My 13-year-old daughter saw former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s official announcement that she was running for president before I did yesterday. I don’t know why that surprised me. It should have been about as shocking as the news that Hillary is running for president. She made her announcement online and apparently my daughter — who is glued to her smart phone like much of her generation — saw it within seconds of getting a notification of breaking news from The New York Times.
By the time I told my daughter it was old news. She was done watching the video, skimming the Times article and was working her way through the reaction on Twitter and Tumblr.
“Wait, her husband was president?!” my daughter asked. “Who was he?”
How much do I love that my New York Times-reading daughter knows Hillary Clinton only for the phenomenal woman she is, and not for the man she married? A whole lot, let me tell you, despite her appalling (but understandable given her age) lack of presidential history.
History? (Gulp.) What she thinks of as history, I think of as semi-current, even though Bill Clinton’s presidency predates her life. “Her husband was president in the 90s,” I answered. “He was the first president I got to cast a ballot for.”
I was a senior at the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder during the 1992 election. The U.S. economy was stalled, unemployment was high, college graduates were facing the worst job market in 20 years, George Bush (senior, the first one) rose taxes on the middle class when he promised not to, and he was running for a second term. Young people were looking for someone new, before we became the first generation in American history to fare worse than our parents. Sound familiar?
“It’s the economy, stupid” was the campaign rallying cry of a young, fresh-faced and energetic Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton. He “still believed in a place called Hope” and we were all in. He was giving Bush a run for his money. We were ready for a sea change and a sea change was coming. We were just a few years away from the emergence of the dot-coms, years that would usher in revolutionary changes and opportunities in the American workforce. But we weren’t there yet. Not in 1992. I was a student running the small and boxy Apple Mac Classic back then and had my first rudimentary email account through our campus library. I didn’t use it for much, if at all.
Hillary campaigns on campus
We found out Hillary was coming to campus for a campaign rally by reading the newspaper (yeah, the paper one), through fliers posted on campus and through the original social network—word of mouth.
I remember how upset my French teacher was that I skipped class that day. I remember how upset I was that she wouldn’t excuse me—that she wouldn’t excuse the whole class—to bear witness to history. She must have been a Bush supporter.
My friends and I (including my future husband) arrived hours early for a seat near the front. By the time Hillary took the stage at least half of the massive lawn was filled with cheering students and staff. The turnout wouldn’t have been any better had Bill Clinton himself been there.
Here’s a picture from that very day. I found it in the archives of Boulder’s newspaper The Daily Camera.
When Hillary (should I call her Hillary? I don’t call Obama by his first name, but using Hillary’s first name distinguishes her from her husband) finished her speech and came down into the crowd, our hard-earned seats paid off when I got to shake her hand. My husband did, too.
Reflecting on that now, I’d sure like to think I shook the hand of a future president. I had no inkling of that back then. I was just a huge fan, along with scores of other young women. She was highly educated, a successful lawyer, a passionate advocate for equality and justice, independent and tough-skinned, indifferent to those who criticized her for her hairstyle or lack of baking skills, and she was raising a strong daughter. She had it all and we wanted it all.
The campaign pin I wore on my backpack that year read “Hillary’s husband for president.” Electing her husband felt like a two-for-one and it was. In Hillary we had a first lady worthy of Eleanor Roosevelt. Not that we required a first lady who went beyond the traditional role as national hostess and style maven, but it was a refreshing and absolutely inspiring change.
Little could we imagine that one day Hillary herself—or any woman for that matter—would soon be a serious contender for the Oval Office.
Little could I imagine back then that a woman running for president would seem almost normal to my teenage daughter. Of course she knows there has never been a female president, but for every presidential election that she can remember (count: two), a woman has run. And that woman is Hillary Clinton—former U.S. Senator, former Secretary of State, breaker of glass ceilings everywhere.
A Hillary story from my time on The Hill
I have one other story from the 90s about Hillary Clinton and then it’s time to leave that decade behind. It is history and Hillary has done more relevant work since then.
Soon after graduating from college I moved to Washington, D.C. to continue my political studies and work as an intern in Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) office. I roomed in a women’s boarding house across from the Senate Office Building I worked in, along with dozens of other young women doing the same thing.
One of the women I befriended there interned in Senator Mark Hatfield’s office (R-OR). Her name was Kristin. One day at work Kristin was in the hallway outside her senator’s office when First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton came walking down the hall. This was the fall of 1993 and Hillary was there meeting with members of Congress, going up against the powerful pharmaceutical and insurance companies, championing what ultimately became a doomed effort to reform our nation’s health care system.
Hillary greeted as many people as she could—including Kristin. She asked her name, looked her in the eye and shook her hand. We were wide-eyed that night when Kristin came home and told us the story. But not as wide-eyed as we would be when Kristin came home with part two of the story.
A couple of weeks later, Hillary was back on The Hill and leaving a meeting when Kristin found herself again in a hallway with the first lady walking straight toward her from the opposite direction. They would soon cross paths and Kristin prepared herself to say hello. But Hillary beat her to it, greeting her by name.
“Hello Kristin, it’s nice to see you again.”
Hearing this story floored me back in 1993 and it still does today. That the first lady of the United States would take the time to not only greet an intern, but to remember her name? That speaks volumes to me about Hillary’s character.
I can’t wait to bring my daughters to her campaign rally when she comes through Seattle. Maybe they’ll shake the hand of our future president. Or maybe Hillary will…
Update from March 2016: Hillary comes to Seattle and my daughter shakes her hand!