Much has been written about Hillary Clinton’s flaws — a good bit of it by me. But less examined are the reasons that Clinton is uniquely suited for the job to which Americans seem likely to elect her on Tuesday.
I wouldn’t think to tell someone else for whom they should vote, or endorse a candidate or even reveal publicly for whom I plan to vote. But I think it’s important, at this moment, to take stock of the strengths of the woman who would make history by becoming the nation’s first female president and, more important, is as well positioned to lead the country as any person in generations.
One of the great knocks against Clinton is that she’s an insider. I see her experience as first lady, senator and secretary of State as an invaluable asset. Her understanding of the levers of the federal government — and of American national security and foreign policy — is unusual for a modern president.
Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all needed on-the-job training — time to find their way around the West Wing, the Capitol and international capitals. The exception to that streak of neophyte presidents was George H.W. Bush, whose four-year tenure looks pretty damn good in retrospect.
The outsider presidents have contributed greatly to Washington’s grinding dysfunction because they don’t really get how the system works or how to work the system in the broad public interest.
Clinton’s worldview, honed through the pain of lessons learned the hard way, is best expressed as a belief that problems can only be solved when the greatest number of stakeholders buy into the outcome. Domestically, that means the administration, Republican and Democratic leaders, rank and file members of both parties, private companies, nonprofits and educational institutions.
As secretary of State, she worked effectively — and often behind the scenes — to win support for administration policies ranging from a new arms-reduction treaty with Russia to trade deals and sanctions.
In short, she has an inclusive approach to making policy that was evident in her co-option of a wide array of Democratic-leaning institutional players in the primary and her backing from a smaller but important set of Republican luminaries during the general election.
While much of the public views her as untrustworthy because of her email server imbroglio, and her subsequent dissembling about it, she is trusted by the people who work with her. New presidents can have a tough time finding friends; Clinton’s Rolodex is overflowing.
I don’t have any illusions that her task will be easy at a time when she will face a Republican Party in Congress that has found unity over the last eight years only in opposing the Democratic president. But Clinton is as equipped as any person in the nation to find allies in unlikely places. And unlike Obama, she understands that she’ll have to build coalitions not by the persuasive power of her philosophy but by good old-fashioned deal-cutting.
As anyone who paid close attention to the Democratic platform process knows, she was willing to give to Bernie Sanders on some details while winning on her overall agenda. Despite the public perception, Washington has lost its feel for the art of transaction. But just ends justify the means.
More than her operational style, Clinton would bring to the White House a strong sense of America’s greatest values and its role in the world. She has spent a lifetime working to elevate the powerless at home and abroad.
At times, it has been through statements of America’s position — “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights” — and at times, it has been through rolling up her sleeves to help poor families through her work at the Children’s Defense Fund, the Legal Services Corporation and on the successful effort to expand health insurance coverage for children. She has used her position — and spent her political capital — in service of those most in need. In some instances, like during her battle for her husband’s health care plan in the early 1990s, it has come at great personal and political cost to her. Like her country, she has been a beacon of hope for the voiceless.
If Clinton has demonstrated anything in her quarter of a century on the national stage, it’s that she’ll weather incoming fire in pursuit of her mission. Americans should want a president who doesn’t flinch in a crisis or abandon a path because she encounters a few obstacles — a president who gets off the mat to throw more punches. Clinton is resolute and resilient. America’s allies and enemies abroad know that. Osama bin Laden found out. Even Donald Trump gets it.
“She does fight hard, and she doesn’t quit and she doesn’t give up,” he said in a debate. “I consider that to be a very good trait.”
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.