Sun-Times Endorsement: Hillary Clinton a skilled public servant
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Hillary Clinton has been a public servant all her adult life.
She has been steeled by the fire of over-hyped scandals, learned the hard way the wisdom of building bridges, and developed a pragmatic, feet-on-the-ground approach to getting things done.
That might not sound like high praise to the most liberal wing of Clinton’s Democratic Party, which has rallied behind the pie-in-the-sky agenda of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s opponent in the party’s presidential primary race. Nor might this assessment of Clinton jibe with the views of right-wing zealots who will forever mumble on about Whitewater, Travelgate and Benghazi.
There’s no pleasing some folks.
But in Hillary Clinton we see the possibility of not only the first woman American president, but also the first president in awhile who might have the professional and personal skills to get Washington back to real governing. Our endorsement goes to Clinton. It’s an easy call.
Over three decades, Hillary Clinton has viewed the job of president from an unbeatable number of angles. She has trained for the job from the inside, as the wife and public policy confidante to a remarkably popular, though flawed, president. She has considered the job from the vantage point of Capitol Hill, as a senator from New York. She has come to understand how the rest of the world looks at the presidency and America, as a globetrotting secretary of state.
As first lady in the 1990s, Clinton took on one of the biggest goals of her husband’s presidency, the creation of a single-payer national health insurance program, and failed miserably. Whole books have been written about what went wrong, but there is no doubt she did too little to get congressional Republicans on board.
Hillary being Hillary, she learned from that. Best we can see, she’s been reaching across the aisle ever since, even when her hand gets slapped.
As first lady, Clinton learned that then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a highly partisan Republican from Texas, was an adoptive parent. She mined that nugget of information to work with DeLay on adoption and foster care reforms.
As a senator, she partnered on the issue of military benefits with an unlikely ally: then-Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who previously had pushed for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Graham later praised Sen. Clinton’s statesmanship, telling Time magazine that she “has managed to build unusual political alliances on a variety of issues with Republicans.”
Even former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a conservative Republican from Mississippi, told The Hill last year that President Barack Obama “doesn’t like to deal with Congress.” But Clinton, he said, was a different story.
“I think Hillary – I’m not going to be for her – but I think she would be much better about reaching out and actually trying to work with the Congress,’’ Lott said.
On matters of foreign policy, all indications are Hillary Clinton would be more assertive than Obama, guided by a stronger conviction of means and ends. Nobody’s looking for the return of the hyper-interventionist foreign policy of President George W. Bush, and Clinton made the wrong call when she voted as a senator for the war in Iraq — a vote for which she has apologized. But there is, under Obama, a sense of foreign policy adrift. Clinton has come to know dozens of important world leaders first-hand. She gets what drives them. Not since the first President Bush would the United States have a Commander in Chief who so fully appreciates the nuances of international politics.
Domestically, Hillary Clinton could be very good for Chicago, even if she had not grown up in suburban Park Ridge. She has long favored the kind of common-sense gun controls this city and country desperately need. She has been a champion of civil rights, women’s issues and comprehensive immigration reform, including the creation of a pathway to citizenship. She opposes privatizing Social Security and believes working people should be guaranteed, by law, up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
Hillary Clinton has made her share of big mistakes. She has had her blind spots. As secretary of state, it is regrettable that she did not push the Obama Administration to move swiftly and decisively to address the dangerous vacuum left by Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi. She was also wrong as secretary of state to use a private computer server. And if she wants to convince skeptics she is not owned by Wall Street, she should release the transcripts of speeches she gave to big banks in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But as we say, Clinton has a way of learning. She moves on, takes stock and recalibrates. Unlike the Hillary Clinton of two decades ago who lectured a little too self-righteously about the virtues of universal healthcare, Clinton today seems much more inclined to just get stuff done.
She lives in the real world, which is the fundamental difference between her and Sanders in this race.
Where Sanders has called for what is surely impossible, Clinton has called for the tough but possible.
Sanders would make college free for all, whatever the price and the impossibility of getting cooperation from Congress. Good luck with that. Clinton would create incentives for states to offer students free tuition at two-year community colleges and make it possible to refinance student loans at lower interest rates.
Sanders has called for universal health care, apparently not noticing how eagerly Republicans are to kill what we’ve already got, the Affordable Care Act. Clinton knows the realistic goal should be to protect and improve Obamacare.
Hillary Clinton is a skilled politician, not an ideologue. And she has earned the right to her party’s nomination time and again.
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