Observing Hillary Clinton, I keep thinking, “She’s one of us.” A native Midwesterner from a middle-class family, she could well be among the characters in my Daffodil Sunrise novel, set on a rural campus in Indiana. Nothing wrong with a streak of ambition, either, or getting ahead on your own merits and efforts, including law school when women weren’t always welcome there. Not just any law school, either, but Yale, after Wellesley rather than a Big 10 campus. Oh, well, I know several who also went to Wellesley around the same time or taught there later. As I say, one of us.
Having moved around the country in my own career, I appreciate the adjustments she’s had to make as First Lady in a Deep South capital or later in the Empire State of the Eastern Seaboard. You have to play by the local rules to get anything done, period, and one thing you quickly learn is to keep your mouth shut as much as possible, at least in public, or you’re shut out entirely. In private could be another matter, one at play in her long marriage.
The fact she’s sought to be a pragmatist, problem-solver appeals highly to my Midwestern values. As I said, one of us. But that also means compromises, accommodations, and bruises that deflect us from our desired destination. The plot always thickens when there’s conflict.
Sanders, in contrast, is from a much different culture, as I learned in my first years after college when I lived Upstate New York and then in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. He could easily have been one of my housemates or good friends I describe in my novel Hippie Drum. I’m trying to imagine him skinny-dipping at the lake or driving the old school bus through the countryside. Like many of them, he left the big city – Brooklyn, in particular – and wound up more or less back to the land in Vermont. Had he taken up a more spiritual or religious route, he might have appeared in my yoga novel, Ashram. It was, after all, another of those hippie things. Actually, it seems about three-quarters of my friends at the time were from Brooklyn at some point in their lives, a world quite apart from Manhattan.
Ask how I feel about Clinton’s and Sanders’ personalities and my response takes a curious twist. I like Sanders more, think he’d be a delightful dinner companion or next-seat passenger on an airline flight. Clinton, on the other hand, is more reserved under the veneer of Midwestern openness, and connecting on a personal level would no doubt be difficult. (For the record, I’m told I can be the same – and small talk is usually a challenge.) I’ll accept the enigma, then, of what’s percolating behind that mask at any one time. She speaks from a professional class – he, for the workers. Maybe that’s the underlying tension.
As I look back on my career, some of the most gregarious and likeable bosses and colleagues have been the ones who burned me in the end. And some quiet, competent ones still have my deepest respect.
Take that as a nod to Clinton.