I saw Hillary Clinton speak a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco. She packed a ballroom at the Sheraton Palace Hotel full of people for lunch. Most in the audience were women who heard about the event through word of mouth and womens’ political organizations in the area, since the event was organized by Susie Tompkins Buell and Emily’s List. I don’t know how much money the event raised but it must’ve been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I’ve blogged before about how wonderful it is that a woman is finally a viable candidate both with respect to qualifications and fund raising, but I had no particular knowledge of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s skills as an orator or policy maker beyond what I’ve read in the news before the SF event. What surprised me that afternoon as I sat eating sushi shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the Bay Area’s most powerful women, was not what I expected. In fact, I tried very hard to go into the event with no expectations at all, but with an open mind to consider this person as a candidate in her own right – not as the wife of Bill Clinton, but as someone with deep policy experience, a Senator, lawyer, wife, mother, and someone who spent 8 years working closely with the President in the White House. I knew she was savvy politically and I knew she has gained a reputation for working across the aisle in Congress. What I didn’t know was how impressed I would be.
First of all, I’ve seen a lot of candidates speak. She has skills that match the best of them. But more importantly, she did a few things to surprise me. A) She listened to her audience, without just talkinig about her agenda. She spoke about issues that concerned us. B) She responded to questions with detailed answers, not just canned sound bites. She talked for at least ten minutes about how to improve education and gave actual examples and thought-out policy changes. I’ve never seen a politician give such detail before. She spoke a lot about how important pre-school is, for example. It really made me think more about that issue than I ever had before. C) She admitted her mistakes – particularly regarding her attempts to work on universal healthcare in the past.
As someone who has worked for the government in security, I’m always concerned about any details that relate to security detail and the other thing that interested me about this event was the level of Secret Service attachment Senator Clinton has. I assumed there would be some, but as a Senator, presidential candidate and former first lady, she has a serious security staff and motorcade. This got me thinking about another issue that I don’t think most people have considered with respect to her run: she’s a huge target. So many people dislike her for a variety of reasons, so she needs that security. And on top of that, she’s taking a major additional risk becoming a presidential candidate. People can say what they want about her political agenda and formulating a path to run for president for years, but it takes a lot of courage to put up with the kind of criticism and risk.
The question on everybody’s minds, of course, is: Can she WIN? This is an incredibly unique case, so my answer still is that I don’t know. Of course Bill Clinton and political pundits with experience say she can, but they have to say that. Hillary herself says: “we won’t know until we try.” (She was referring to getting a woman elected in general, but since she’s the only woman with a chance right now, she’s our sample.) I just don’t know. It’s a numbers game and she has to convince enough moderate and liberal voters to vote for her. Most conservatives detest her and will never consider voting for her and will fight tooth and nail to defeat her. But it is theoretically possible that if she swung enough moderates who see her work across the aisle that she could do it. And if she could capture the majority of the women’s vote (which I think she can), that will be huge. That’s assuming she can win the Democratic nomination, which I believe she can. I don’t know if she will, of course, but she’s definitely a strong enough candidate that she’s viable in that area – unlike Joe Biden, for example, who just doesn’t have a chance at this point. We’ll have to see how the debates play out with Barack Obama, the youthful favorite, and Chris Dodd, who I believe is a dark horse.
The bottom line is that Hillary Clinton is worth considering. Take a look at her site. Don’t count her out. Read about her policy plans. Go see her speak next time she’s in town. The one thing that I took from the event was that day 1 in the White House, she will hit the ground running and make major policy changes to improve the environment, education, health care, and foreign policy. Whether she can lead as well as she can collaborate remains to be seen, but she definitely has promise.