Donald Trump’s running mate Gov. Mike Pence was on the Today show this morning attending to the increasingly difficult task of defending Trump against an avalanche of accusations related to sexual misconduct. Like any seasoned politician, Pence did his best to pivot out of that discussion and attack his and Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
While it was a bit painful to watch Pence address Trump’s despicable boasting about sexually assaulting women, I remain fascinated by the Trump campaign’s central attack on Clinton, which essentially boils down to their contention that the Clinton who people see in public is decidedly different behind closed doors.
That’s a contention that I actually agree with. Sort of.
Let me explain.
As someone who has been in the public eye for decades, Clinton has been subjected to repeated, sustained politically motivated attacks that have altered her public image. Trump and Pence have attacked her relentlessly over the last year, further clouding Clinton’s public image and leaving some voters to question who she is and what she stands for. As a result of time I spent with Secretary Clinton, then Senator Clinton, back in 2007, it’s not something I question, even for a moment.
At the time I worked for the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC. In the spring and summer of 2007 ahead of the 2008 election, I traveled the country putting together presidential candidate town hall meetings. In July of that year, Clinton met with about 800 union members in Detroit for her town hall. It was a tough room. Many of the union members had been hard hit by the devastation facing the American auto industry at the time. Detroit had transformed from the bustling heart of American manufacturing to a cautionary tale about the ill effects of so-called free trade and the outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries that offered cheap labor.
Many of the union members there that day placed blame on Clinton’s husband Bill for signing NAFTA. When the town hall began, the mood in the room was sour. Over the course of the next hour and a half, Clinton fielded tough questions on a range of issues of concern to working people. She dazzled the audience with her deep understanding of policy, her genuine compassion for the suffering many Rust Belt union members were undergoing and her plans for creating good jobs, bolstering unions, rejecting bad trade deals and getting our country back on track. It was as impressive a performance as I had ever seen from someone running for office. At the end of the town hall the crowd gave her an enthusiastic standing ovation. She’d won them over.
But it’s what happened next that showed me who Hillary really is and why the cynicism about her is misguided.
An auto plant worker in his mid-30s approached me right after the town hall ended. He’d lost his job when his plant outsourced production to Mexico. He was in dire straits financially. He wanted to ask a question in the town hall but there wasn’t time. He asked me if he could talk to Hillary before she left.
I said I’d ask, with little hope that I could fulfill his request. Presidential candidates’ schedules are packed. They rarely have time to catch their breath on the campaign trail, going from event to event without a minute to spare.
I approached Hillary and explained to her the situation. Without hesitation, she said “Steve, bring him back. Is there somewhere private we could go?” I found a room in the back of the hall and escorted the autoworker back. After making a quick introduction, I ushered them into the room for their chat. No staff. No press. Just the two of them.
When they emerged 45 minutes later, Hillary gave me a warm “thank you” for arranging the meeting. After saying a final goodbye to the autoworker, she and her staff headed to her next event. I still don’t know exactly what they discussed in that room. But after Hillary was whisked away, the autoworker, with tears in his eyes said “I can’t thank you enough for setting that up. She really understands what people like me are going through.”
Of course, Hillary didn’t win that election. And I’m not sure what became of the autoworker I met that day. But since then, I have never questioned what’s really in Hillary Clinton’s heart.
She is the most qualified person to ever run for president. But she’s also one of the most compassionate and caring candidates we’ve ever seen. If she is elected, America will be better off. Not simply because she has the policy and political credentials to hit the ground running on Day One of her presidency, but because she understands what regular folks like that autoworker are going through. And she genuinely wants to do everything in her power to make their lives better.
That’s the Hillary Clinton that most Americans don’t get to see. And that’s precisely why she should be the 45th President of the United States.