By Sara Karlovitch
When I was sitting in the S row of the right orchestra section at the Warner Theatre, Sept. 18., I expected to be greeted by a reserved, calculated and put off Hillary Clinton. The Hillary Clinton I expected to show up at this booktalk was going to be out of touch, still in campaign mode and blaming everyone but herself for her defeat in what has to be one of the most outrageous elections in United States history.
The Hillary Clinton who showed up, however, was not the Hillary Clinton I was expecting.
The Hillary Clinton who showed up to the kickoff stop on her “What Happened” book tour was insightful, down to Earth and funny. Yes, you read that right. Funny. Not in a groan, “I can’t believe she said that” funny, but a witty, awesome grandmother funny. (For example, while playing “Boxers or Briefs” with Politics and Prose co-owner Lissa Muscatine, who served as the interviewer, she was asked, “Putin or Trump,” Clinton said she “ran against both of them.”)
The Hillary Clinton who took the stage didn’t lick her wounds, she didn’t cry and blame other people. Instead, she used the hour and half to talk about federal workers, women trying to break into politics, the future of our democracy and how yes, she really does carry around that bottle of hot sauce in her purse.
She encouraged federal workers, especially those working in the Environmental Protection Agency, to stay in their jobs. “I hope that we can maintain a core of experienced public servants in our government because at some point they’re going to need you, and the country is going to need you,” Clinton said.
Clinton talked at length about women in politics, going in-depth about how people want to see women in submissive roles, not leading ones. She said, “If you are in service to someone else, you are viewed favorably.” Clinton argued the country liked seeing her in service to former President Obama. But once she went for the role herself, she was seen as aggressive. An issue, she pointed out, affects women in every professional sphere.
The one thing, however, that spoke to me most was the audience. The crowd was packed with women (and men) wearing “Nasty Women” buttons and well worn Hillary Clinton campaign shirts. There were young women and old women and everyone in between. There are people out there who still believe in Hillary Clinton, who still love her and would vote for her again and again and again. It was a cathartic evening for everyone — Clinton included.
I did not expect going into this event that I would feel “inspired” or “motivated” or “moved” even. I thought I had spent enough time writing about Clinton, analyzing her every move, watching every speech on TV, to understand her by now. I thought I made my peace with the election results when I attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration. I didn’t think I was going to need this 1,847-person group therapy session.
But I did. I came out feeling inspired, exhilarated even. I came out of that theater feeling hopeful and at peace. Yes, we have a lot of work to do. So much work to do if we want to save our country from the people who seemed hell-bent on destroying it, but I felt like it was a fight we can win. Why? Because Hillary Clinton made it abundantly clear she wasn’t going anywhere. And we shouldn’t want her too. No matter what you think of her, Hillary Clinton is an insightful, incredibly intelligent, seasoned politician who we should listen too, not write off like we seem so eager to do.
This is Washington, D.C. This is a city of protests and dreams and hard politics. This is a city of pink pussy hats and bars where staffers speak in hushed voices. This is a city filled with the history of our nation and the groundwork for our future. This is a city where you play big or you don’t play at all. This is a city where Clinton won 90 percent of the vote. This is a town where Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders 78.71 percent to 21.07 percent in the primaries. This isn’t Elizabeth Warren’s city or Bernie Sander’s city, and it’s definitely not Donald Trump’s city. This is Hillary Clinton’s city.
The 2016 election is what happened. Unconventional in every way, but what happened. Clinton lost, Trump won.
But this is what’s going to happen. We’re going to pick ourselves up. We’re going to organize and vote and protest. We’re going to wake up at the crack of dawn to get done what’s got to get done. And we’re going to keep going.
As Clinton said, “None of us can afford to go quietly away. We need our voices, we need our energy.”
Now it’s Oct. 8, almost three weeks since I saw Hillary Clinton. In the three weeks that passed, I finished “What Happened,” and have had time to digest what was written and what I heard at Clinton’s book talk.
The book was not only powerful, but also better than expected. It was interesting to hear exactly “what happened” from the person it happened to. After months of hearing “what happened” from reporters and pundits, it was refreshing to hear one side of the story.
The book was both similar and completely different from what you would expect of Clinton. It was open, but measured. Passionate, but balanced. Accepting, but also challenging. Clinton’s perspective was one of both complete calculation, but also one of total openness.
She made it completely clear she was not the main source of fault (that title belonged to Russia), but also admitted she got things wrong, and even felt guilty over them. One particularly poignant example was when she said on the campaign trail, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” This blunder hurt a lot of people, and Clinton owned it like a pro in the book. (Of course she put it into “context,” but also accepted it was a hurtful approach.)
Reading about the campaign was interesting despite Clinton’s tame and calculated perspective. However, what makes this book worth the read is Clinton talking about the details of her life. She goes into what shaped her into the politician — and woman — she is today.
Her account of sexism, the challenges of trying to raise a daughter out of the limelight, what it’s like to have your marriage picked apart by the entire world and what it’s like to be held up to a completely different standard than her male counterparts is fascinating and honest. The American public never really thought about what Hillary Clinton had to do- had to put up with- to get where she is. She didn’t materialize a fully formed political machine out of thin air, she went through things that shaped her experience.
Clinton talks about how she once had to slap her date in college in order to get away from him because he “wouldn’t take repeated no’s for an answer.”
One particularly shocking moment was when she was detailing her time on the Jimmy Carter campaign when she was only 29. Clinton writes she was trying to be apart of a conversation with a group of older men who kept ignoring her. She kept pushing until, she writes on page 140, “one of the men reached across the table, grabbed me by my turtleneck, and yanked me towards him. He hissed in my face, ‘Just shut up.’”
It’s in talking about moments like this when Clinton is at her most open, most engaging. Things were not, and in many ways still aren’t, easy sailing for her.
“What Happened” is in many ways Clinton herself trying to figure how she could have possibly lost the 2016 presidential election. However, and more importantly, it’s a compelling portrait of a women who had to work twice as hard as everyone else to get half as much.
Hillary Clinton isn’t a saint. She’s also not the antichrist. She’s highly intelligent, but makes mistakes. She’s complicated and imperfect, but tried to be neither.
Hillary Clinton was probably not the perfect candidate, and she probably wouldn’t have made the perfect president. But do I believe she would have been a good one, even a great one? I do.
But there is no use in being caught up in what could have been. The election is over, Trump is president and Hillary Clinton will probably never run again. This is what happened and probably will happen.
Clinton isn’t going anywhere, she made that much clear in her book. And after three weeks, I still don’t think we should want her to go anywhere. We have a lot to learn from her still, and in this time of extreme divisiveness, her moderation could be a breath of fresh air.
Hillary Clinton, under all that poise and prep, is a person. She is flawed and has experienced hardship. She is inspiring and infuriating. She is imperfect even though we all expect her to be otherwise.
Clinton will be remembered as a warrior. Her legacy will overshadow that of her husband. Though controversial, she is a giant — and deserves to be. I stand by what I said Sept. 18: Washington D.C. will always be her town.
The 2016 election is what happened. Donald Trump happened, is happening, but Hillary Clinton happened too. She may not have broken the glass ceiling, but she pounded against it as hard as she could. The pounding isn’t going to get any less tough because of her, but there is definitely less to do.
And if there was one thing that we should all take away from Hillary Clinton’s book, from Trump’s election, to the current administration is this: we can never stop pounding.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of WikiCommons.
Sara Karlovitch is a sophomore journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.