Sunday, November 6

This Election: Earning the Benefit of the Doubt

When I was growing up, I didn't always obey my parents' wishes. Being raised in the Jewish faith, the rites of manhood are a big deal. However, I was a natural born skeptic and when I was just about thirteen, I threw my Bar Mitzvah study materials down a convenient storm sewer and joined the Baptists to play Little League that summer. I felt that manhood could wait until I was ready for it. My Mother, to her credit, did not blow a gasket and let me do what I wanted to do. She was like that. She often gave me the benefit of the doubt, regardless of how it made her feel. In 2008, we as a nation did that for a junior Senator from Illinois and again in 2012. In 2016, despite the acknowledged governance experience deficit between Hillary Clinton and her opponent, we--in Iowa any way--are currently bending the benefit of the doubt toward him. Why, I wonder?

I find it highly unlikely it is because of her deficit of "honesty" compared to her opponent who by some measures of fact checkers  has told untruths upwards of 75 to 90% of the time on the issues. I doubt it is because a "leadership gap", Hillary has served as Secretary of  State, as Senator from New York, and as First Ladies of the United States and Arkansas. She was even the Senior class speaker at Wellesley and took on a seated Senator in her remarks to her graduating class. Her opponent has run a privately held family business and that is about it. I doubt it is because of her charisma or personality. We had  "Silent Cal" Calvin Coolidge who chose not to run after a term and nobody cared, as well as Millard Fillmore who ascended when Zachary Taylor died and of whom  a Yale history professor quipped that “to discuss…Millard Fillmore is to overrate [him].”

What I think it is that she is simultaneously a powerfully polarizing, and popular figure (and recognized as such year after year in public opinion polls) and also a seasoned politician (which in this climate is not necessarily seen as a plus). The latter makes her seem less than authentic and the former is challenging to a binary thinking nation. Why else would an apparently narcissistic, inexperienced candidate have the tailwind that her opponent does? Some say that she is overly political and has not been accountable for actions that she has taken. Yet, when those acts are judged against her peers (e.g., attacks on U.S. Embassies or unprotected mail servers), her record is certainly better than most others in the positions she's held. Other have tried to treat her affiliations as indictments on her character, yet won't apply the same rules to her opponent when it comes to his tax records or business practices. They do not treat his record or statements made against men or women as anything more than "guy talk." This tells me that a double standard is in place and it is frankly sexist.

This election has been at times ugly, it has been divisive, and it has been exacerbated by sexism, classism, and racism and to a large degree the opposing candidate has turned it to his favor in a P.T. Barnum sort of way. But when I think of what is at stake with regard to the Supreme Court justice choice, attending to the worsening global environment both in terms of war and climate change, the need to have a leader who can orchestrate a working government, to address health and social safety nets, in addition to attending to social justice and immigration reform issues, and it is abundantly clear that the two parties see very different paths forward.  Both candidates promise to right the economy and have very different plans to do so. It should also be clear that one of these candidates deserves the benefit of the doubt.  My chief worry is that it is being awarded to the wrong person.

Truth in advertising tells me that I must confess that my original choice for President was Bernie Sanders and I was very downhearted when it became clear that he was not going to be either the Democratic candidate nor going to run independently. I struggled with my doubts about Hillary Clinton's willingness to take on the Big Banks, to fight against big money in politics, and other things that Bernie  so strongly campaigned. And I thought about whether I was being fair in my assessment of Hillary, going as far as doing a side by side comparison of where she and Jill Stein and even Gary Johnson stood on my most important issues. I added to my mix the likelihood there would be enough votes to elect whomever I would choose and I realized that while Jill Stein was 2% more aligned with my ideology, the fact that she was not on all the states' ballots disqualified her for me, knowing that she would not be able to amass enough electoral votes. I also considered that in Iowa, as tight as the race has been, my vote--if nothing more than a protest vote-- would likely have a double whammy effect that I was unwilling to allow. So, despite my trepidation and less than full-throated enthusiasm, Hillary Clinton's record and stated positions has caused me to give her the benefit of my doubt.

In my case, trading in Hebrew books for a baseball mitt did not lead to either moral decay or a stellar baseball career. However, what my Mom's belief in me making decisions for myself  instilled a sense of fierce independence and an ability to trust my choices. I have already voted and, in a small way, I hope I have partially paid back a long over-due debt to my Mom who passed away last year by casting my vote for Hillary Clinton--despite the doubts I have, I have no doubt that she is the best choice. I will forever feel the Bern, but there is no doubt I'm with Her now.


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