I’ve never been able to get into The West Wing because I feel like every episode is just a collection of monologues about why liberals are awesome and right about everything. I don’t necessarily disagree; I just get sick of being very enthusiastically told exactly what I want to hear. Fans of the show tell me, Well, duh – it’s liberal porn.
And that’s great! Porn is delightful. But if you expect actual sex in the real world to be anything like porn, you’re going to be very disappointed. And by that same logic, if you expect the United States government and the people who work in it to be anything like The West Wing, you’re going to be very disappointed. Trust me – I’m speaking from experience, here.
This is why I don’t expect my politicians to be brilliant orators. This is why I don’t expect my politicians to have sterling ethical records. This is why I don’t expect my politicians to keep billionaires and lobbyists at arm’s length. This is why I don’t expect my politicians to inspire me – because that’s not their fucking job.
A politician’s job is to run the government. When I’m choosing who to vote for, I pick the politician who, based on available evidence and my wide variety of opinions about how the government ought to be run, will be best at the job. Qualities like natural charisma or being the sort of person I’d like to hang out with are great and all, but they don’t really have much bearing on one’s ability to maintain the world’s largest and most powerful institution.
That was my reasoning last December, when I reluctantly became a Hillary Clinton supporter. Trust me – she’s not my first choice, I would say to people at the time, by way of an excuse. I don’t like her, but she’ll be good at running the government.
But that line fell apart sometime in April or May, when I made a shocking discovery: I actually did like Hillary Clinton. As the summer went by, I found myself liking her more and more. And now, with weeks until Election Day, I can safely say that I admire Hillary Clinton. I think she’s a good person, I think she’s trustworthy, and I think she’ll make a great president.
There’s a good chance you think I’m an idiot, or a dupe, or a paid stooge of the Clinton campaign. And while you’re wrong, I would just like to take a second to applaud your newfound ability to doubt something you read on the Internet – because you sure didn’t apply that degree of scrutiny to the various blogs and image macros where you learned that Hillary Clinton rigged the Democratic primary, paid off the Justice Department, or murdered more people than Ted Bundy.
Earlier this year, I watched all six seasons of Game of Thrones over the course of two epic, gory and sexy months. I was so late to the party because I’m generally not that into fantasy stories. I could never get into Lord of the Rings because I couldn’t relate to a story of pure good versus absolute evil, or characters who, similar to The West Wing, were all so gallant and righteous and upstanding all the time. Game of Thrones hooked me instantly because it wasn’t about a bunch of plucky, noble heroes trying to vanquish something terrible – it was about a bunch of fucked up, damaged people confronted with a variety of terrible problems, trying at great personal cost to find the least shitty solution.
I think Game of Thrones is a better politics show than The West Wing because that’s what I believe politics is: Messed up people trying to find the least shitty solutions to huge problems. And I like Hillary Clinton because she reminds me of Tyrion Lannister.
If you don’t watch the show, Tyrion is a dwarf, the youngest son of an extremely wealthy and powerful family, and is widely hated throughout the land. Much of the hatred is unfounded – because he’s a dwarf, he’s widely mocked and subject to a variety of rumors that he’s a pervert, a weasel, a coward, and a monster.
And some of the hatred is because Tyrion kind of is a monster – he drinks constantly, fucks anything that moves, and is a colossal asshole to the people around him. (He’s also murdered a couple of people – which kind of undercuts my whole metaphor here, if we’re being honest – but in all fairness Tyrion operates in a far more murdery political climate than Hillary does.)
That being said, Tyrion is exceptionally intelligent, resourceful and just, and the reason for all his scheming and plotting to attain power is because he genuinely wants to make the world a fairer, kinder, better place. He’s far from a perfect person, but in a broken world filled with flawed and imperfect people, he’s best qualified to try to fix it – one shitty decision at a time.
I’ve been trying to write this post for several months now, and every time I start I get bogged down trying to address every single controversy floating around Hillary’s candidacy – scandals, emails, speeches, leaks, Iraq, Bill, the Foundation… The result is something very long that isn’t especially fun to read, and at the end of the day it won’t do dick to change anybody’s mind.
My assessment is that about two thirds of the controversy surrounding Hillary is hot air, whipped up by Republicans and widely accepted because people don’t trust her. I think people don’t trust Hillary because all her time in the spotlight has led her to be extremely private and averse to transparency, which directly spawns the one third of her controversies that are legitimate: Ham-fisted attempts at secrecy, clumsy coverups of unflattering stories and an unwillingness to answer for them directly.
Make no mistake: Those are character flaws. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why she didn’t just apologize for her email server in the first place, or how somebody who got her start in politics working on the Watergate Committee didn’t seem to learn any lessons about the danger of political coverups. I don't think Hillary has done anything outright illegal - she's spent most of her career being aggressively investigated by powerful people who don't like her and would jump at the chance to prosecute her if they actually had anything resembling a legal case - but she definitely operates in a legal grey area more often than I’d like.
And at the end of the day I’m okay with that, because in my view you have to accumulate a certain baseline of corruption to be successful in our political culture. Competition to run the free world is fierce and it’s impossible to go it alone, which is why even people with good intentions have to get cozy with some bad hombres if they want to have a chance to make some real changes.
Overall Hillary Clinton is as honest, if not slightly more so, than other high-profile Democrats. Reporters who have closely covered Clinton for years readily acknowledge that she is one of the more truthful and well-intentioned people working in D.C. Even her leaked Wall Street speeches show that she believes it’s in everybody’s best interests to reduce inequality and reign in corporate excesses. She’s running on an avalanche of detail-oriented progressive policies that she has no good reason not to fight for once she’s elected.
I think the reason more people don’t buy that – the reason I didn’t buy that as recently as this time last year – is because Hillary Clinton simply isn’t charismatic enough to sell it.
Hillary is scripted, awkward and unrelatable on the campaign trail – which is precisely what I find relatable about her. When I watch her delivering a halting speech, or giving an excruciatingly rehearsed answer to a question, or awkwardly attempting to appeal to Millennials, I don’t see some robotic Manchurian Candidate trying to appear human. I just see an introvert trying to win at a game designed by extroverts, and I think, “I have more in common with this person than with any president in my lifetime.”
Awhile ago I was at a dark, noisy, crowded bar – which already is far from my optimal environment. Before long, the group of friends I was with all jumped up and hit the dancefloor, their feet flying, hands raised, eyes closed, moving effortlessly with the beat. I, on the other hand, stayed seated – because while sitting alone in a booth watching my friends dance was painfully awkward, I knew that the alternative would be even more painful. There are a number of things that I’m good at, and dancing is just not one of them.
Before long, though, they were pulling me out onto the dancefloor with them, and because I wanted to be a good sport I tried as best I could to dance – which, for me, consists of planting my feet, swaying awkwardly and even more awkwardly moving my arms back and forth. And before long, my dancing and the very badness of it had become the center of the group’s attention, which is the exact reason I don’t dance.
Fortunately for me, you don’t have to dance like an idiot in order to become a screenwriter, because dancing ability has no bearing whatsoever on writing ability. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, you do have to dance like an idiot to become president of the United States – both literally, during the obligatory Ellen appearance, and figuratively, whether it’s grinning and eating a pork chop at some godforsaken swing state county fair, delivering the same generic pep rally speech three times a day for a couple years, or pretending to be happy in an unending parade of selfies with tens of thousands of complete strangers.
The important day-to-day work of the presidency is less oriented toward selfies and aw-shucks charisma and more towards administrative ability, critical thinking and relationship building. Hillary Clinton’s resume and record show that she’s great at all that stuff – but in order to get this job that she’s so well qualified for, she has to spend a couple of years getting roundly mocked because she’s not good at a skillset that has nothing to do with running the government.
Probably my least favorite thing about democracy is that presidential elections are basically the same as high school class elections. Sure, candidates talk about policy, but in the age of mass media what really motivates people to vote isn’t what you say but how you say it – which is why only cool people get to run the free world. Sure, nerds get to be aides and advisers and spin doctors, but the person in the big chair is the good looking one who everybody wants to be friends with.
That’s what gives me hope about this election: Donald Trump is such a historically unprecedented trainwreck that America has no choice but to put a boring, introverted, policy-obsessed nerd in charge of the country. People aren’t voting for Hillary because her speeches make them feel squishy inside or because she seems like the sort of person they could share an order of hot wings with at Applebee’s. She’s going to get the job based on qualifications alone – and it doesn’t matter that for a lot of voters her only qualification is that she’s not Donald Trump, because the votes count either way.
The dream I have is that Trump will lose by a historic margin – enough to give Democrats control of Congress for a couple of years, long enough for Hillary to notch some big wins on popular shit like infrastructure and campaign finance. Historically, people like her a lot better when she’s doing a job than they do when she’s asking for the job – which is why, in the dream I have, Hillary’s approval rating is like 58 percent, and people constantly stop me in the street and say, “Hey – you were right about Hillary Clinton all along. I should have listened to you from the start, and will henceforth defer to your opinion in all political matters and Westworld fan theories.”
Of course, that won't happen. Whatever Republicans are left in Congress on November 9th will be united only by their hatred for the new president, which means that Hillary is going to have to fight tooth and nail every day to accomplish even half of the things that she wants to. Fortunately, fighting tooth and nail for incremental progress - unlike dancing or public speaking or persuading people to like her - is one thing that does seem to come naturally to Hillary Clinton, which is why I'm with her.