The job of the US President is certainly not one for the ‘boys’. It is too serious, complicated and completely engaging to play down on the experience and capacity of the individual representing the United States to make hard choices. It is not one hell of a job for those who delight in sheer vainglory. It is also, perhaps, one reason the rest of the world seems to look up to the US for many things, chief of which is leadership.
Anyone aspiring to be the most powerful president in the world, as every US President is wont to be described, albeit informally, certainly cannot indulge in glorified racism or habitually uncouth and uncontrollably lacking self-restraint, especially in public. The job always has its basic requisites sculpted out and would not compromise on them. No political newspeak in the US democratic credentials instigates such tendencies that typify hate or sheer intolerance.
The race to the White House, billed to peak in November by which time the elections would hold has been interesting. The world has been treated to the best of comedies so far by the different candidates as it is in most parts of the world. The clownish dispositions of a few might have been niggling when situated in larger and critical context of what is at stake, they sometimes help to provide reliefs in some cases, serving as the lubricants of the struggle, somewhat.
Unarguably the most experienced of the candidates in this year’s US presidential election, when analysed in all the boxes of assessments possible, Secretary Hilary Clinton is evidently the one presidential hopeful to watch out for as the race to the White House heats up. And with her experience in politics, policy, diplomacy and practical governance, America would be glad she is president. She’s so far been campaigning in poetry; Hilary is poised to deliver in prose. She’s got the gravitas to make history this year and in spite of the orchestrated obstacles already paving her way, the election appears to be hers to lose.
The path to her presidential bid was further illuminated days back with the Boston Globe and the Demoin Register endorsements. And perhaps, the most outstanding approval came from President Barack Obama, who in an interview on the presidential race described Hilary as “Wicked smart”, adding also that she “knows every policy inside and out.”
US political analysts have since described Obama’s position as some form of endorsement, to which Hilary herself said, “I was really touched and gratified when I saw that. You know, people here in Iowa remember we ran a really hard race against each other, and then I had the opportunity when he asked me to serve as Secretary of State.
“And, it not only was a great working relationship, but it turned into a real friendship, and he knows how hard the job is. He knows it firsthand. So, I really appreciated what he said, and how he said it because it was a positive reflection on what we have to get done, and how hard it’s going to be, and therefore, the stakes in the election are really high. And, I think that’s what voters are beginning to really tune into starting here in Iowa.”
That was Hilary as she prepared for her turn at CNN Iowa Democratic Presidential Town Hall, anchored by Chris Cuomo.
Not minding the orchestrated criticism against her candidacy, Hilary set the tone herself when she said, “You know I understand that you get into the arena, and you are going to get pummeled, and pushed, and criticised. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary to try to build on the progress that we’ve made. That, we’ve made under President Obama against great odds and that we’ve got to do everything we possibly cannot to let the Republicans rip away the progress and turn us backwards.”
Starting on the hot seat with Taylor Gipple, Iowa native, first time caucus goer, leaning Sanders, who told Hilary that the young people of his age were not excited about her campaigns because they thought she was dishonest, the former Secretary of State did more than justice to the question, thus kicking off quite fine.
Hear her: “Well, I think it really depends upon who you’re seeing and talking to. You know, today in Oskaloosa, I spent time with about 10 high school students, who are enthusiastically working for me. I see young people across the state, who are doing the same. But I’m totally happy to see young people involved in any way. That’s what we want. And we want to have a good primary to pick a nominee. And then we want to have everybody join together to make sure we win in November, which after all is the purpose of this whole campaign.”
She noted that each time she indicated interest to run for an election, the opponents always come up with outlandish allegations and charges. But she just keeps going forward “because there’s nothing to it. They throw all this stuff at me and I’m still standing. But if you’re new to politics, if it’s the first time you really paid attention, you go, oh my gosh, look at all of this. And you have to say to yourself, why are they throwing all of that?
“Well, I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age. I have been fighting to give kids and women and the people, who are left out and left behind a chance to make the most out of their own lives…I have had many, many millions of dollars spent against me. When I worked on health care back in 1993 and 1994, and I don’t know if you were born then. I can’t quite tell. But if you’d been around and had been able to pay attention, I was trying to get us to universal health care coverage, working with my husband.
“Boy, the insurance companies, the drug companies, they spent millions. Not just against the issue, but against me. And I kept going. And when we weren’t successful, I turned around and said at least we’re going to get health care for kids. And we got the Children’s Health Insurance Programme working with both Democrats and Republicans. And eight million kids have insurance because of that today. So you got to keep going. You can’t give up. You can never get knocked off course.
“That’s my hope for you and for all the young people who are getting involved this first time. Don’t get discouraged. It’s hard. If it were easy, hey, there wouldn’t be any contest. But it’s not easy. There are very different visions, different values and different forces at work. And you have to have somebody who is a proven, proven fighter – somebody, who has taken them on and won and kept going, and will do that as president. That’s why I hope you’ll reconsider.”
Another Iowa native, Elena Deets, a first-time caucus goer, who was leaning towards Bernie Sanders, but wanted to give Clinton a chance had asked: Secretary Clinton, earlier this month Vice-President Joe Biden said you were a newcomer to the issue of income inequality, while praising Senator Sanders for his authentic voice on the issue. How do we know that you will keep this issue a top priority?
That didn’t take her off-guard. “Well, I have the greatest respect for the vice-president. But I think it’s fair to say that I have a 40-year record of going after inequality, and not only economic inequality, racial inequality, sexist inequality, homophobic inequality. The kinds of things that go after people to put them down and push them back,” said the presidential hopeful who buttressed her defence by citing some of her experiences as a young lawyer.
Satisfied with her own answers, Clinton picked on the next question, which came from Dick Goodson, Chairman of the Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations, whose love for Clinton was informed by her performance during the Benghazi hearing. But he wanted to know her plans for foreign policy.
She responded thus: “I’ll tell you what. I want to start by saying thank you for asking about foreign policy because you’re absolutely right. In fact, President Obama in his interview said something about that. He said, you know, you don’t get to pick the issues you work on when you’re president; a lot of them come at you. They come in the door whether you open it or not and even gave the example of working on a State of the Union, being at the desk in the Oval Office when one of his aides came in and said, the Iranians have just captured two of our naval vessels and have taken our sailors prisoner.
“You can’t say, oh ok, don’t bother me now, I’ll deal with that later. You have got to immediately be able to switch gears. You’ve got to do all aspects of the job. So, let me tell you how I think about it. I think it’s imperative you do your very best, every president, and certainly, I will, to avoid military action. It should be the last resort, not the first choice, to use diplomacy, even if it’s slow, boring and hard to continue to persist and be patient to get results.
“And that you also should use the enormous capabilities that we have to project our values around the world, our cultural values, our freedoms, our human rights, and respect for the dignity of all people. I want to give you two quick examples. When I became secretary of state, what President Obama and I found was that the Iranians were on their way to a nuclear weapons programme. This, despite all of the bluster from the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration, they had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle. They had built covert facilities. And they had stocked them with centrifuges that were rapidly whirling along trying to create enough highly enriched uranium to have a weapon.
“Now our choices were, oh, my gosh, just fulminate about it, or turn our backs and just figure out that somebody else is going to do something, or try to get up a new strategy. We chose the third. We said, look, we’ve got to get the world behind us to force them to the negotiating table. So, I spent 18 months putting together the coalition that imposed international sanctions on the Iranians that forced them, finally, to begin negotiating with us to get an end to their nuclear weapons programme, to put a lid on it.
“It took 18 months to get the sanctions. It took me about another year to travel around the world convincing other countries to actually obey the sanctions. And then I began the negotiations, testing whether the Iranians would actually come and seriously negotiate. And then Secretary Kerry and the president did a great job bringing the agreement into fruition,” she said.
Example number two. Clinton recalled that the US government had another unfortunate spate of rockets going from Gaza into Israel in 2012, and “I’m on the phone with the Israelis. They’re trying to knock them out of the sky with their missile defence system. But they’re still landing and everybody is really worried that, you know, one of them is going to hit a big group of people, take out a big building somewhere. So the Israelis are telling me, look, we’ve got to go back in. We have to have a ground invasion again in Gaza.
“I’m saying, no, please, don’t do that. Let’s try to figure out how do we resolve it? We don’t think we can resolve it. I flew from Cambodia, where I was with the president, to Israel, middle of the night, go see the Israeli cabinet, work with them on what they would accept as an offer, go see the Palestinian president, work with him to make sure he’d back it up, go back to Jerusalem, finalize the deal, fly to Cairo, meet with President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, hammer out the agreement, announce it at about an hour before the deadline that we were facing. They got a cease-fire. There was no invasion. That’s what you have to do.
“So every situation is different. So I want to make sure I stay as close as possible to the non-intervention. That’s why I say no American ground troops in Syria or Iraq. Special Forces, trainers – yes! Planes to bomb, yes. No ground forces. Every part of this has to be done in accordance with our values, our interests and our security and partnership with other countries,” she landed her points, earning a thunderous applause.
It’s Cuomo now, who fired the next salvo, seeking an explanation for her votes on Iraq as earlier espoused by Sanders, and Clinton quickly put the record straight: “I have a much longer history than one vote, which I’ve said was a mistake because of the way that was done and how the Bush administration handled it. But I think the American public has seen me exercising judgment in a lot of other ways. And, in fact, when that hard primary campaign was over and I went to work for President Obama and he ended up asking me to be secretary of State, it was because he trusted my judgment. And we worked side by side over those four years.
“And think about where we were when he became president. As I just said, Iran on the way to a nuclear weapon, which would have destabilised the entire Middle East, created an arms race the likes of which we have never seen. We had hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our best allies and friends in Europe and Asia were really put out with us because of the way they’d been treated by the Bush administration and were very skeptical that the United States was a good ally any longer and wanted to lead the world towards peace, prosperity and security.
“I spent so much of my time getting back the confidence and the trust of our friends and allies around the world. So I think we made a lot of progress. Now, do we have a terrorist threat? Yes. We had a terrorist threat on 9/11, before President Obama took office. Yes, we were attacked. So this is not something new. This is a long-term challenge. That’s why I’ve laid out a plan to defeat ISIS and the radical jihadist terrorist networks that I think have the best chance of achieving that.
“There is no time in human history where everything is going well. And we now live in a very interconnected world, where we know everything that is going on and where people look to the United States to help. So we have to be leading. And that means we’ve got to be smart about how we try to assert our power so that it is constructive, makes a difference and does lead to greater peace and prosperity.”
Undecided Erin Tariq-Monir, an American Muslim from outside Des Moines, wanted to know if the United States today could protect the constitutional rights of all groups of people without marginalising anyone community?
She probably one of those who left the town hall impressed, when Clinton said “One of the most distressing aspects of this campaign has been the language of Republican candidates, particularly their frontrunner, that insults, demeans, denigrates different people. He has cast a wide net. He started with Mexicans. He’s currently on Muslims. But I found it particularly harmful the way he has talked about Muslims, American Muslims and Muslims around the world. And I have called him out continuously about that.
“It’s not only shameful and contrary to our values to say that people of a certain religion should never come to this country, or to claim that there are no real people of the Muslim faith, who share our values, and to have the kind of dismissive and insulting approach. It’s not only shameful and offensive, which it is, I think it’s dangerous. And it’s dangerous in several ways.
“It’s dangerous because American Muslims deserve better. And now, their children and they are the target of Islamophobia – of threats. I’ve met a number of parents who said their children are afraid to go to school because they are worried about how they will be treated. And we cannot tolerate this. We must stand up and say every person in this country deserves to be treated with respect. And we must stand up against the bullying,” she maintained.
A Drake Law School student, Maria Diaz, who said she was undecided between Clinton and Sanders, wanted to know what Clinton would say to the Republican voters when she eventually becomes the president?
That was however a no brainer. “That I want to be the president for everyone,” she answered, adding, “And I believe that is exactly what any president should do. You know, Chris Cuomo’s father said one of the smartest things. He said many, many smart things about politics. But you might remember he said ‘you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose’. You know, you can say all the kinds of things you want in a campaign. And we are drawing distinctions with the Republicans, and we should because I have very deep disagreements, as I just pointed out, with a lot of what they’re saying and doing.
“But, once the election is over, we must come together to work to solve the problems facing our country. That is what I did. I did it as a First Lady, when I worked, as I said, to get the children’s health insurance programme. I did it to reform the foster care and adoption system with one of the most partisan Republicans in the house, Tom DeLay. I did it when I was in the Senate. And, nearly every Republican I served with co-sponsored legislation that I introduced, and we worked to pass. And, I did it as Secretary of State. Reaching out, talking with Republicans all the time about what we were doing, enlisting their support, getting their advice.
“So, I know in order to deal with the problems I want to, to get the economy working, creating more good jobs, getting incomes rising, making sure we build on the affordable care act, get costs down, but improve it, get to 100% coverage. Everything I want to do, I want to start from the belief that we can find common ground, and that is exactly what I intend to do. And, I see my friend, Tom Harkin sitting there, and he knows from his years in the Congress, you always have to hope you can find common ground. You got to bring people together like he did ‘The Americans with Disabilities Act, what an amazing accomplishment!”
Again, Cuomo came back with another one. “I have a question for you, as a point of push back. You were talking earlier about how it’s difficult to form a coalition with people, who are being insulted at the same time. Let’s apply that to the Democrats and the Republicans. You say you want to work with them, but you were quoted not too long ago, listing people that you saw as adversaries – NRA, health insurance companies, probably the Republicans.
If you thought that was a hard one, listen to Clinton. “Yeah, well, Chris, it was kind of tongue-in-cheek, and I consider them more the adversaries because they are. They have their set of objectives; we have ours in the Democratic side. But, that’s why I gave you a short overview. I work with all of them. You know, when I’m actually in office, they say really nice things about me. We have a whole long list of the nice things they say, what a good colleague I am, how easy I am to work with, how willing I am to try to find common ground. And, then when I run, oh my goodness, it’s just unbelievable.
“I have no problem in saying, yeah, we have political differences. We’re on opposite sides. But, we’re going to work as hard as we can, and here’s what I know about how to get that done. It takes building relationships, and that is one of the hardest things to do in politics over ideological and partisan lines. So, I’m going to be just giving them all bear hugs whether they like it or not. We’re going to get together; we’re going to talk about what we can do. Maybe we can get something done together, if not, maybe I can find that slice of common ground to find somebody, who will work with me on achieving a goal that we want.”
And then a follow-up by Cuomo, who asked: “What is it inside you that can separate the human feeling of doing the Benghazi hearings, and then going back to that same group of people and saying, ‘Ok, you know what? Let’s put that in the past’. It sounds a little hard to do.”
Unruffled Clinton replied thus: “Well, I don’t know, I came out pretty well so I think it’d be very… It would be very gracious of me to go back and talk to them,” attracting constant applause from the audience, who might have been thrilled by her deep knowledge about all issues, from zero to infinity.
The question from Zach Pieper, who grew up in West Des Moines and also undecided, took Clinton back to the Benghazi issue because he wanted to know how she plans to deal with that going forward, not only in the general election, but after she might have become President working with Congress.
But the dismissal response by Clinton was just a clincher. “This is only still an issue because the Republicans want to keep it an issue. They know it, I know it. And, I think it’s very easy to answer, and as the gentleman, who stood up before said, if you watched any of it, I answered every question. And, at the end of it, the Chairman said, ‘No, we didn’t learn anything new.’ No, well, because there was nothing new to learn. Why? Because there had already been eight investigations, most of them by Republicans in the Congress!
“The House Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and what did they conclude? That there were problems that night but they were the ones that we should look at not from the perspective of placing blame or pointing fingers, but how do we make sure that never happens again? That is what I said immediately after it happened. That’s why I put together an independent board to tell me as secretary of State what I needed to know and what we could do to fix it. And I accepted all the 29 of their recommendations. And we were on the way to implementing them when I left, and that has continued.
“So I am well aware that for partisan political purposes this continues. But let me tell you why this makes me not – it makes me sad. It makes me sad because we’ve had terrorist attacks many times before in our country, haven’t we? And we’ve had American, both civilians and military personnel the subject of attacks. When Ronald Reagan was president in 1983, our Marine barracks, our embassy were attacked in Beirut. More than 250 Americans were killed. The Democrats didn’t make that a partisan issue. We were horrified. We were heartsick that Americans doing the work they were sent to do, civilians and military, were murdered by terrorists.
“So, the Democratic Congress worked with the Republican president to say what can we do? How do we fix this? Fast forward. My husband was president. Al-Qaeda attacked two of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Car bombs blew them up, killed 12 Americans and hundreds of Kenyans and Tanzanians. Madeline Albright was secretary. She said we got to get to the bottom of this. She did the same as I did, commission an independent report. When the report came out she made it public. I made the report I commissioned public. That’s the only two times those reports have ever been made public.
“So, again, it was terrible. What can we do? How can we fix it? It wasn’t the subject of this kind of partisan, media-driven attack. People wanted to come together. And even after 9/11 when nearly 3,000 Americans and others who were working in New York City, the Pentagon, on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, were killed, we formed a commission. We said what went wrong? What can we learn? And then we moved on to try and do better. So look, I understand that they will try to make this an issue. I will continue to answer. And my best defence is the truth. And that’s what you will hear from now until I am elected president.”
A question from Brett Rosengren, from Logan, Iowa, a student who also works as a supervisor for a janitorial company, wanted to know which of the US former presidents had inspired her the most and why? And Cuomo went a step further to limit her to just one.
As simple as it seemed, it was about the only question that took Clinton a few seconds before she came out with a position and with a tinge of diplomacy because after all, her husband and the incumbent have some influence on her. She went like, “Okay, sorry, President Obama, sorry, Bill, Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln. You know, I – wow, when I think about his challenges, they paled in comparison to anything we have faced or can imagine. You know, more Americans died in the Civil War than, you know, the wars of the 20th Century put together.
“So here was a man who was a real politician. I mean, he was a great statesman, but he also understood politics. And he had to work to put together, you know, the support he needed to be able to hold the country together during the war. And while he was prosecuting that war to keep the Union together, he was building America, which I found just an astonishing part of his legacy. The transcontinental rail system, land grant colleges, he was thinking about the future while in the middle of trying to decide which general he can trust to try to finish the war. That’s what I mean, when you’ve got to do a lot of things at once, what could be more overwhelming than trying to wage and win a civil war?
“And yet, he kept his eye on the future and he also tried to keep summoning up the better angels of our nature. You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive. And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.”
Clearly, her display of experience and the understanding of issues were both staggering and mesmerizing. She dazed her audience and left them wanting for more. It is no wonder, therefore, that she sustained her lead in the Iowa polls, albeit slim, ahead of Monday’s caucus election, where the race was largely unpredictable because of the number of undecided voters.
But the timing of the CNN town hall, where she’d put up such a stellar performance could not have come at a better time – a few days to the Iowa caucus election. That she also left the audience with a different impression etched in their minds could not have been an issue up for debate. The town hall organisers might have just sealed the ‘presidential deal’ for Clinton, perhaps inadvertently.
It is often assumed that America leads the world because of her place in global politics, such assumption must however measure equally with the disposition of her people and one of the ways to ascertain this is the choice they make during elections.
An average American voter does not need to be told where he should vote in this year’s election – they have it all in one candidate – Hillary Clinton. The choice between her and the others is akin to the difference between good and evil; light and darkness or white and black – it is too distinct a choice to confuse anyone. She leads the pack in all recognised indices and there is no debating it.
One thing is sure though, with Hillary Clinton as president, America would not only have made history electing a female president from the democratic fold, the country would have also put its future in safe hands by electing the most experienced among the lot presently parading the space as well as left the world applauding its record in democratic evolution. Clinton knows the issues and she can sell them effectively in collective interest.
Secretary Hilary Clinton is evidently the one presidential hopeful to watch out for as the race to the White House heats up. And with her experience in politics, policy, diplomacy and practical governance, America would be glad she is president. She’s so far been campaigning in poetry; Hilary is poised to deliver in prose. She’s got the gravitas to make history this year and in spite of the orchestrated obstacles already paving her way, the election appears to be hers to lose