First, let’s put these words in context. I write this during the primaries, the day before Super Tuesday. I say this because I don’t want this come back and haunt me later if Hillary Clinton should get the Democratic nomination and wind up on the election ballot. There are certainly situations in which I might end up voting for her simply because some elections (like the last one) are a choice between the lesser of two evils. I wouldn’t, for example, vote for Romney or Huckabee because surprisingly enough, I dislike their politics more than Hillary’s.
Other contextual information: I am not a registered Democrat or Republican. I firmly believe that a candidate should stand on their own two feet and win me over on their particular experience and values. A rational voter knows, for example, that there are many Republican candidates who are for all intents and purposes, Democrat in their approach to the issues and vice versa.
I am not a feminist. Some may blame this very fact and say it is the essential reason I write this. To some degree, that is true. I don’t believe in voting for a woman simply because she’s a woman anymore than I believe in voting along a party line. I was prompted to write this because I see so many women in mini-campaigns for feminism who essentially have no idea what Hillary Clinton is all about. The same is true of many Barrack Obama supporters who are really campaigning for race without a clue as to what Obama has done or might do. Who cares, right? It’s about time a woman was President, isn’t it? It’s about time an African-American was President, isn’t it? Yes on both counts. Because it is a yes on both counts and because our country needs change, the actual issues become more important than ever.
I’m going to go down the list of Hillary Clinton’s stand on several issues in the order they are posted on her web site. I’m not trying to change minds here (okay, that’s a minor ulterior motive), but rather trying to encourage people to think critically before they vote and to know what they are voting for. It’s easy enough to say, “I’m voting for Candidate X because they say they are going to provide universal health care.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But the reality is that politicians have always handed out ideals and few Americans take the time to consider whether their actual plan can make it happen. Here goes:
Issue #1: Strengthening the Middle Class
Hillary’s web site starts with some staggering statistics that are, for all accounts and purposes, absolutely accurate. When we speak of income gaps, however, we aren’t talking about the middle class. We’re talking about the rich and the poor. When we speak of rising college costs, again, we’re talking about a system that keeps disadvantaged populations out. When we speak of high foreclosure rates (which is absolutely an issue), we neglect the low home ownership rates among marginalized populations. Still, there is no doubt that the Bush administration has weakened the middle class and that this is a worthy goal. But how is she going to do it?
A. Create a $50 billion dollar Strategic Energy Fund. This, she says, will create jobs. Better than that, it will create living wage jobs. Hurray! This is good news for the middle class and the poor alike. Except—she doesn’t say where she plans to get this $50 billion dollars. While she does mention elsewhere on her web site that she plans to reduce the tax cuts given to the rich during the Bush administration, she also says she plans to reduce the taxes for the middle class. Do the rich currently get $50 billion dollars in tax breaks? Maybe, but Hillary’s plans will cost a helluva lot more than that. Let’s proceed.
B. Strengthen unions. Now, I’m not opposed to unions, but I also recognize that unions have on occasion done as much harm as good. Take a look at the current Writer’s Guild strike. Unions have a habit of making it impossible to fire someone who does poor work, imperative to pay people for work they don’t do, and rarely assist the individuals who need their help the most. Food service workers, for example, who spend more time at work than at home, work most holidays, work ever-rotating shifts making child care difficult or impossible, marginalize their employees while putting them in unsafe situations with unsafe equipment for barely minimum wage and no benefits. Farm workers who put in 12 and 14 hours a day and have no protection from pesticide poisoning. Watched the Nanny Diaries yet? You should. There’s an industry that needs a union, right? In reality, strengthening unions will not solve anything for the middle class. Strengthening labor laws and regulating those industries with the highest incidence of exploitation would.
Incidentally, when I read the words Employee Free Choice Act, I wonder if that means employees in unionized industries would then have the right to choose not to belong to a union that does not adequately protect them. Right now, employers with union contracts automatically deduct union dues from the wages of part-time employees who are not protected under the contract agreements. How fair is that?
C. Affordable College and Affordable Health Care. I approach these two topics at the same time because my problem with Hillary’s approach to each is essentially the same. Clinton proposes that offering more tax credits will help people afford college and health care. I’ll go into more detail on the health care issue in a bit, but the bottom line is that those who need assistance going to college can’t afford it to begin with—not at the end of the year when they’re filing their taxes. A tax credit is essentially way to say this:
If you make enough money to owe taxes, we will reimburse you for certain costs, assuming that you have paid enough of those costs to qualify.
What that means is: If you do not make enough money to owe taxes, you’re totally screwed and wouldn’t make it to tax season anyway.
Tax credits do not help people who cannot afford college or health care.
D. Work on the housing market. A fine goal. The housing market definitely needs help. But tell me how enabling Americans to purchase $650,000 homes is helping the middle class. I have news for you, Mrs. Clinton. Middle class Americans, except in very few areas, do not live in $650,000 homes—and do not need to. To encourage this kind of “living beyond your means” attitude while also proclaiming eagerness for environmental concerns is hypocritical at best. While Hillary’s plan intends to help people stay out of foreclosure, it does nothing for the many, many Americans who cannot buy a home at all. Another news flash: Support for rising property values is a Republican value.
And a final side note on this plan: It will cost several billion dollars. Where is all this money coming from?
E. Improve retirement security. Alas. Something she and I can agree upon.
F. Fiscal responsibility. If increasing national costs by billions is fiscally responsible, I suppose we could agree here, too.
Issue #2 Affordable and Accessible Health Care
As a member of an uninsured family, I can attest to the need for universal health care. In fact, it’s one of my top political issues. If I were simply to read “Increase the affordability and accessibility of health care,” I would probably vote based simply on that goal. But I’m an analytical person. I want to know how this massive change in the American social system will occur. I want to know how the major blockades for health care are going to be addressed. With Hillary’s plan, they won’t be. Period.
Hillary proposes that tax credits and banning insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions will solve the American health care crisis. Well, the bottom line is that even if health insurance companies would offer me insurance for my family, I still couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t afford the monthly payments and “paying me back” at the end of the year doesn’t cut it. The majority of people without health insurance are working in low wage jobs (sometimes two or three low wage jobs) and struggling just to pay the rent (a mortgage payment is a lofty dream for us). And the problem with the health care system doesn’t stem from the insurance companies—it stems from the providers. Here are a few facts about the American health care system:
*Low income adults cannot access Medicaid unless they happen to be a pregnant woman.
*Most lower-wage jobs do not offer health insurance even if they are large corporations (look at the Food Service industry).
*Small nonprofit organizations and small businesses are often unable to provide medical insurance.
*Medical insurance rates are based on the standard cost of care in the United States.
*Medical equipment manufacturing companies charge thousands of dollars for specialized equipment that costs less than a few hundred dollars to make (my son’s wheelchair came in at a whopping $5,200 four years ago. His feeding button—a small piece of vinyl 2 cm long and a cm across costs $127). They charge these prices because people need these items—and because they can.
*The average doctor’s visit costs $90 and lasts 15 minutes which may or may not include 15 full minutes with the actual doctor. In many cases, a person is seeing a Physician’s Assistant and pays the same price as they would to see a physician. I wish I could make $90 an hour—and not show up.
*The medical field is the only field where a person can charge for a service that was never provided.
*The medical field is the only field where a person can charge numerous times without results.
*Uninsured people are often charged more for medical service than insured people.
*Insured people are often given numerous tests they do not need because insurance will pay for it.
*American health care (especially in rural areas) is considered some of the poorest health care in any Western nation.
Those of us without health insurance often become more ill because we don’t go to the doctor early. Those of us without health insurance will still be without health insurance until actual insurance rates are in line with our ability to pay them. Insurance rates will not change so long as the medical profession continues to be unregulated and able to charge whatever they damn well please for poor quality health care.
Hillary assumes that uninsured people can wait to be “reimbursed” for their health care costs with their taxes—if they make enough money to owe taxes. Her plan will solve nothing except, perhaps, making it possible for small businesses to provide health insurance to their employees. Find a way for small nonprofit organizations—who have no use for a tax credit—to do the same, and she might be getting somewhere.
Issue #3 Ending the War in Iraq
I’m not a military expert and don’t have the expertise to say whether or not a plan will work. I do know that I want this to happen and I also know that most of the other candidates—including some Republican candidates—have the same goal. As such, the other issues are more important to me.
Issue #4 Energy Independence & Global Warming
First, let me say that I agree with her completely—in theory. However, I want to know how she plans to pay for all of this. I also want to know that she’s serious about making corporations and industries accountable in these areas while offering them some support in making it happen. Here is a direct quote from her site (emphases mine):
“To take the steps necessary to transition to a clean and renewable energy future, Hillary will urge all of the nation’s stakeholders to contribute to the effort. Automakers will be asked to make more efficient vehicles; oil and energy companies to invest in cleaner, renewable technologies; utilities to ramp up use of renewables and modernize the grid; coal companies to implement clean coal technology; government to establish a cap and trade carbon emissions system and renew its leadership in energy efficient buildings and services; individuals to conserve energy and utilize efficient light bulbs and appliances in their homes; and industry to build energy efficient homes and buildings.”
Call me an English major, but this doesn’t sound like a strong stand to me. It sounds like double-talk to satisfy both corporations and environmentalists by saying, “I’d really like you to do these things, but in the meantime, I’m going to spend a lot of public money to see if I can’t make a difference in global warming by doing things that don’t involve forcing you to stop doing the damage you’re doing.”
Skeptic? Cynic? Probably both.
Issue #5 Improving our Schools
As a former educator, let me just say that I have a really, really hard time supporting a candidate that will publicly admit to being involved in the worst education legislation of all time: No Child Left Behind. Not surprisingly, given her lack of experience in the education field, Hillary seems to think that the only problem with this horrendous act is that schools didn’t get more money from it. I certainly support increased funding for public schools, but the problem with this legislation is much, much deeper than that. Also, on the “issues” portion of her site, she claims that she will “End the unfunded mandate of No Child Left Behind.” On her shorter platform summary, she states that she will “reform” the act and fulfill funding promises to schools who show accountability.
First, there is a nation-wide shortage of teachers and this shortage will continue to grow because the baby boomers are retiring. No Child Left Behind completely closed schools’ ability to hire quality educators from professional experience by mandating that all teachers graduate from an approved college-level education certification program without increasing the availability—and feasibility—of such programs for those individuals with professional experience who truly want to teach. In most universities, “B.A. in Education” can be equated with “Certificate of Completion in Mechanic Studies” with the understanding that the certificate of completion is actually harder work. Some states have recognized this. Oregon added a Master’s requirement for teachers to receive full licensure. The problem is that a Master’s in Education is all theory. Teachers aren’t expected to know any more content than is required to pass a test that is slightly less difficult than a 10th grade state standardized test. Yet, people with professional experience can’t teach unless they can go back to college—and they can’t teach while they are in college because No Child Left Behind eliminated the Transitional Teaching Licensure that most states had in place. So they’ll just go back to college if they really want to teach, right? Wrong. Not only can the cost of college be an issue, but an approved teacher education program requires a full year practicum in a classroom—unpaid. So a professional interested in teaching would have to quit their job–and then pay someone to be able to work for a year. And guess what? Those who have actual classroom experience that they obtained through the former Transitional Teaching License program aren’t exempt from this requirement. Their experience doesn’t count—even if they can document success.
Second, “qualified teaching professionals” are rated based on standardized test scores. Standardized tests are well-known to cater to middle class white children. Students with learning disabilities may show substantial growth, but count against their school because they don’t meet the generally accepted score on such tests. Students end up being marginalized, forced into “behavioral intervention programs” outside of the public school setting, encouraged to stay home on test day, or suspended or expelled on behavioral grounds when in reality, they are simply struggling in school. This is again especially true in rural schools where qualified teachers are even harder to come by. I would absolutely support school accountability based on a growth model, but Clinton apparently sees no reason to completely overhaul this detrimental legislation. Rather, she sees it as one of her “successes.” I have little faith in her alleged support of education. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
While the numerous plans Hillary has for education are in some cases admirable, they will also cost billions. I am strongly supportive of pre-K education if it is not used as daycare as it is with most programs. I am strongly supportive of resources for students receiving special education under I.D.E.A., but recognize that the lack of quality professional development programs and enforcement options for failure to follow proper guidelines are more necessary than additional funds to pay salaries (I say this as both a former educator and the parent of children receiving such services). Accountability for schools violating I.D.E.A. is of paramount importance as I.D.E.A. is intended to guarantee these children the same quality of education any other student would receive—and does not do so. I am certainly supportive of plans to increase the accessibility of college, but also recognize that financial matters are only one aspect of college failure for low and moderate income families. Distance education programs also need to be more accessible and at the same time, more accountable (most distance education credits are non-transferable to accredited universities and many are not accredited at all even if the institution providing them is accredited). Unfortunately, I am also a realist and recognize that such reforms have to occur over a period of time because they are so costly. I simply do not believe that Hillary can accomplish this in 4 years. I doubt she could do it in 8. In the meantime, our education system will continue to falter because No Child Left Behind holds educational institutions back and did not take into account the mass exodus of current teachers due to retirement.
Issue #6 Fulfilling Our Promises to Veterans
Again, I’m supportive of all of her ideas in theory. I’m not anywhere near being a specialist in this area and have little knowledge of what it would take to make it happen. I do know that it will cost a lot of money. Hillary says so.
Issue #7 Supporting Parents and Caring for Children
This is just the kind of touchy-feely idea that people cheer for. Her plans include recruitment and retention (via salary) of principals and teachers (never mind the vast majority of underpaid individuals in the field of education are actually teaching assistants, custodians, and food service workers); “reform” of No Child Left Behind (hey wait—you said were you going to “end” this mandate!); and a variety of pre-K education support programs. But the plans that make my stomach turn are these:
A. Legislation to provide respite care for caregivers of “elderly and disabled Americans.” First off, “disabled Americans” implies something negative right from the get-go. These individuals may have a disability, but they are not “disabled.” Second, this whole idea implies that the primary stress caregivers have is the lack of respite care. Yes, respite care helps (I know this as I am a caregiver for an individual with significant medical needs), but this is not the primary stressor in our life and never has been—even when my husband and I went three years without ever being alone in the same room. The primary stressor is the lack of coordinated, quality medical assistance, affordable medical, support, and safety equipment (health insurance does not pay for adapted car seats, nor will it help pay to properly adapt a vehicle for wheelchair transport for example), long-distance transportation necessary for specific medical visits, and informational support around particular disabilities. A doctor may tell you, “Your son has cerebral palsy.” What the doctor doesn’t tell you is how to manage your child’s care, what all of the medical terms mean, what all of the treatment options are, or how important it is to seek a second and third opinion. Nor will insurance pay for said second and third opinions. I don’t want more time away from my son. I want more time with him. Can Hillary give me that?
B. Expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act for longer leave. Sorry, 6 weeks is long enough in most cases and there is no reason that an employer should have to pay for longer than that.
C. Protecting children against violence and sexual conduct in the media. I’ll make this short and sweet. Parents/guardians are responsible for what their children have access to in the media. Parents/guardians are responsible for teaching their children moral values. Parents/guardians are responsible for helping their children navigate right and wrong, true and false, and everything in between. Yes, I’ve heard the whole “but sometimes parents aren’t home” argument. There are so many technological advancements in this area that this is no excuse. The media is not at fault for the alleged lack of moral values in “children these days.” The culture that demands such media is.
Issue #8 Restoring America’s Standing in the World
Hillary is simply not qualified in this area. She boasts a lot of experience, but they are empty boasts without any significant results. She openly admits to continue the war on terror and assumes that by taking the battle to a different front, it will be okay. What America really needs is more diplomacy. Hillary isn’t the person to bring our alliances back.
Issue #9 A Champion for Women
I said already, I am not a feminist. By that, I mean simply that being female is not the primary definition of my life or my actions. I recognize that wage disparity continues to exist, but argue that this is more directly related to underpayment in specific fields (i.e. the fields that women are most likely to enter) than it is to some mystery employer who decides to pay all the women in his organization less than the men. We do not live in the 60’s anymore.
Addressing the underlying issue of non-living wage jobs in general would help decrease the wage gap. Raising the Federal minimum wage to a livable rate so that states encouraging oppression have no choice but to follow would stop waitresses in Idaho from making $3.15 an hour regardless of how many tips they actually earn in a day. It would stop receptionists from making $5.15 an hour in Arkansas (oh wait—Huckabee pushed through a minimum wage increase to $6.25 in that state long after the Clintons left).
Hillary wants to increase the number of businesses owned by women. Good idea. Except that some of us don’t want to own a business. What is she doing for us?
I see—she’s making sure that we have the right to have an abortion regardless of the wishes of the father, regardless of the length of the term, and regardless of the circumstances of the pregnancy. What about those of us who don’t believe that abortion is an acceptable form of birth control? What is she doing for us?
Oh, she’s fought to eliminate school fees in developing countries. Are we a developing country?
How about increasing support for women in fields where they are under-represented? How about additional support for women who want medical degrees, science degrees, math degrees? Can’t do that—she’s already spent all her money.
I have to admit that it angers me more than a little that Hillary makes this “Champion for Women” claim. I strongly support sex education in schools and I strongly support access to birth control options. I even support abortion in certain circumstances (though I feel this is a moral issue, not a women’s rights issue—and that it has marginalized men’s rights because it has been defined as such). But I also have a strong distrust and distaste for an agenda that includes actively encouraging women to not have children, to be as unfeminine as possible, and to stake claim to their “rights” at the cost of the rights of others.
Hillary has definitely been a champion for women like her. She has not been—and will not be—a champion for women like me.
Issue #9 Comprehensive Government Reform
Is it needed? Yes. Is instituting an accountability system that is the government version of No Child Left Behind the right way to do it? Nope. If it didn’t work in education, why would it work in government? All such legislation would do is further reduce the appearance of minorities, women, and low income individuals in government. Way to champion us, Hillary!
Issue #10 Strengthening Our Democracy
I support this 100%. I even think she could do it.
Issue #11 Reforming Our Immigration System
I agree with most of what Hillary says on this issue. The reality is that the United States is overpopulated. We have to keep that in mind. The reality is that most of the money earned by illegal immigrants leaves our country and does not support our economies. The reality is that there are paths to legal citizenship and many, many people use them. I do not agree that extended families should be included in those paths. Spouses? Certainly—if they are willing to do what they need to for citizenship as well. Children? No questions asked.
What I do believe is vitally important is enforcement against companies and individuals that exploit illegal immigrants. Again, I recommend watching the Nanny Diaries. Then I recommend a tour of an Idaho migrant farm worker camp. While I don’t agree with the “right” of illegal immigrants to be in the U.S., I do believe in their right to be treated humanely while they are.
Issue #12 An Innovation Agenda
Again, I support all of this in theory but still wonder where all the money is coming from. She’s already said that she’s going to redirect the war, not eliminate it. She’s said that she supports billions of dollars worth of investments in other areas. The only possible way to raise the kind of money she’s talking about is to raise taxes—for everybody. Now, the United States has the lowest tax of any industrialized country and I’m not opposed to raising taxes for the most part. But I do require honesty about how things are going to be accomplished from my candidate, and Hillary is being dishonest. She is relying on her husband’s talent for balancing the budget to make the American people believe that balancing the budget will be enough to pay for all of her agenda items. First order of business: Erase the trillion dollar national debt. Doing that will require a great amount of restraint on her part. A restraint that I have not seen her capable of.
Issue #13 Creating Opportunity in Rural America
The problem with Hillary’s plan for rural America is the majority of rural America doesn’t want it. For the most part, they like their way of life and will do anything—even turn down substantial opportunity—to protect it. Take a tour through downtown Payette, Idaho sometime. While you’re there, stop by a couple of derelict buildings. Then wander into a restaurant where the line cook is making $5.85—just higher than minimum wage—and the waitress is working for less than minimum wage. Feel really bad for them for a few minutes, then ask, “Hey, whatever happened to the plans for that Ethanol Plant out near Parma?” They’ll smile and say, “Ohhh, we shot those plans down somethin’ fast. Who wants to live near somethin’ like that?”
I say again: Raise the Federal minimum wage. (And guess what? Doing this will bring in more in taxes, use less money for EIC, and possibly give the government enough money to support one of the other agenda items.)
It is not enough to say that Hillary is a woman and therefore, women should vote for her (and there are men I’ve spoken with that have also said they will vote for her because “it’s about time”). It is not enough to say that Hillary supports universal health care (she doesn’t), that she will efficiently reform K-12 public education (she won’t), that she will expand rural opportunity (she might in some places, but won’t in most), or that she is a champion for women (she isn’t). Her goals are, as I’ve said, admirable. But her logic is flawed and so are her methods.
I want to see a strong, capable Democratic candidate. I would love to see a strong, capable Republican candidate. I would jump up and down for joy if a strong, capable independent candidate arose from the masses (Al Gore—there’s still time). It is because this is a historic election that we are all so passionate about it. But as Americans, we have an obligation to know what we’re being passionate about and to do so not because of who the candidate is, but what the candidate stands for.