Monday, January 28, 2008

Finding Her Voice, Finding My Support

The January 21, 2008 edition of Newsweek magazine brought with it an interesting reaction from me. On the cover is the quote, now known the country over, from Hillary Clinton's victory speech in New Hampshire: "I found my own voice."

Not too many weeks ago, though definitely prior to Clinton's win in New Hampshire, I spoke those very words when discussing a writer I admire and her influence on me. I understand with absolute certainty what she means and it isn't simply a campaign tactic or a catchy phrase you throw into a victory speech. It is a state of mind and state of being that allows you to be who you truly are. It is, as so many have said, the notion of letting Hillary be Hillary. The night of the New Hampshire primary, I got choked up when she uttered those five words. This was followed by the arrival of Newsweek. I had just returned from a road trip to Elko, Nevada, where I heard the three Democratic candidates speak, where my perceptions of each of them were sufficiently challenged, and where somehow my opinion of Hillary Clinton turned around.

Seeing the candidates reminded me of how these three Democrats ended up in this race. I was reminded of why the down-to-earth nature of John Edwards appeals to so many Americans. I was reminded of that spark that so many speak of when eluding to Senator Obama, the spark that caused the Kennedy's to "pass the torch" to him today in their endorsements, and I was completely impressed with Michelle Obama. I was reminded of Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I was reminded of how excited I was by the idea of General Wesley Clark as commander-in-chief in 2004. General Clark was there to introduce Senator Clinton. However, what surprised me was how irrelevant all of my disagreements with Clinton seemed as I sat there listening to General Clark express his complete confidence in her foreign policy expertise and her readiness to be President of the United States.

I have bad mouthed Hillary Clinton since the day the Clintons left the White House. I called it a political stunt when she visited Ground Zero, without any respect for her position as junior senator from the state of New York. I criticized many of her votes in the Senate and judged her attempt at winning friends across the aisle as a brand of treason. And every day since the vote was taken as to whether President Bush should be allowed to use force and enter Iraq, I have chastised Senator Clinton both publicly and privately.

My initial support in the 2008 presidential race went to former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. His presidential hopes were short lived and I was sad to see him leave the race just as quickly as he entered it. As the pack emerged, I saw a candidate in Edwards that wasn't the candidate I saw in 2004; I saw a young, charismatic, inexperienced Senator Obama; I saw a seasoned politician with incredible foreign policy experience and a knack for putting his foot in his mouth in Biden; I saw true love and respect for democracy in Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich; and, in Hillary Clinton, I saw a woman battered by her husband's tainted presidential legacy and conflicted in her own political aspirations.

I see a different woman today. I see a woman who is just as strong, if not stronger, than her male counterparts. I see a woman who is ready to lead the charge in the fight oft overlooked in Washington for universal health care. I see a woman who is well versed in foreign policy, domestic policy, and the needs of a struggling nation. I see a woman who not only found her own voice, but captured it and is using it to speak truth to power.

My greatest disagreement with her, the war in Iraq, is something I cannot negotiate. I will forever disagree with her vote to allow the President of the United States the use of force against a nation, though ruled by a tyrant, that was of no credible threat to the United States and would serve as only an immediate distraction from the war being waged against the real threat of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. However, the issue is no longer about who voted for the war, it is an issue of who will bring us out of the war in a timely fashion. To paraphrase the New York Times editorial board, "[I] opposed President Bush's decision to invade Iraq and [I] disagree with Mrs. Clinton's vote for the resolution on the use of force. That's not the issue now; it is how the war will be ended."

Without question, the endorsements today of the leaders of the Kennedy family--Senator Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, and Representative Patrick Kennedy--are a symbolic gesture of passing the torch to a new generation of Americans via Barack Obama. Do I question their endorsement? Yes, in the sense that I wonder how a family that had strong ties to the Clintons could abandon them now. Ted Kennedy campaigned for and supported President Clinton. He was a supporter of Hillary when she first ran for the United States Senate. They have been colleagues working together to pass sound legislation for the benefit of everyday Americans. There is certainly a reason that hanging on the second floor of the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, you will find a picture of Bill and Hillary Clinton sailing with Ted Kennedy, the late Jackie Kennedy, and Caroline Kennedy. As Craig Crawford of CQ Politics said this evening, "what would Jackie say?" Jackie Kennedy was a strong, brilliant woman who displayed one quality in abundance--loyalty. Would she have joined the Obama wave today? I think not.

Despite my questioning of the Kennedys today, I readily admit it was particularly difficult for me to swallow their endorsement of Obama. How do I in good conscience watch with complete admiration while my endorsement post sits waiting to be published? It wasn't easy, that I will say for certain.

While a majority of my peers are campaigning for a man who appeals to our generation, I cannot abandon the idea of another first--the first woman to occupy the Oval Office. I cannot abandon credentials that include graduate of Wellesley College and Yale Law School, First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, and United States Senator. Unlike Senator Kennedy, I cannot abandon the candidate who played an important role in the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a program both Senator Kennedy and I support 100%. Hillary Clinton has fought tirelessly for the funding and continuation of SCHIP. I cannot deny my gratitude for Hillary Clinton's work to pass the Adoption and Safe Families Act, an act that has incredible significance in my own life. Despite the failures of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, I believe Hillary Clinton possesses a unique determination that will ensure the passage of solid health care reform that will prevent Americans from suffering from treatable diseases by securing health insurance plans for all Americans. I cannot deny the integral role Hillary Clinton has played in women's rights, including her service as an ambassador and advocate or women's rights around the world as well as at home with the creation of the Office on Violence Against Women within the United States Justice Department.

I believe, as does General Wesley Clark, that Hillary Clinton is prepared to be commander-in-chief. I cannot say this for the other Democratic candidates in the race for the White House. I believe that Hillary Clinton displays the breadth of knowledge that will allow her to pass through Congress necessary legislation to move this nation, our economy, and our military in a positive direction. I believe Hillary Clinton has experience, not experience as defined by years as the pundits will often say in a comparison with Obama, but the experiences of winning and losing. I believe that Hillary Clinton is strong on policy issues and because she has both won and lost policy battles in the past, her experiences will allow her to do what is necessary the day after those policies succeed or fail. It is not day one that concerns me, it is the days that will follow.

When I was six years old my grandmother introduced me to the Kennedy legacy. By the time I was twelve I had memorized Kennedy's greatest speeches, the speech at Rice where he promised we would make it to the moon, his speech on the world stage in Berlin, and the speech he was to give in Dallas on November 22, 1963. If in this campaign we are to invoke the words of President Kennedy, should we not be looking to Kennedy's example more so than whether or not the words that are spoken resemble his or those of his brother?

"So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation's future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause--united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future--and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance."

There is more at stake in this election than most of us realize. There is a war not far from home that comes into our living rooms every evening leaving cynicism in its wake. Our economy no longer rises with the sun and our families are broken due to the bills they cannot pay and the unbeatable illnesses that arrive where no health insurance plan is within financial reach. There is more at stake than the passing of a torch can solve.

Just as often as I have looked to the Kennedys for political inspiration, I have looked to the women who came before me and established my right to vote. There is a place reserved for the first female president of the United States in a sculpture of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott in Washington, D.C. May that place soon be filled with the likeness of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thanks to the progressive movements that have come before us, each of us have the right and responsibility to vote. I intend to use that right in casting my ballot for Senator Hillary Clinton, the best and most qualified candidate in the 2008 presidential race. Please join me on February 5th as we make history and caucus for the next President of the United States.


Diana Rowe Pauls said...

What a beautiful and eloquent endorsement! I so appreciated learning about your thought process. I know my post (when I get around to writing it!) won't hold a candle to yours, in intellectually as well as emotionally.

Thank you for sharing!

Jessica said...

She is A-MAY-ZING.

Julie Fanselow said...

Nice work, Tara. This is beautifully crafted and well researched. Your reasons for endorsing Clinton are intellectually sound. It's on the emotional, gut-check plane that they do not resonate with me.

It is ironic that - since the Newsweek cover two weeks ago - Hillary's voice has been all but drowned out by Bill's. The Clintons' penchant for political backbiting and win-at-all-cost rhetoric is my greatest reason for knowing that, despite Hillary's manifest accomplishments and indisputable qualifications, the United States will be better off if she is not the Democratic nominee in 2008.

Yes, we must face all the issues you've outlined - but we must do so with the mandate of a working majority built upon a landslide electoral victory. If Clinton is the Democratic nominee, it's nearly certain we will have a three-way race with Mike Bloomberg entering as an independent. If she wins such a race (and I believe she would), it would be - like Bill before her - with substantially less than a majority. Even in a two-way race, a victorious Clinton would be president of the same closely divided and bitterly partisan nation we have now. Republicans who are otherwise unsatisfied with their nominee will still come out to vote - against Hillary Clinton.

The Kennedys endorsed Obama for the same reason many regular Americans have: They know that - given the issues at stake - we cannot afford another eight years of partisan rancor. They know the time for politics-as-usual is over. Given the thin policy differences between Clinton and Obama - and Obama's own stellar record of accomplishment, albeit 15 years shorter than Clinton's - they chose to look to the future rather than remain mired in our present partisan gridlock. They are putting loyalty *to country* ahead of personal loyalty.

Independents and Republicans who are fed up with their party are gravitating to Obama. They will not do the same for Hillary Clinton. The way forward seems clear to me.

MountainGoat said...

Nice piece, Tara. I'm glad you had the courage to speak up, given the nature of things here, and so very eloquently.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Thanks all. Something in the news this morning caught my eye:

These endorsements (or lack thereof) matter quite a bit to me.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Doesn't look like that link is working. Try this:

Wordsmith said...

There's only so many Kennedys anyway....

This evening's primary in Florida must've been sobering for the Obama camp.

Excellent, Tara, excellent. I printed it out for my daughter. She's not a fan of Hillary; I am, just more of John Edwards fan. :-)

Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

A very nice endorsement. And this is coming from a long-time Edwards supporter.