I like Hillary a lot, and I would, per that old canard, have a beer with her. But I think it’s pretty neat that she’s the first presidential candidate I can imagine might enjoy having a beer with me, too.
The first piece I ever wrote for BNR was about how I came to be a Hillary Clinton supporter after discovering a person whom I like very much woven throughout her speeches, her emails, her interviews, her debates, her testimony before Congress, her biography, her record as a First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, and accounts of people who have worked with and for her.
The actual person, at turns fantastic and flawed, buried beneath the caricatures of her that have been built by the very commentators who then turn around and criticize her lack of authenticity.
I don’t mention here that Hillary is flawed in some reflexive preemption of the accusation that I believe she’s above criticism. (I am keenly aware no amount of careful caveat can dissuade that urge.) I mention it because it is part of acknowledging the full scope of her humanity; because it is a rejection of the unreasonable standards of perfection to which she is held.
She is flawed, and I like her anyway.
I like her because she’s a person who engenders loyalty like I’ve never observed elsewhere from people who work with her. I will never forget Jon Favreau’s essay in which he writes about how different she is “than the caricature [he] had helped perpetuate” and describes her as “uncommonly warm and thoughtful. She surprises with birthday cakes. She calls when a grandparent passes away. She once rearranged her entire campaign schedule so a staffer could attend her daughter’s preschool graduation. Her husband charms by talking to you; Hillary does it by listening to you.”
I like her because she listens to women like the Mothers of the Movement, who lost children to gun violence, and who campaign with her because she reached out to them to listen—and to provide them a platform so that other people could listen to the important stories they have to tell, too.
I like her because she’s the kind of person who inspired a solid minute of cheers and applause when she arrived at the State Department, greeted by people who were relieved and excited and thrilled to welcome someone with her decency after 8 long years of Bush administration awfulness. I like her because they had high expectations for her, and she didn’t let them down.
I like her because she has successfully navigated decades of sustained misogyny and personal attacks, the pervasiveness and cruelty of which I cannot even begin to contemplate in their unfathomable sum. I don’t know what the personal cost to Hillary it has been, weathering all of that intense hatred for so long, but I know it’s not nothing. And I like her for being someone who, despite having to face evidence that parts of her country hate her, viciously and undeterrably, still wants to serve her country as its president.
I like her because, although being subjected to both intense hatred and conflicting rules that mean one can’t ever win can have the understandable effect of turning people brittle and self-conscious, she still has a wonderful sense of humor about herself. I like her for sending herself up on Saturday Night Live, with genuine enjoyment. (And fewer glances at the cue cards than many professional actors!)
I like her because she’s a team player. I like her for pivoting from President Obama’s opposition to his champion, and leaving an acrimonious primary behind her to campaign with him in a town called Unity. I like her because the friendship and alliance they built is one of my favorite stories in US politics. I like her for all the superlatives she has used to describe President Obama, and I like her for promising to protect his legacy—because, as it happens, I like him very much, too.
I like her for liking other women. I love looking at photos of her with other influential women and being able to see how evident it is that she likes working with and sharing space with other women. Even though she is often the only woman in a room—and often the only woman in a photo, her brightly colored blazer standing out among a sea of dark suits—she doesn’t want to be the only woman there, but wants to open the doors for ever more women in public spaces. I like her for never playing the Exceptional Woman, who isn’t like all those other women, but for being a woman who loves and respects other women.
I like her for her wry humor. Especially when it’s deployed against Republicans. Oh dear, how I love when she talks smack about Republicans. About Ted Cruz frying bacon on a gun. About Donald Trump and his beautiful, tall wall. I can’t get enough of it.
I like her for being such a nerd! She’s such an A-student. She knows everything about everything (or so it often seems), and I will never stop being delighted that she’s totally the kind of irrepressible nerd who knows the difference between a yurt and a ger.
I like her laugh. It is a big, loud, cascading laugh. I have a laugh like that, too. A friend of mine once told me it’s the kind of laugh that, when he overhears it at a restaurant, it makes him wish he was sitting at that table. I know what he means. When I hear Hillary’s laugh, I don’t hear a “cackle,” or any of the other ways it has been disparagingly described. I hear a laugh that makes me want to be sitting at her table.
I like her expressive face. I once wrote: “I always find the charge that she is inauthentic to be completely hilarious, because Hillary Clinton has about the farthest thing from a poker face as exists in US politics.” I like her for wearing her emotions all over her expressive face, whether she’s conveying disdain at Congressmen with a transparently partisan agenda, or undiluted joy at meeting a child on the campaign trail.
I like her for dancing and singing and being silly, even when she knows darn well that it will be mocked and ridiculed by people who seize on any chance to demean her. I like pictures of her partying and having a drink. She looks like some damn fun.
I like women who are some damn fun.
One of the most over-done frames in US politics is the old “the candidate with whom you’d most like to have a beer” chestnut. It’s never Hillary who tops the list. George W. Bush? Sure. (Never mind that he was a teetotaler.) Trump? Of course! He seems like fun. But Hillary? Hard pass.
I would certainly accept an invitation to have a beer with Hillary (and I trust she wouldn’t mind if I imbibed a tipple of Scotch instead). But the fact that I want to have a drink with Hillary, because I find her so eminently likeable in spite of the narratives that she isn’t, is rather less interesting to me than this: I’m fairly certain that Hillary is the first presidential candidate in my lifetime who might enjoy having a drink with me.
Whether I like the person for whom I cast my vote has never been particularly relevant to me. It’s always been more important that I trust them. I have, however, liked a few of the people for whom I’ve cast votes.
But I’ve never thought for a moment that any of them would like me back.
Which is neither an unduly self-effacing commentary on my own likability—I have plenty of friends who like and love me a whole lot—nor is it a unilateral negative commentary on other presidential candidates. I daresay President Obama, who has a fondness for pick-up games, might like hanging out with me more if I weren’t 5’3 with the athleticism of a tortoise.
It’s simply an observation about the fact that there has never been a presidential candidate who has experienced life in many of the same ways I have—as a bookish white girl, raised in a Chicago suburb in a conservative religious family, who grew beyond the boundaries of what life was supposed to look like. Who became a feminist. Who doesn’t want to be the only woman succeeding, but one of many. Who will maybe never dance in public with abandon, but will still dance all the same. Who has no poker face.
Who just likes people so much, and wants to listen to their stories.
There are people who don’t feel this way about Hillary, but feel it very strongly about President Obama. He would like them, he would get them, in a way no other modern presidential candidate ever could.
And there are people who have yet to meet (so to speak) a presidential candidate about whom they could feel the same. There are some parts of ourselves, innate or nurtured, so central to who we are that only another person who shares them can possibly be someone who makes us feel that thing, that “I’d have a drink with that person” thing.
That “whoa, this is a presidential candidate who might actually enjoy having a drink with me” thing. A thing I never even knew it was possible to feel until there was a presidential candidate about whom I felt it.
I like Hillary Clinton. A whole lot. And it frankly feels kind of magical to imagine there could be a president who could like me right back.
Heck yeah I’d have a drink with her. And I think she’d have a drink with me, too.
If it ever happens, you’ll find our table by the sound of our laughter.
(Photo: Barbara Kinney for Hillary for America)