A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.
When this election began, I was like millions of millennial men: a "Bernie bro" rooting hard for Sen. Sanders.
Watching the candidate of my dreams get steam late and lose in the primary wasn't so different from watching my favorite football team not have enough energy to complete a fourth quarter rally. Hopeful, exciting, but ultimately deflating and disappointing.
When Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee, I was distraught. Months before I had written about her, explaining that I despised her not for her gender — as some of her supporters accused — but for her hawkishness, her center-left policies, her husband's crime bill that incarcerated so many people of color, her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and her inability to get progressive on climate change policy.
I've spent almost every waking hour of every day following this election, reading about Hillary, Donald Trump, both parties' platforms, and the under-qualified Libertarian and Green Party candidates running. During these months of obsessing over my choice, I've watched my position slowly shift. I've felt myself start advocating for Hillary more than advocating a vote against Trump, culminating in last night's debate when she finally, totally, completely won me over.
In an election that features one of the most well-documented liars and scam artist businessmen to ever run for public office, much of the attention has been on him — how we can't put him in office, give him keys to a nuclear warhead, trust him in the most powerful position in the world. Some of it has been more positive: how he'd turn the system on its head, be a Washington outsider, completely rewrite the script. While it's easy to make the case for voting against Trump, it occurred to me during the debate last night how much we've taken Clinton for granted.
Let's start with a simple but important position: Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to ever run for president.
Measuring qualifications, of course, is somewhat subjective. She's never served in the military, something previous candidates have done. But she was a secretary of state for four years, a U.S. senator for eight years, a first lady who lived in the White House, saw the challenges of being president up close and personal for eight years, a first lady of Arkansas, and a law professor and a partner at a law firm to boot. If she were elected, she'd be the first former cabinet member to become president in almost 100 years.
Just months before 9/11, Hillary Clinton became a U.S. senator in New York. She served for eight years in the city and was a key architect of the $21 billion federal aid bill that helped rebuild the city after her term started with the worst tragedy New York had ever seen. But perhaps what she is most remembered for is fighting for the health bill that served first responders in the first 48 hours after the attack. While Donald Trump bragged about his building now being the tallest in New York City, Clinton was fighting the Environmental Protection Agency to admit the air wasn't safe to breathe. That's why Clinton has the support of so many 9/11 first responders and survivors: they remember her work as a senator of New York.
But guess what? Google "Clinton health bill 9/11" and you'll find nothing but results about her nearly fainting outside a 9/11 memorial service, one she attended while diagnosed with pneumonia.
That wasn't the first time Clinton had advocated for a strong health care bill, though. In 1994, a universal health care bill that Hillary Clinton pushed for had failed as the Clinton administration came into office. Then Democrats lost the House and then lost the Senate for the first time in 40 years. Democrats had essentially given up on health care reform, until First Lady Clinton helped the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). She's largely credited with getting the bill into law, and it became the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance in three decades.
Today, the bill has resounding bipartisan support, and 8.4 million children — many of them low-income — are enrolled in its program.
As she mentioned in the debate, her time as secretary of state required everything from traveling to 112 countries and debating peace deals and ceasefires, to negotiating the release of dissidents — men and women who pushed back against authoritarian regimes. What she didn't mention was just how real that "stamina" was: she set records for travel as secretary of state.
But during Clinton's time as secretary, she also advocated a powerful, important worldview: that the United States could be a force of good and progressivism across the world, advocating for human rights, development, and equality in nations that may not know any of those things. She pushed for investment and accommodation with Asian powers such as China, who she knows we can share mutual goals with like preventing war in the Asian Pacific and spurring economic growth by investing in the future of technology.
In the beginning of her term as secretary of state, Clinton had to win over President Barack Obama — something that, at the time, was not guaranteed. They had a heated primary battle and many thought they may never mend those wounds. But today, Obama is one of her biggest advocates. Despite publicly disagreeing with her at times, most notably on the specifics of Syrian intervention, he's come to trust her counsel and had her present for some of their biggest moments in the situation room, such as when she helped him coordinate the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Perhaps Clinton's greatest blemish on her record is the destabilizing of Libya, which led to the Benghazi diplomatic compound attack. Certainly, it was one of the career bullet points that made me despise her. But despite $7 million dollars spent on Benghazi investigations, 1,982 published pages of reports on Benghazi, 10 congressional committees participating in investigations, 3,194 questions asked in a public forum, Clinton and her administration have been found guilty of zero wrongdoing. No "stand down" call was ever found, one of the cornerstones of the Republican claims. The family of Chris Stevens — the ambassador who became the face of the Benghazi tragedy after he was killed in the siege — has publicly objected to blaming Clinton for Benghazi.
Even more lost in the Benghazi witch hunt is a simple reality: during George W. Bush's presidency, there were 13 attacks on U.S. embassies that killed 60 people. Yet his career and record were not marred by these. Despite that, Trump and his campaign still thought it should have been brought up in last night's debate.
Throughout her time in public service, Hillary Clinton has negotiated ceasefires in Israel, put the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Act into law, authored the Pediatric Research Equity Act (which helped re-label drugs to keep millions of children safe), and she got the EU, Russia, China and other world powers to participate in the crippling sanctions on Iran that forced the country to negotiate its nuclear plan out of existence. All while enduring propaganda that thrust Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation — from which there's also been no evidence of wrongdoing, in fact, quite the contrary — into the public's mind.
And throughout all that time, Clinton has traveled the world advocating a better life for women in places where that concept wasn't even on the radar. She's pushed for paternity leave here in the United States, and became a symbol of women's rights and women's progress everywhere. Looking at Secretary Clinton and reading about her accomplishments, it's tough to think that it was just 100 years ago the U.S. elected the first woman to Congress. That 100 years later, she's our first female candidate for president to win a primary.
And what does she get for all of this work? As the debate wrapped up on Monday night, Clinton endured Trump's threats to mention her husband's adultery despite the fact he's had three marriages, and been accused of rape and adultery himself. As she eviscerated him on calling women pigs and dogs, Trump lied about his position on the Iraq War, lied about his reasons for not releasing his tax returns, lied about his belief that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, lied about his feeling that pregnancy is an "inconvenience" for businesses, lied during his defense of unconstitutional stop and frisk, lied that crime is getting worse in New York, and then lied when he said his temperament was his greatest quality. And what did Clinton get?
On Fox News, they cut to their political analyst Brit Hume describing Clinton: "The TV audience saw the faces of the two candidates," Hume said. "And she looked composed, smug sometimes … not necessarily attractive."
All this work, and what did Clinton get? She got an actual smug, young journalist named Isaac Saul writing about how I despised her, when I hardly knew the depth of her accomplishments, when I was clinging to the pipe dream of a Bernie Sanders presidency that may have never been in the cards, when my own father got ignored while he tried his best to talk some sense into me.
Secretary Clinton, I'm sorry. And I retract my previous position of hatred and angst towards you. You have made mistakes, some of them grave, and some of them unforgivable. Unfortunately, that comes with decades of life in the public eye, pressure, and microphones in your face. But you have also accomplished far more in your life as a public servant than just about anyone that's run for this office, and certainly far more than I ever will. When November rolls around, you'll have my vote.
And you'll get it enthusiastically.
You can follow Isaac Saul on Twitter at @Ike_Saul
Cover photo: Flickr
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Secretary Clinton never owned her own business. In fact, she was a partner in and helped run an Arkansas law firm.