If Hillary’s struggles with vision go back a long time, so does her passion for wonkery. As a student government leader at Wellesley, Bernstein notes, Hillary developed “a better system for the return of library books” and “studied every aspect of the Wellesley curriculum in developing a successful plan to reduce the number of required courses.” In 1993, she took time off from a vacation in Hawaii to grill local officials about the state’s healthcare system. In his excellent book on Hillary’s 2000 Senate race, Michael Tomasky observes that, “In the entire campaign, she had exactly one truly inspiring moment” but that, “over time it became evident to all but the most cynical that she actually cared about utility rates.”
Hillary’s handlers have played to this strength. On April 29, she devoted the first major speech of her campaign not to her vision for America, but to something more specific: race and crime. She began with a graphic and harrowing description of the young black men recently killed by police:
Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston, South Carolina. Unarmed. In debt. And terrified of spending more time in jail for child support payments he couldn’t afford. Tamir Rice shot in a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Unarmed and just 12 years old. Eric Garner choked to death after being stopped for selling cigarettes on the streets of this city. And now Freddie Gray. His spine nearly severed while in police custody.
She recounted advocating for prisoners while director the University of Arkansas’ legal-aid clinic. She noted the parallels between race and class, observing that life expectancy is declining not only for many African Americans, but also for white women without high-school degrees. And she made the crucial point that because government currently treats drug addiction and psychiatric disorders primarily as criminal rather than public-health problems, “our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions.”
The speech was not merely substantive. It was authentic. It showcased the real Hillary Clinton: A woman who, whatever her faults, hates injustice and knows what she’s talking about when it comes to government.
A week later in Las Vegas, Hillary gave another impressive speech, this one on immigration. In a media environment where “pro” and “anti” immigration often refers merely to how many people America lets in, Hillary turned the conversation to how America treats immigrants once we do. First, she talked movingly about her childhood memories of the migrant farm workers who worked in the fields around Chicago. Then she attacked the idea, common in “pro-immigration” Republican circles, that America should legalize undocumented immigrants without allowing them citizenship. “Today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship,” she declared. “Not one. When they talk about “legal status,” that’s code for “second-class status.” America, Hillary insisted, must see the undocumented not merely as workers, but as human beings.