An Alternate Love Letter from a Hillary Staffer
I recently read the Medium post entitled “Dear HRC: Love & Honesty From the Field” ready to agree with the sentiments. I had experienced the campaign from the Iowa caucus to the bitter Florida end. I consistently repeated that the campaign relied too much on numbers sometimes at the expense of general human courtesy; the staggering amount of phone calls and emails from the campaigns was at best obnoxious, at worst, restraining order-worthy (sometimes I felt like a stalker trying to bully voters into dating me instead of just getting them to vote). Still, I was struck by the piece’s central request in asking Hillary Clinton herself to apologize for decisions made by the campaign. (In all fairness, the author’s nine weeks of campaign experience may not have been enough time to absorb a full understanding of the process.)
So let me do something I thought I was through with doing after November: defending Hillary Clinton, America’s most accomplished, trailblazing female politician, from yet another unfair attack.
Were there mistakes made? Heck yes. I remember back to September 2015 in Iowa, every other door we knocked yielded questions about her emails. I remember thinking “hm, you’d think they’d develop a strategy about this instead of leaving me to improvise” but what did I know, they were the experts! I remember calling and confirming 8,000 Floridians for an event that seated a tenth of that number, and then was told to boldly lie to the thousands of people waiting in line about their prospects of getting inside. Did it break my heart to do this to 84-year-old Doris? Yes. To the girl who took the day off of school? You bet. Did it violate common courtesy? Yeah. The law? No.
I devoured the behind the scenes peek at the campaign “Shattered” in two days, and thought it seemed even-handed enough to reveal some missteps. However, as a studied campaign historian, I spend my days rereading about every election from McClellan to McGovern and I can reveal, perhaps to the surprise of many, that the candidate has more responsibilities than prescribing campaign strategies for all 50 states. Obama, who was an organizer himself, had a hand in it certainly, but ultimately Hillary’s team built upon that successful model (to a fault maybe) to get to victory. Sure, the numbers didn’t add up. But criticizing the campaign for following numbers is like criticizing doctors who prescribed bloodletting in the 1400s. Hindsight is 20/20 and everyone did it. Sometimes it even worked out! Hillary was a little busy traveling the country, telling America to “Deal me in!” and shimmying off vile accusations, to sit down to look at numbers in Broward. That’s the job of the campaign; if you’re going to point fingers––and in this case, it seems failure has a million fathers, though success was in the hands of a couple hundred thousand third party voters––point it there.
When I received Hillary’s Onward Together email, to me it felt like an apology as well as a call to action. “It didn’t work out for me,” it seemed to say, “but I’m not done fighting. I’m going to help the next generation of progressive fighters walking the trail I blazed. This isn’t about me anymore — this is about passing the baton.”
In some ways, it’s a beautiful story. Imagine a hypothetical President Clinton bodyslammed by a Republican Congress, threatened with investigations, remembered as the president of gridlock. Hillary could’ve walked through the woods forever, made appearances at Broadway shows, but instead she’s entering the ring again as the first female candidate ever to win the popular vote in the United States, a martyr and a hero to not just the left, but to all Americans who now see her for her virtue.
As someone who filled out a questionnaire about placement in the Clinton administration alongside my best friends in the field, you can bet I was shattered at the loss. My dream in life is to climb the ranks and work as a speechwriter to the president and as I watched the fruitless job hunt of my friends and struggled myself, I of course felt “shattered.” But it was no one person’s fault. Elections are a protean, complicated beast not easily boiled down into cause and effect narratives. No one deserves all the blame. And I respect Hillary Clinton all the more for moving “onward” to tackle the complex and incredibly urgent issues that face America today.
So Hillary, if you wanna get in touch with me, (to quote the author who asked the most inspiring public servant of our lifetime for an apology) “you know where to find me.” (Hint: my name at gmail.com). Instead of a loaded love letter, I owe you a beer and you owe me nothing, least of all an apology. Because as my mom tells me when I fall short: “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Ryan Bernsten was a campaign fellow and organizer in Iowa, New York, and Florida from 2015 to 2o16. He is currently a New York-based playwright/performer and a Master’s student at the University of Oxford writing program.