If Hillary Clinton went to my high school, we would certainly not have been friends.
That’s not saying much, I guess. Try being friends with me, any of you. It’s very difficult. I’m like a goddamn feral cat, I choose my friends very selectively and under no rational set of criteria. It was worse in high school — in high school, trying to befriend me was like trying to beat Kim Jong Un in Chutes and Ladders. Anyway,
Hillary Clinton and I would have stayed away from each other in high school — warily eyeing each other every day in the front row of AP US History, neither of us willing to shatter our bubbles of superiority to exchange even brief pleasantries at the end of class. I’d be jealous of her for being the school’s presumptive valedictorian with a resumé that’s exhausting just to glance at. She’d be jealous of me for being better liked by all of our teachers and sailing through every class without appearing to try at all.
We’d share a very deep level of unpopularity but for two entirely different reasons. She’d be unpopular for trying so hard to get popular kids to like her, and I’d be unpopular for clearly hating anybody and anything even associated with popularity. She’d be a poser, I’d be an asshole, and nobody would care for either of us.
But we aren’t in high school anymore, and now that I’ve matured a little bit I think it’s about time I step in to defend Ms. Clinton. That’s right. I’ve been silent long enough. Since I’m a liberal college student, everyone’s assumed that I’m a Sanders fan, a Bernie jabroni. For a while, I assumed that I supported Sanders too. But when I took a serious look at this election, I realized that I had unknowingly sided with a cool kid without really thinking about it. Clinton’s a nerd and nobody likes her, but she’s been the best possible candidate for president since this trainwreck of an election season started.
In his recent op-ed for The Times responding to new polls that put Clinton’s national favorability neck-and-neck with Donald Trump, David Brooks summed things up with a question: “Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun?” That seems like a pretty salient analysis, but it’s also infinitely stupid. That’s the last question anybody should be asking as we try to elect any politician. I’m probably going to repeat this sentiment a few times in the next few paragraphs, but here it is: We’re not trying to elect Jimmy Fallon’s successor. We’re trying to elect a president — a politician who will spend at least four years in charge of a slow, boring political system, making compromises and mediating the contradictory demands of the people. Clinton’s 68, she probably crochets for fun. Who cares?
As Sanders was gaining momentum back in November, Vice News published an article called “We Will Not Be Tricked: Why Millennials Love Bernie Sanders.” It outlined the narrative you’ve heard a million times by now — that Sanders is a genuine, honest guy who wants to do right in politics and Clinton is a skeevy, uncool rat-bastard who will do anything to be elected. Somehow, millennials have magically gained the ability to see through the smoke and mirrors of elections, and they hate Clinton because she’s clearly a lying shill for corporate America.
That’s a lovely narrative, but it’s highly untrue. In fact, Clinton has had the highest rate of truthfulness this year according to Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning election fact checker. Yes, of course, she’s flip-flopped like crazy to adapt to the changing interests of the Democratic party. Yes, she has super PACs and is raising billions of dollars to campaign against Trump. But that’s because she’s a machine, a near-perfect specimen of an American politician — she assesses the current interests of her constituents and spits back out a platform that they agree with. She knows the full extent of the electoral system and is playing it to her fullest advantage, fundraising every way possible so that she can win.
This actually started making more sense to me after watching that disgusting video of Clinton interacting with a Black Lives Matter protester at a private fundraiser that hung me up on Clinton for a long time. You’ve likely seen it — the protester gets up and calls Clinton out for having called urban black youth “super-predators” back when her husband was passing the Crime Bill of 1994. Clinton keeps very cool and attempts to start addressing the protester’s concern, but the protester (rightfully) continues being disruptive and, after getting booed and hissed at by the crowd, the protester is removed. Clinton then says “Okay, let’s get back to the issues” and the crowd goes “Yes!”
It’s an unfortunate moment for Clinton — she was unexpectedly thrown between the interests of two polar ends of her constituency, each wanting opposite things from her. One end is rich white progressives who don’t like to have their feathers ruffled at private fundraisers, and the other end is young black people who are rightfully angry and want justice, even if it means being disruptive.
Lots of people see this video as proof that Clinton is a monster, and I don’t fully disagree. Clinton is a political monster who knows exactly how to please the people she’s talking to — in this case a group of rich white people who have agreed to give her money. She picked up on the consensus of the room, and then (not knowing she was being recorded, likely) said “Let’s get back to the issues,” which is exactly what everybody in the room wanted to hear. If she were ever invited, she could go to a BLM rally and say all the right things to that audience too.
Sanders supporters say that they can see right through Clinton. That can’t be right — nobody’s ever seen through Clinton at all. She’s like a walking Schrödinger’s test. We have no idea what her personal opinion is about anything, and the beauty of Clinton is that we’ll never have to know because good politicians don’t act on personal conviction. They do what the majority of people want them to do, because we live in a representative republic.
Clinton’s favorability isn’t so low because she has the personality of a dictionary, it’s because the media has created a paradigm where politicians are supposed to be authentic, truthful, charming, fun and relatable people — the kind of person who could host Saturday Night Live. One candidate did host SNL last fall, and now he’s the GOP’s nominee. Clearly half of the country was dumb enough to fall for the cool-kid candidate. I hope to God the rest of us aren’t dumb enough to let that candidate get elected.
We love to say we support Bernie because he’s an outsider who wants to fix Wall Street and combat the 1%. But let’s say that magically on his first day in office, Bernie accomplishes everything he promised in his campaign. Then for the next four years, we’d be stuck with an adorable old man in the White House whose experience, knowledge and political savviness pales in comparison to Clinton’s. Meanwhile, we still have a congress that can’t get anything done.
Honestly the reason Sanders has as much support as he does is because he’s cool. He’s a classic, hardworking everyman who rides in coach and wears suits that don’t fit quite right, but in the cutest way possible. He slid into the election with a strong, populist message that everybody was waiting to hear from a politician. If this were an election for the mayor of Cooltown USA, Sanders would be the perfect man for the job.
Yes, it is a very trendy and cool thing to like Bernie, but for once in our goddamn lives, we millennials have to put our trendiness aside and vote for an uncool nerd lady. Leftist activists will have to keep fighting for progressive issues, and it’s going to be a slow process, but we’ll be moving the dial in the right direction about as efficiently as we can in a country of 300 million+.
More than anything, this election is less about the candidates than it is about us — who we as a country want to be. If we’re genuinely so obsessed with coolness that we can’t treat politics differently than high schoolers treat each other in the pecking order, then Donald Trump will be running the country next January. I’d like to think we’re not quite there yet.