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Dear Hillary Clinton, Love, and politics, does mean having to say "I'm sorry"

Image Source: Hillary Clinton photostream at Flickr.

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.

What 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
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Robert said…
I think you have definitely hit on some issues I have with Hillary Clinton. She has repeatedly displayed a lack of ethics, or a presence of questionable ethics. When asked a hard question, she has repeatedly laughed it off and moved past the question instead of answering it. She has attacked many people's character on similar grounds to what she used to attack Obama.

In the end, if you like her policies, vote for Obama. His are quite similar to hers. The difference is, he doesn't exude evil to me, whereas she does. He just has a much more positive tone to what he says and how he comes across, whereas she strikes me as sinister. Perhaps I've read too much about where the bodies are buried in her past, and I just can't take her seriously.

I think Andrew Young, in his support of Hillary, summed up one reason why I could never vote for her. He considered it a "sign of leadership" from her that she got together with her friends and formed a group to either pay off, shut up, or marginalize any woman who claimed to have had an affair with her husband. That makes a leader? Not to me.

Great post on Hillary, Julie.
le35 said…
"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."

Even if you agree with the policies and ideals that someone says they have, you can't believe them if they don't have integrity and character. Without trust, it is hard to believe that the person will actually do what he/she said he/she would do.
Melissa said…
I wonder what it would be like to have a leader who didn't admit errors and move on when needed? That would probably really suck. I'm glad that hasn't happened yet.
Julie Pippert said…
Melissa! She aims, shoots, and the dart goes dead on bulls-eye. kaPOWIE!

Oh DUDE I ought to sob at your comment but I am instead cynically cackling and cackling.
thailandchani said…
I automatically assume they are a lying pack of ....

Cynicism aside, I do believe that when you set up an adversarial environment, people will behave in adversarial ways. It's rather predictable. That's why what little I have heard of the election blather has all been competitive rather than people actually discussing what they believe. It's more about what the others don't believe.

Unknown said…
fantastic insight- thanks for breaking it down for me- I admit, with a tad of embarrassment, that I don't follow, understand or really care about American politics. I believe in the machine and really don't think a single person - even a single president makes ANY difference. I know. I suck. And when I retire to the south of France no one will miss me.
Anonymous said…
There is definitely a place for apologies, but the scenario you envisioned prolongs the issue, places more emphasis on it than it deserves and brings more attention to the mistake. Face it, in the grand scale of thing, it is not that big a deal. You know, perhaps an apology a large issue like being mistaken about WMD would be more worthwhile ;). The fact that she did immediately back down implies that yes, perhaps she was mistaken (I remember her nodding her head in acknowledgment). A lesser opponent would've have tried to keep pushing Obama's eloquent answer. The zinger sounded almost scripted and I'm not sure whether it was from her or her camp. So definitely a bad judgment call on her part.

Aside from that issue, I've never had the warm and fuzzies from Hillary. And it's funny because my husband supports her while I support Obama (after sadly not being able to vote for Edwards in the primary). I had to push and ask my husband, if Obama is the Democratic candidate, you WILL vote for him won't you? He replied, yes...

BTW, it's refreshing to get this all out in a comment, where I would never put this info out on my own blog...
Robert said…
I honestly don't like any of the final four all that much, so it's time to pinch my nose come fall. I just hope the Supreme Court Justices hold on tight for the next four years... or eight... or just leave now. But only time will tell. If Hillary got it, I wouldn't be surprised to read headlines like "Justice Scalia dies mysteriously in his sleep" or "Justice Thomas committed to Bellvue after apparent psychotic breakdown." Sorry, I'm venting.
Kat said…
That was really well written.
I don't trust Clinton. I just knew this part of her personality had not disappeared. She tried to disguise herself as the new, softer, more positive Hillary Clinton, but I just didn't buy it. And here she is taking low blows and taking cheap shots.
At least Obama has not engaged her in this department. It makes him look all the more trustworthy and dependable to me.
Michele said…
Bingo on what Melissa had to say. I was going to comment something pretty similar - same crap, different politician. It takes one hell of a person to admit when they've done or said something wrong.

I think that's why so many people are gravitating towards Obama - we are all looking for a change. I don't want another person in office who is going to keep repeating the mistakes of the current administration by acting as if they are always right and could never admit to any wrong doing.

I think you've hit the nail on the head with regards to Hillary. I couldn't put my finger on what I didn't like about her. Plain and simple, she's a politician. I need a breath of fresh air.
Anonymous said…
I haven't anything new to add, just wanted to comment that it's nice to see some dialogue not laden with hate, but rather is analytical and critical. Julie Pippert, can't you run for president?
Jennifer S said…
I wish I'd written what Melissa wrote! Yeah, whew, glad we don't have any experience with THAT.

This was a thoughtful, reasoned post. I'm afraid I'm still clinging to the Clinton ship. You might have just loosened my hold a tad, though.
Liv said…
I am Baracking the vote. I have no idea what else you said because I am not intelligent enough to read proper English, but I am going Obama. This is certain!
Annie said…
My weighing in on this is somewhat sterile at this point since I don't yet have the right to vote - but - I'm watching it all very curiously.

I can absolutely respect your thorough and reasoned opinion on why you would have problems voting for Hillary - I just wish that the rest of the people who judge because a)she's female, b) she's Bill's wife, c) she stayed with a cheating husband d)insert your own invalid reason here ad infinitum, would do the same!

I like Hillary - but have noticed the same thing re the 'not backing down' - and it makes you wonder. It also is a testament to the similarities between these Democratic candidates that low level pot shots like this are the best she can come up with in trying to discredit her opponent?

I have one big area where I disagree with the Democratic candidates, and that is on the Pro Choice issue - but most every other policy they have is in line with what I believe. I would never vote for a Republican because they tend to be against choice, because nearly every other policy they hold does not benefit the majority of people in this country, nor ordinary people, like me. The mudslinging earlier on in the Republican campaigns was a lot worse in my opinion than what we see between Obama and Clinton - and I will weep, absolutely weep if the American people vote another Republican into the Whitehouse.

You're holding my future in your hands people, make the right choice!
painted maypole said…
an apology? oh be still my heart.

and then, of course (at least according to CNN, I didn't watch the thing myself... rehearsal, you know...) Senator Clinton practically quoted John Edwards at the end of the debate. So... she did what she accused Obama of doing?!? Hello!!?!
Robert said…
I'm not sure why you think Republican choices don't benefit the majority of Americans, Annie. I really think they want all people to have the opportunity to provide for their families. I'm confused, though, it sounded in your comment as though you are not pro choice (by your statement that you disagree with Democrats) but then it sounded as if you are pro choice (because you dislike Republicans). I'm confused, please explain. Thanks.
Unknown said…
Julie! I couldn't agree more. Haven't we in 8 years watched our current president and his administration dodge that question - isn't it completely disingenuous that anyone can have lived very long in our world without making a mistake?
One thing I learned early in life was the value of the front page full retraction style apology. "I am truly sorry and would like you to forgive me if you feel you are able." No other kind of apology can replace, none can repair so much harm, none takes so many by complete surprise. When we receive it, it charms us, makes us want to be act better, more generous, more magnanimous. When we offer it, we open ourselves up to risk, but reap the rewards that come along with truth, fair play and integrity.
Julie Pippert said…
Mommybytes, I know what you mean...and I thought about that before making it simply "what I wish she had done." I thought about whether the moment had passed, and you know? That's another big typical obstacle to apologies "least said, soonest mended." I don't think that's meant to exclude apologies.

I don't think this will become a sleeping dog, I don't think it will lie, until it is settled between THEM...with an apology. KWIM?
jeanie said…
I know nothing about American politics - oh, we get it tube fed to us over here, I just try to not watch it.

However, we recently had an issue regarding the word "Sorry".

There have been many, many Aussie bloggers who wrote about it (I didn't, they did it all better) but the crux was saying Sorry doesn't mean you are admitting defeat, you are acknowledging a wrong.
flutter said…
Nope, I don't think she can.
Mary Alice said…
Great post Julie. I agree - I have to add that Hillary adding and using her time as First Lady as part of her total years of experience really bothers me. My own husband has been an military engineer for 14 years - I have listened to him and I understand a lot of what he does, but in no way would I count that as viable experience for me to step in and take on that job myself.
Angela said… really worries me, how tight and close this race is. Not a good thing. I'm voting for Obama, I've decided. And I wish that Hillary would put the smug smile aside as well. It's killing angry. I do think she is playing the "all's fair in love and politics" angle. Yep.
Robert said…
Hillary is just shocked she can't get away with half what Bill did. And she's angry over it as well. She expected this campaign to simply be handed to her and is deeply offended anyone has gotten in her way. You can see it in all the moves she makes.
ewe are here said…
Melissa nailed it up there...

But so did you:
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.

That's exactly what I see in HC, sadly; any means appear to justify her ends. And, sadly, I don't think this is a 'new' trait she's just picked up on the campaign trail this year. I think she's been this way for a very long time.
PunditMom said…
While I don't disagree that Hillary has hit some wrong notes in this campaign, we don't expect the same from any of the other "guys" in the race, so why should we expect her to play nice?

Not defending, just saying ...
Kyla said…
While I don't appreciate her attitude at times, I still really do believe in her policies. And I think a lot of this defensive behavior stems from how much she believes in her policies and really thinks she can make a difference when she gets there. Though, I'm not excusing it, of course. And a one track mind isn't always an asset when guiding an entire country.

I'm still torn. Healthcare is my BIG issue, and I think her plan really addresses it more thoroughly and I know that is a key priority for her and I appreciate that. Although, I don't exactly see that she has the power to unite the nation, which can be a hindrance. Obama, on the other hand, he's charismatic, he's attracting voters from both parties, and I think he does have the ability to unite the country. I'm just not as in love with his policies or convinced that he can get it done.

So this is me saying "I don't know!" for the 3 millionth time. But I think I'm a hair closer to Clinton. Maybe.
Unknown said…
I so agree with you on pretty much every point here, Julie. Professionally and personally, the ability to admit a mistake and really own it is a powerful thing.

Recently, I forgot to show up for a mini-class I was supposed to teach for my daughter's class. Just plumb forgot. I was mortified. In an email I sent to the students' parent about something I needed for the next week's class, I apologized. Now, most of the parents probably never knew I didn't show up. I just felt it weighing on my conscience though and said I was sorry. I received an email back from one of the parents thanking me for being honest and admitting a mistake. She then proceeded to share with me something personal which related.

Apology and honesty are powerful. I don't repeat this for my pat on the back; instead, I relate it to show how a small apology even can have a big impact.

If I thought there were more politicians out there who could do this, I'd have more faith and be more of a enthusiastic participant in our political system.
S said…
You have articulated EXACTLY how I feel about HC. Exactly.
Snoskred said…
Hey Julie,

Long time no comment - I've been flat out with a lot of projects over my way but I am still reading (when I get a moment) and I caught this post just now - late to the party, I know.

I think I am possibly more interested in your politics than in ours recently. I've been catching a few of the debates and talk on cnn and fox news.

All along something has been really disturbing me about Hillary but I could not put my finger on it. I thought it might have been me, because if that were me and Bill were my husband, I would have kicked him to the kerb - and then gone out there to slap him around some more, perhaps throwing some garbage over his head before finally leaving him with the imprints of my heels stamped in his forehead. Yeah, maybe that is just me. :)

Not only did he disgrace her and his daughter, but he disgraced the Presidency. He turned America into a laughing stock around the world. And if there's anyone who can see his face without thinking about that darn cigar, I'd like to know how they rubbed it out of their memory banks.

Then I dropped by here and read this in the comments - Angela said -

"And I wish that Hillary would put the smug smile aside as well. It's killing angry."

That is what is disturbing me. She seems like she is smiling, but it is not a smile at all. It is something else entirely.

It almost seems like a wounded animal, smiling at you to make you think they have forgiven you, but planning to strike when you look away.

But it seems if you are female, and you do not like her, then you are betraying your gender. I don't care about that - it should be about the best person for the job. I don't think she is the that person.

I like Obama. I just don't think Hillary intends on bowing out gracefully. I suspect she's going to fight it to the convention.. and that is only going to make people dislike her more. ;(

Aliki2006 said…
Well said. Well said. I am very disappointed in Clinton--and you've articulated well what has been bothering me so much about all this.

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