Don’t believe what you hear about Clinton

Editor's note:

This opinion originally appeared in USA Today.

As I have watched this presidential race, and the debate over Hillary Clinton ever since the Benghazi tragedy of 2012, I have been disturbed to see a fine American and kindly human dragged so frequently into the mud. To be sure, if you think she’s wrong on the issues, don’t vote for her. But the caricature of her as dishonest, greedy and overly ambitious is unfair and inaccurate.

Normally, I wouldn’t write an essay like this. But now, with even Colin Powell adding fuel to the fire through his leaked emails, it’s time for a little balance. Full disclosure: I am a distant friend and minor adviser to Hillary. But I’m not in her inner circle, am not expecting some high-visibility job if she wins the presidency, and am fully aware of her campaign’s substantive flaws — most notably, in my opinion, a failure to articulate a sufficient, cogent and clear plan for the economy. She has some good ideas and would do well as president, I believe, but somehow the package of proposals isn’t coming through very well on the campaign trail. So this is not meant as a purely laudatory or sycophantic column, by any means.

In my limited dealings with Hillary over the years, her personal qualities have been impressive and her human touch quite sincere. Having been in Washington for 27 years (long enough to remember when the Redskins were actually good), I’ve become a bit of an insider and have had the privilege to know many high-level politicians. She is one of the most likable, dedicated and sincere of any.

Let me start with autism. I have a child on the autism spectrum and, working with real experts, have played a small role in some advocacy and educational activities on the subject. In 2005, we hosted a big event at Brookings. Even though I had only met Hillary a couple times up to that point, she immediately and graciously agreed to participate. Supreme Court confirmation hearings then interceded in the senator’s schedule, but she insisted on making a video for us. It’s a small story, but a telling one. At this juncture, she is likely to have the most detailed and serious autism plan of anyone who has ever run for the highest office in the land.

It’s not just on serious matters that I find Hillary engaging and effective. She is also fun, and funny. That doesn’t always come through on the campaign trail, especially given the threat posed by Donald Trump and the way he tends to drag down the debate to mean-spirited insults. But I have seen it multiple times in my limited dealings with Hillary.

For example, I’m from western New York state, a lovely part of the country with lots of lakes and dairy farms and some vineyards, too. They are starting to produce better wines up there, but for many years, in my opinion at least, they did not. However, Clinton as senator refused to give an inch in our exchanges about the quality of the region’s Rieslings and other wines. She stood by her adopted state to the hilt. Once or twice, she even took out pen and paper and filed her views with me for the record.

This was all done in jest, of course, but it’s characteristic of her personal touch. We joked about doing a tour of the region and settling the controversy with a taste test. In the end, as usual, she was right — and New York wines are now scoring very well, not only those from Long Island but from western parts of the state as well.

Hillary would also ask me about the mayor and other politicians and friends in my hometown of Canandaigua. It’s just about the smallest city in New York, with under 11,000 people, but she remembered it well — not least because she worked incredibly hard to keep its Veterans Affairs Hospital open.

These are small stories, and I have a few more. They don’t mean that much by themselves, but they do reflect the character of a person who is friendly, funny, caring and attentive to detail. I know scores of people who have worked with and for Hillary, more closely than I have. They virtually all say the same thing. Obviously, most politicians are at least moderately popular with their own staffs and teams. But believe me, it’s not always that way — and it’s rare to have virtually unanimous sentiment that’s so positive.

So if you disagree with Clinton’s views, don’t vote for her. However, please think twice before buying into the caricature of her that’s been created by her political foes. When she left the secretary of State position in early 2013 with a 69% favorable rating, they saw that their only hope of beating her in 2016 was to paint her as someone she’s not.