Last night I live blogged the Democratic debate for MOMocrats, a fantastic group of writers who use their words to share political views and news---a group I am happy to have recently joined.
During the debate, I noticed one of the moderators' favorite things to do was take Hillary Clinton to task for her detracting remarks of Barack Obama. Obama hasn't been a perfect choir boy during this campaign, but Clinton is the one who has taken some fairly low potshots that smack either of self-righteousness or desperation.
Both self-righteousness and desperation smell like weakness and appear as a challenge. Shark like reporters and detractors scent blood.
Indulge me as I backtrack for a minute here...
I always had a pretty good mind of my own. But in eighth grade we moved to an environment that was harshly unaccepting of that in me. I had a choice: bend and go along to get along, or break and be alone. I chose the former. By the time I hit my adulthood, I had, somewhere along the way, lost what I thought amidst the need to go along with what others thought. Part of me remembered at times---the tension in my neck, the discomfort in my stomach---but I'd lost the ability to be clear about what I thought, but most importantly, I'd lost the ability to trust in what I thought. I'd received such negative feedback about my thoughts and beliefs, and they had been in such conflict for so long with my environment that even I had learned to doubt myself. But I had a larger goal: I wanted to fit in and be a part of something. I wanted friends and a community. I had to compromise myself to reach this larger goal.*
That's what I see in Hillary Clinton, to some degree, or at least I see signs that make me wonder about it.
Consider her accusation against Senator Obama that he plagiarized Governor Deval Patrick's political ideas and rhetoric.
Does she really believe this, or is it some strategy her advisers suggested? Is this her voice, or is she so caught up in achieving her larger goal that she will suspend her own good judgment and agree to a tactic that others tell her will get her one step closer to her goal? Would she normally be okay with this tactic that asks her to focus on distracting potshots of her opponent?
Either way, it causes me to question her judgment, and ethics.
I admit it: I think she's on some shaky ground with regard to ethics. She's faced some heady accusations, and that's something I'm sure she and her campaign hope doesn't come back up right now. I don't think many of us have forgotten the Whitewater controversy or the death of Vince Foster.
I haven't seen Obama come at her about any of the controversies or potential ethically weak points Clinton has had to answer to in the past. I'm sure she hasn't enjoyed this sort of shrapnel when it came at her, so why deploy it against him?
Does she believe it's all part of a game, and all's fair in love, war and politics?
I sincerely hope not. I hope she's not the sort of person who rationalizes bad behavior and perpetuates it because it happened to her. I hope she hasn't decided this is simply the way things are done.
It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback, and second guess outside of the hotseat, but I do wonder why she makes some of the choices she does and why she won't just say the thing that will fix the error.
Last night in the debate she defended and entrenched herself in her position that Senator Obama, who she maintains is running solely on the strength of his rhetoric, plagiarized Patrick when she said Obama only offered "Xerox change, not real change."
Because of my profession, I'm extremely sensitive about plagiarism. Attributing ideas and words is essential to ethical writing. It is a large point of honor to me. I sit up and take notice when a person accuses another person of using someone else's words as his own. I will possibly make a character judgment on this point---not an entire judgment, but an assessment of this area. I paid close attention to the accusation and Obama's response, which to me cleared up the matter quickly: there was no plagiarism.
And in this case, I question even the question about it. (This is highly unusual; I normally advocate questioning this.)
It did come across as a desperate ploy.
What I wish had happened instead of what actually happened:
Hillary Clinton---noticed plagiarism, but realized most people may not understand or even find this to be as big an issue as she (or I) might, especially when she discovered that Obama used ideas and words from someone closely involved in his campaign. That lends the thought that perhaps the words were gifted, not stolen. It also lends the idea that the ideas were honestly shared.
Okay, barring that...
Hillary Clinton---utters accusation and gets clarification then backs down.
That's right...backs down.
I don't actually believe this is the death knell of a political career.
In fact, one of my largest hesitations about Hillary Clinton as a candidate is her inability to recognize when she's made an error and admit it.
In a job interview, a common question is "when have you made a mistake and what did you do?" Every job candidate has got to know this question has a high probability of coming and be prepared for it. There are entire articles written dedicated to suggesting how you should answer this.
May I humbly suggest the Clinton campaign read these?
Voters understand making a mistake. We are quite familiar with the need to back down, admit, learn and move on. I think we can therefore extend understanding when a political candidate does this.
May I humbly suggest Hillary Clinton do this?
What I wish Hillary Clinton would do now...
Explain: I believe strongly in using your own words and ideas or honestly attributing them if you use someone else's.
Reason: I was startled to see Obama use words I knew the governor had used.
Apologize: But I mistook the situation and now that Senator Obama has clarified, I understand he was legitimately using ideas he and the governor share in common. Senator Obama, will you accept my apology for misunderstanding the situation?
(Hopefully he graciously says yes)
Move On: Thank you for your graciousness. Now that this is settled, I think Senator Obama and I would like to talk further about health care and the economy...
The other day I wrote about
the value of admitting an error and apologizing. A large number of commenters agreed with this.
I think the only reason we'd ever believe this wasn't okay in politics was if pundits kept telling us it cut off a candidate at the knees.
Strong leaders do apologize.
Apologies don't weaken.
I'm so tired of the mindset that apologies take away your power and make you weak and vulnerable.
Beverly Engel wrote in Psychology Today, "Apology has the power to humble even the most arrogant. When we develop the courage to admit we are wrong and work past our resistance to apologizing, we develop a deep sense of self-respect." (Emphasis mine to indicate the strength in apologizing.)
If there are two points people feel disconnected from Hillary on, they are: arrogance and judgment/ethics. If apologizing helps us develop self-respect, I think it also engenders outside respect of us, too.
Until I feel confident that Senator Clinton can either wholeheartedly say she believes in what she did instead of blaming others (such as her vote to give Bush unilateral war power) or back down and apologize (such as with regard to the plagiarism accusation against Obama) I can't respect her enough or trust her enough to vote for her to be my President.
I think that's too bad because I think her policies and platforms are excellent. But a person is much more than what they appear on paper; they are how they live, they are character, integrity, honor and judgment, too.
I need someone who can live by the rules and standards I hold myself to and that society holds me to, as well.
Can you be that person, Senator Clinton?
* Believe me, I am endeavoring to move on from this.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.