Deal With It, Girlfriends: Bill Clinton Teaches Women Candidates How to Win


Back in the Monica Lewinsky day, a great divide developed among Democratic women advocates: those who couldn’t forgive President Clinton for behavior that embarrassed Hillary Clinton beyond telling, and those (like me), who said “We’ve got bigger fish to fry here. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, that being a president who cares about making women’s lives more livable, even while we treasure Hillary Clinton and everything she has meant to us.”

After listening to Bill Clinton’s brilliant speech at the DNC, I’m even more convinced that my back-in-the-day view of Bill Clinton was the right one. Not to go too far down the bad-analogy path, but he’s the only one left. Think about it: Did you hear the word “poverty” uttered by anyone else? ( “The ragged edges of the middle class” isn’t the same thing, nor is “America’s working familes.” Sorry.) Did you hear in any other speech, also said with unmatched conviction and more than once, the (everlastingly good) idea that “poor people” should be able to become “middle class” people, belying the fatuously prevalent notion at the DNC that everyone who isn’t in the one per cent is “middle class”? Did you hear anyone else talk about the importance of Medicaid? Something that (only) helps poor people? I didn’t think so.

My fish are fried. I’m “fired up and ready to go,” as President Obama used to say.

In the light of this great day for us social justice advocates, something else came to mind as I reflected on Bill Clinton’s presence at the DNC: His comeback (forget New Hampshire, his comeback in the whole wide world) and just how instructive it is for women candidates now vying for office.

It really isn’t just any old comeback we’re talking about here: This one is turning the “seven deadly sins” into positives! Come-to-find-out, accomplishing this feat is so rare there isn’t even an exact opposite word –to “sin”– at least in the dictionary I consulted. Anyway: Whatever you might call this comeback, I sure can’t think of anyone else who comes remotely close to doing it like Bill Clinton has.

For those who need a refresher, here’s the list of those seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

And here’s what Bill Clinton has converted them to:

  • lust for a more just America; 
  • gluttony for the punishment of the presidential campaign trail, to benefit a former enemy no less; 
  • greed for tax dollars to help poor people; 
  • sloth about the need (not) to help those who can help themselves; 
  • wrath about the injustice of today’s public policies; 
  • envy for a more perfect union; 
  • and pride in what he can do to help others.

OK, I know I’m stretching a bit here. But I’m stretching to make a really important point. Ms. Candidate: Whatever your religion–or even if you don’t have one–and whatever your sins, (and face-it; you’ve got them; we all do) you, too, can convert them to the benefit of others. When they’re exposed on the campaign trail, just follow Bill Clinton’s lead.

However, you won’t be able to wave a magic wand to make this happen. (There is no magic in politics, no matter what those high-priced consultants tell you.) No, there’s a daily protocol to follow.

Again, Bill Clinton lays-it-out. Here it is: Bill Clinton was present and accounted-for because he:

  • Has grit almost beyond measure. He travels all over, constantly; he memorizes dozens of arcane facts, so we can understand something he already gets; he writes his own remarks well enough that he can riff on them substantively as well as rhetorically.
  •  Is disciplined. You can’t get from there to here without sticking with the program daily. He’s even now a vegan. Imagine how much discipline that takes! 
  • Is on it, whatever it is, 24-7. You need me here; I’m here; you need me there; I’m there. Knows that policy matters. Rhetoric will make you sit up, take notice, and listen, but policy is what actually helps people. So, he learns it, and then figures out how to explain it, so we understand just how much the nuances actually matter.
  • Cares unstintingly about those less fortunate and, more to the point, proves why that’s strategic, not just charitable.

And my two Bill Clinton favorites: He knows that you should never be so embarrassed by your bad behavior that you don’t go out in public and do what needs doing for others (that’s one’s duty), and that even the most egregious behavior should (and will) be forgiven if you really do care about doing what needs doing—and do it.

That back-in-the-day great divide in feeling about Bill Clinton developed because some women felt that his “disrespecting” Hillary Clinton was not just unforgivable, but irredeemable. But, as we’ve all learned the very hard way since then, the women of America need every advocate willing to step up and step out on our behalf, even if the advocate needs a little redemption every once in a while. Let’s remember this and Bill Clinton’s winning lessons, now that the campaigning has launched in earnest.

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