Several friends reproached me after my last column — not for calling Gary Johnson a "lamppost" (unfair to lampposts?) as I did, but rather for not making the positive case for Hillary Clinton. They went so far as to suggest that perhaps I was a "lesser of two evils" voter or, more accurately, the "lesser of two evils and two wack jobs."
No, I am not. I'm with her. Emphatically.
There are the obvious reasons: competence, experience — domestic and international — work ethic, integrity, etc. But these are all known even though, distressingly, a good segment of the population doesn’t believe them. Clinton had a 69 percent approval rating at the time she left the State Department so, if you are one of those who says she is of low character, I suggest you consider your susceptibility to negative propaganda.
Sometime after she left State, I had the opportunity to press a respected Republican senator on the Foreign Relations Committee on why Congress kept wasting time and money on investigating Clinton's "complicity" in the Benghazi tragedy.
His response: "What else do we have on her? We've got nothing else."
Three conversations, three insights
What I can add to the body of public knowledge on Hillary Clinton are three insights based on three long conversations that I have had with her — the first in 2005, in her capacity as junior senator from New York; the second in 2008, during her failed campaign for the Democratic nomination; and the third, in 2013, six months after she stepped down as Secretary of State.
Let me emphasize that I do not know Clinton well. Three conversations over 10 years does not a relationship make. Many, many people know her better than I do. I have met and worked with many on her staff, and these are some of the most capable and dedicated people I have met in public service. Uniformly, over many years, they have remained very supportive of her.
That actually means something very positive to me in the same way, inversely, that the five authors who have written biographies of Donald Trump (all of whom he cooperated with) all appear to loathe him and vigorously oppose his candidacy. Doesn't that, by itself, tell you something about the character of the two candidates?
But I digress.
Our first conversation, in 2005, in her Senate office was focused on economic development in western New York. But in the course of the discussion, we talked at length about her approach to being the first first-lady-turned-senator. She knew she would have to live down being the most prominent individual senator from Day 1 if she was to be an effective legislator. She worked relentlessly to stay low-profile, to support other senators with their legislative initiatives and to learn all that she could from fellow senators on both sides of the aisle, such as her friend John McCain on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The point is, notwithstanding the current angry political environment, it is not preordained that, come Nov. 9, the Republicans in the Senate will go into automatic resistance mode as they did against Barack Obama. I don't know why the Senate Republicans shunned Obama so, literally from his first day in office, but it is clear that he had not built the same the reservoir of goodwill during his few years in the Senate that she did. This could be useful if we are going to avoid four more years of gridlock.
The perils of poaching
The conversation I had with Clinton in 2012 was almost exclusively devoted to the evils of — wait for it — elephant poaching. It is a topic which I have no special knowledge of, but it was all she wanted to talk about. Perhaps it was because we were meeting before a Conservation International dinner in New York City (she didn't just speak at Goldman Sachs confabs, you see, although I was at that one as well), but she spoke with great compassion and expertise about saving elephants.
I mention the details of this conversation because I often hear people say that Clinton is a cold, calculating politician who won't lift a finger on anything that isn't likely to secure and then preserve her political power.
Let me tell you something. Pachyderms, whether of the African or Asian variety, do not vote or make campaign contributions in American elections. The idea that Clinton doesn't have fervently held beliefs or values is completely untrue, a myth at the core of the negative propaganda directed at her over the years.
As illuminating as these two conversations were, they pale in comparison to the conversation I had with then-Sen. Clinton on the afternoon of the second day of the Democratic Convention, in Denver in August 2008, the gathering that the very next day would nominate Barack Obama over her.
I had gone to Denver with no particular agenda and, against my own instincts, at the recommendation of NRG's Government Relations team. Within a few hours of arriving, having visited the convention hall just once, I realized I had made a desperately bad decision. For me, as a business person at least, the convention was going to be a terrible, terrible waste of three days.
The next morning, I was sitting in my hotel room trying to figure out if the Rockies baseball team were in town (no luck) or the Broncos football team had a preseason game. (Nope, indeed Mile High Stadium was being rigged for Obama's climactic acceptance speech two days hence.) I was feeling sorry for myself and I didn't have a single family member to complain to as my entire family had disappeared into the wilds of Honduras to whitewater raft down the Rio Platano.
But then, the hotel telephone rang. (Yes, back then, it was not unusual to actually receive a call on the fixed-line telephone in your room.)
"Would I like to have a meeting with Hillary Clinton tomorrow afternoon, a few hours before her speech to the convention?"
"Uh, yeah, of course!"
To this day, I don't know how or by whom the Clinton meeting was set up. To be sure, my wife and I had hosted her at our house 18 months or so before, at the very outset of the primary season. But that was a long time ago and, since then, she had attended a lot of fundraisers at a lot of houses for a lot of fundraisers. My wife and I had not remained actively involved in her campaign.
The meeting was set for that very afternoon in the conference room of a Denver law firm. I arrived early. She arrived precisely on time, unexpectedly accompanied by her daughter, Chelsea.
Her first words were charmingly personal: "David, you were kind enough to introduce me to your family last year, so I wanted to introduce you to mine."
We spoke a little about the hard-fought primary campaign. While she clearly was still feeling the sting of coming up a couple hundred delegates short, if she bore Barack Obama any ill will, she didn't show it. She used the topic of the campaign to launch into what she really wanted to talk about.
"David, over the past 18 months, I have travelled all around this great country of ours and I have never seen poverty and despair like I found on the Sioux Indian Reservations in the Dakotas..." As she delved into the details of her personal observations, her voice wavered just a little and it was easy to see that she had, indeed, been impacted in a very personal way by the experience. It was a side of her that I had not seen on television or when she was in a crowd but it was immensely appealing.
Humanity, straight and simple.
Just as quickly as I saw it; it was gone. She shifted into policy wonk mode. She began to list for me all of the economic benefits NRG would receive if we would just build a wind farm on Reservation lands. Her level of knowledge with respect to the tax credits and other incentives easily exceeded mine even though NRG was actively engaged in domestic wind development at the time.
And this, in essence, is why I think everyone should vote for Hillary.
At the time we met on that August day, she was no more than eight hours away from delivering the biggest — and possibly the most personally painful — speech of her life to the entire nation. Yet she was still at work, cajoling a business executive, trying to induce economic activity that might benefit chronically disadvantaged people living in a red state, which she was unlikely to ever have a reason ever to visit again.
That is why … #ImWithHer.