.’ Because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium, and a million more like it, who are going to say, ‘Oh we get it, we get it, we’ve got to be nicer.’ That’s not enough, at least in my book.”
When the representative brought it up a second time, I had to laugh. Not to minimize the movement, because I think it’s terrific that young people are so motivated to action.
But, seriously, if you want to talk feelings and have a therapy moment, confront a therapist, not a lawyer.
Clinton handled it like a seasoned lawyer. Further, she handled it like a lawyer who actually respected the person with whom she was speaking — a point I think pundits and the representatives are missing. She affirmed his historical assertions and agreed that mass incarceration had been a failure that disproportionately affected blacks, but then she gently challenged the representatives to think strategically.
She wanted to have a conversational sparring match, which is a seasoned-lawyer’s way of saying she is interested in the subject at hand.
Clinton could have easily given some superficial statement intended to end the conversation as quickly as possible. She is a master of that technique. Instead she asked the representatives what they thought needed to be done and asked them to look beyond just feelings to plans of action. People familiar with the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would know that she was echoing his call for people to have “a tough mind and a tender heart.”
She continued the echo when she spoke of other social movements that brought about change through strategic planning. King and other civil rights leaders targeted specific policies and laws on the state and federal level, and King’s communications with President Lyndon Johnson were a critical part of the movement. Protesting and “changing hearts” were only part of the plan.
When Clinton went on to discuss the importance of looking at access to safe housing and quality education, I began to wonder which of the two parties were more well versed in King’s work. That, too, was an echo. At the end of his life, King became disillusioned with the civil rights movement, and in 1967 he decided the focus should spread to poverty in general, specifically looking at issues such as housing and education.
I also began to wonder if I would have been more inclined to like Clinton had she come from such an authentic and candid place throughout her career. Would this authentic and candid Clinton have conducted herself differently? I certainly would have liked her more.
Whether or not she’s elected — and, no, this one isolated moment of likeability is not enough to garner my vote — the Black Lives Matter representatives should take her words into consideration.
The youthful energy fueling that movement is awesome. Add a pinch of the wisdom of their elders, and they might really accomplish something.