Fighting Words: If the Glass Fits

Hillary Clinton’s first major campaign speech made big waves—and for good reason.

For one thing, she is Hillary Clinton. She is already a recognizable player in the political arena. In the movie world, they say that casting a famous actor saves the screenwriter time and effort in creating a likable, interesting character, because the audience already feels they know someone when they see Meryl Streep or Harrison Ford. Even if Washington, D.C. is no Hollywood, the same principle applies. Rather than wasting time introducing herself (a Clinton needs no introduction), she can skip right to business…as is her natural tendency no matter what the occasion.

Secondly, Clinton remains the inevitable candidate-to-beat for every other sorry sap—I mean, political hopeful—in the mix. As such, people care what she has to say, whether they agree with her or not. If they don’t care, they probably should.

Lastly, she gave a good speech. I’m no political analyst, so feel free to take the following opinions with more than a few grains of salt, but there is much to be said for knowing yourself, your views and your audience. Many politicians come into a race sounding too much like a salesperson, a cheerleader or a CEO. The only thing Hillary sounded like was a future president.

Without turning the whole event into a glorified pep rally, she managed to garner enthusiasm not just for her candidacy but for her message. Now, let’s be clear: She is not America’s sweetheart. If anything, she’s America’s slightly intimidating mother-in-law who offers unsolicited advice.

But maybe it’s no longer unsolicited. All of the problems born in the last decade cry for some experience. In other words, she might have just what we need, so she has our attention. Well, there’s that, and of course she’s had our attention for years, while dealing with foreign affairs and scandals and political rivalries.

In her speech, one would think she might lean on her years of political experience (which she briefly touches), but she doesn’t. Yes, there are mentions of her work in college and her social advocacy. But she also begins with Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Fights,” references the chutzpah of her underprivileged mom, and talks about random people she’s met while campaigning. Throughout her speech, she praises her husband and elevates the importance of marriage and family—including family planning (“women’s reproductive rights,” where she receives energetic cheers) and gay marriage (when calling out Republicans who are against gays).

She is not subtle or timid. And she doesn’t rest on her own authority.

In the first five minutes, she quotes FDR directly:

President Roosevelt called on every American to do his or her part, and every American answered. He said there’s no mystery about what it takes to build a strong and prosperous America: “Equality of opportunity. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all. A wider and constantly rising standard of living.”

On her website, she has these fights as a theme of her campaign, as well as listing links to former speeches on the topics of immigration reform and equal pay. (Don’t forget, she feels your pain, man. All the way from the Limousine.) In all seriousness, her range of topics seem broad yet focused.

Her focus is family, because “when our families are strong, America is strong.” Listening to her talk, you get the impression that national defense, from ISIS to cyber attacks, is ultimately a protection of American families, and that expanding social freedoms and individual rights is done so that families can all feel included within and supported by the ‘American Dream.’ Affordable healthcare, college and retirement aren’t simply economic worries associated with various stages of life, but steps on the ladder of success for America to build a strong foundation for each family member.

If it sounds like I thought the speech was corny or over-the-top, that would be inaccurate. People motivated by selfish reasons (getting ahead, succeeding in business, being respected, being liked, being wealthy) are not nearly as passionate as those who believe they are ethically and fundamentally in the right. By touching that nerve of connection, making references to the hard work of a fourteen year old maid (Hillary’s mother) who later birthed a notable female political figure, and even mentioning her status as a grandmother, Hillary demonstrated that she was one of us. The audience also heard a lot of “we” and “government,” with a clear separation between the two and Clinton obviously siding with the people, despite her official role. My guess? She knew this was necessary.

A woman who has lived the past thirty plus years of her life sheltered from much of the insecurity and hardship which the average American faces daily needs to be able to show us her humanity and her struggles.

In polls, Hillary has not come up as the most trusted candidate. Mark Murray of NBC News reported that her ranking as being “honest and straightforward” actually decreased more than ten points from 2014 in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey. However, he also reported that her scoring in other areas associated with leadership and positive perception was higher than that of her opponents.

Senator Cory Booker is quoted by NBC as saying, “There are few candidates in history who are as qualified or ready for the job of president as Hillary Clinton. I’m excited about her candidacy and her vision for our country.”

After her speech, many Americans might be excited as well.

Forget all mentions of the Glass Ceiling from here on out. She might not be the most agreeable candidate, or the most likable, but she’s been out on that dance floor for a while now, and she knows the steps. She referenced the “fights” of every American, but as most great fighters have proven, a great fight is actually more like a dance. When this mess of a political ball ends, she’s got a game-changing glass slipper to try on, and I’m guessing it won’t fit the other candidates.


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