It’s probably a distant memory for most people now, but during both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns (as well as during his administration), one of the things we heard regularly from pundits was that he was lucky. Here is part of what Gary Younge wrote about that back in 2012:
Barack Obama has often been lucky with his enemies…
Now, as he heads for reelection, he must be saying a prayer every day in thanks for Mitt Romney…
The principal beneficiary would be Obama. The president should be fighting for his life. Instead, he’s living on his luck.
That kind of assumption has always been ridiculous and smacks of racism when you consider the minefields a black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama had to overcome to even be a contender…much less the first African American president.
Now that it is becoming increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton will be our first female president, a similar meme is beginning to develop about her. I expect that it will only take root and grow once the election is over. While it’s true that Clinton has faced an opponent who is the most unfit person to have ever been nominated by a major political party, to claim that is the only reason for her success is to engage in the same level of sexism as the racism at the root of claims that Obama was lucky. It completely overshadows the competence that we’ve seen exhibited by both the candidate and her campaign.
As someone who was very critical of the kind of campaign Clinton waged in the 2008 primary, I have been impressed over and over again with how well things have been run this time around. She brought together a young diverse team that initially built a firewall with people (especially women) of color to win the primaries – advancing what Obama did against her in 2008. Leading up to the convention, they worked with Sanders and his supporters to develop the most progressive Democratic platform in modern history and have done excellent outreach with the millennials who had initially gravitated to his campaign. While it is true that one of Clinton’s major liabilities has been her lack of soaring oratory skills, they focused on smaller events in which she could display her strengths. When it comes to ads, the product has been exemplary over and over again. Finally, I was perhaps most impressed with the campaign’s ability to be innovative in terms of organizational structure.
Now let’s look at the candidate herself. As Martin just noted, Clinton has dominated in the debates more than any candidate in recent history. A case could be made that this is because her opponent performed so badly. But the truth is, she faced some challenges that no other candidate in the TV era had to deal with: how to respond to a raging narcissistic bully. As many of the Republican candidates did during the primary debates, she could have tried to out-bully him. We saw how badly that turned out. Not only is that playing on Trump’s turf, it feeds the meme about “a pox on both their houses” and likely would have depressed turnout among persuadables. Here is what Clinton did instead:
She didn’t get angry; she didn’t get petulant; she didn’t give Trump a richly deserved slap in the face. Amazingly, she answered all the questions posed to her with a combination of wonkiness, empathy, and grace. She largely ignored Trump’s constant lies and somehow stuck to her game plan of not engaging with his bullying. Lost in the coverage of Trump’s crudeness, ignorance, and classless behavior, was Clinton’s debate performance — one of the most extraordinary in modern political history.
She did that again at the Al Smith dinner last night. After telling some pretty good jokes, she ended by talking about the kind of anti-Catholic bigotry Smith faced. I’m going to quote her at length from there because this is a message that needs to be heard.
Those appeals, appeals to fear and division, can cause us to treat each other as the Other. Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to see each other, to respect each other, to listen to each other. And certainly a lot harder to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I believe how we treat others is the highest expression of faith and of service. I’m not Catholic. I’m a Methodist, but one of the things that we share is the belief that in order to achieve salvation we need both faith and good works. And you certainly don’t need to be Catholic to be inspired by the humility and heart of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Or to embrace his message.
His message about rejecting a mindset of hostility, his calls to reduce inequality, his warnings about climate change, his appeal that we build bridges, not walls.
Now as you may know, my running mate, Tim, is Catholic and went to Jesuit schools, and one of the things he and I have talked about is this idea from the Jesuits of the Magis, the more, the better. But we need to get better at finding ways to disagree on matters of policy while agreeing on questions of decency and civility. How we talk to each other, treat each other, respect each other.
So I’ve taken this concept of Magis to heart in this campaign, as best as one can in the daily heat, the back and forth of a presidential campaign, to ask how we can do more for each other, and better for each other. Because I believe that for each of us, our greatest monument on this earth won’t be what we build, but the lives we touch.
That is exactly what Michelle Obama meant when she said, “when they go low…we go high.” Clinton was able to refute everything Donald Trump stands for in this election by being aspirational rather than confrontational.
As we’ve seen in this election, the swing voters this time around are college educated white women. Clinton is winning them by a staggering 30 points. It is true that Trump’s sexism is driving them away. But Hillary is also offering them exactly the kind of alternative they’re looking for…a woman who knows the issues, has the kind of temperament we need in a Commander-in-Chief, and is able to stand up to a bully with maturity and grace. That has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with competence.