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It Was The Best Advice I Ever Got, And It Could Save Hillary Clinton's Campaign

Reciting her qualifications won't get her elected president. Hillary Clinton needs to convince us we'll be better off when she is in the White House. In this photo, the Democratic presidential candidate speaks during a campaign stop, Feb. 3, 2016, in Derry, N.H. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Reciting her qualifications won't get her elected president. Hillary Clinton needs to convince us we'll be better off when she is in the White House. In this photo, the Democratic presidential candidate speaks during a campaign stop, Feb. 3, 2016, in Derry, N.H. (Matt Rourke/AP)
This article is more than 3 years old.

On the night of the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump, the Republican winner, proclaimed “We are going to do something so good and so fast and so strong and the world is going to respect us again, believe me.” Bernie Sanders, the Democratic winner, whose policy proposals are estimated to cost in the trillions, perhaps more than the GDP, announced that his victory sent a message “that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California.”

In contrast, Hillary Clinton, who at one time had a 50-point advantage over Sanders in the polls, said “Here’s what I promise: I will work harder than anyone to actually make the changes that make your lives better.“

...always remember that voters are thinking about themselves and what you can do to improve their lives. It is not about you.

What I heard was a woman who speaks for many women. Someone who was socialized to believe that being a good girl, getting the best grades, working harder than anyone else, and waiting your turn leads to success. This belief persists despite the evidence that voters care most about what a candidate can do for them and that, this year, the more unrealistic the promises, the greater the appeal.

I am reminded of research reported on by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. In a May 2014 cover story for The Atlantic, they cited a review of personnel records by Hewlett-Packard that found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men, on the other hand, applied when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. Kay and Shipman concluded that the data in study after study confirms what they instinctively knew: Under-qualified and under-prepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Women wait until they are perfect.

At the time I ran for county state’s attorney 30 years ago, I had earned a law degree, served as a law clerk, and tried battery, rape and felony child abuse cases before juries. Initially in the campaign, I tended to recite my qualifications: the cases I had prosecuted, the community service I had performed, the organizations to which I belonged. My male opponent who had done none of those things, repeatedly said he had concerns about my ability to handle the tough challenges of the job. He emphasized his gender in subtle and unsubtle ways. In campaign speeches, he said “You need broad shoulders for this job and I have them.” The message was that gender was the ultimate qualification.

During that campaign, I was given the most valuable piece of political advice I have ever received. That is, to always remember that voters are thinking about themselves and what you can do to improve their lives. It is not about you.

Absorbing that advice, I was able to adapt my message and win. Nonetheless, it was difficult to take the leap of faith to believe in my own value as a candidate, apart from my accomplishments. This is a problem I have not observed in male candidates.

it was difficult to take the leap of faith to believe in my own value as a candidate, apart from my accomplishments. This is a problem I have not observed in male candidates.

It seems unquestionable that the work of Hillary Clinton’s life proceeds from her caring about what she can do for others. At an event in New Hampshire, when she was asked about the relevance of the Ten Commandments to her campaign, she immediately replied “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In a political year where voters are seeking, and candidates are offering, pie in the sky, I hope that Hillary Clinton — the woman who began her career at the Children’s Defense Fund and has been first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state — finds a voice for the motives and dreams behind her accomplishments. She needs to tell the country how it will be better off when she is president.

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Joan Scott Cognoscenti contributor
Joan Scott is an attorney.

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