GRAVER: Waiting for Hillary

Gravely Mistaken

Yale is “Waiting for Godot.” Much like Vladimir and Estragon — the protagonists of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play — we find ourselves waiting for a panacean figure. However, while Beckett brilliantly conceals Godot from his audience, maintaining him as a character equally mysterious and supposedly palliative, our adaptation takes on a politically vivid form: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

harry_graver_headshot_kat_oshmanYou don’t need to look far to find evidence of the former secretary of state’s colossal stature on campus. From a “Ready for Hillary” chapter formed three years from Election Day to an elaborate award ceremony at the Law School, Clinton has taken on a larger-than-life aura.

Similar to the interpretive ambiguity of Beckett’s Godot, the former first lady has imbued many forms. For members of the faculty, she is the one who got away — the retrospectively right choice over the flash and euphoria of a 2008 Barack Obama, since mollified by hindsight and experience. For many undergraduates, she is a rekindled hope — a second chance to participate in an historic election to shape our youth, absent the disappointments and inept blunders of our first attempt.

This particular stripe of adoration has innate problems, regardless of the respective candidate. At its core is a sort of complacency; not one measured in voter turnout or donor participation, but in intellectual rigor. It is the kind that is willing to tacitly endow a persona with perfection, rather than participate in the contention of ideas and the rawness of real politics.

In doing so, we lose one of the few definitive virtues that comes with our fledgling perspective on politics: the intuition to relentlessly question and doubt the inherited status quo to which we are newly permitted participants. The “Ready for Hillary” disposition is one where this inclination is dampened. Rather that test the candidate’s resume and resolve, it seeks to allow (or create) laurels for her to rest upon. Such an approach not only cheapens our voice in the process, but it also amplifies Clinton’s legitimate weaknesses, which are only magnified when conspicuously swept under the rug.

Where was Senator Clinton’s signature piece of legislation? While Marco Rubio may have ruined his presidential prospects with an attempted immigration bill, and Paul Ryan may do the same with an upcoming budget, the junior senator from New York never hazarded her political future to attempt a serious legislative achievement (outside, perhaps, an Iraq War vote that two years of mea culpas tried to absolve). Also, why do we take for granted the success of her term as secretary of state? For skeptical observers, the cupboard seems bare: there was no triumphant doctrine, no groundbreaking treaty, and stasis, if not regression, when it came to a surge in worldly opinion, a “reset” with Russia, a new regime in Syria, the curbing of Chinese aggression in the Pacific or the prevention of nuclear proliferation in Iran.

From a different lens, as people look to this incredibly early groundswell of support, it is difficult to escape the feeling that supporters prize the symbolic person over the agenda. To a significant detriment, this creeping perception stifles an overarching virtue to the Clinton candidacy: a remarkable symbolism and progress that she embodies for women here and around the world. Along with Sandra Day O’Connor, Condoleezza Rice and Janet Yellen, Clinton is already one of the most consequential women in modern American history. It is culturally tone deaf for the Right to look over this fact, to naively ignore the staggering barriers of entry to women that someone like her has overcome. But, we should also note, today’s brand of extolling commitment creates the illusion that followers conflate historicity with political sufficiency.

Godot never arrives for Vladimir and Estragon. In his absence, Beckett’s characters develop and grow. As some seek to briskly fashion their own Godot today — especially so early before an election and so young in our political identities — we risk losing the valuable, reflective interim steps of maturation; the chances to re-examine, challenge and push back on what seems familiar and right.

None of this is to say, placing politics aside, that there aren’t admirable qualities to Hillary Clinton. Rather, they are just profoundly muted in the unceasing applause of her coronation.

Harry Graver is a senior in Davenport College. His columns run on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at harry.graver@yale.edu.

Comments