On a summer day at Wellesley College in 1969, the president of its student government walked to the commencement podium. A young woman from middle-class Park Ridge, Illinois, she was the first student ever to address a Wellesley graduating class. She was traveling on a route no one had ever traveled before.
Time Magazine declared that she exemplified the idealistic, hopeful views of her generation. Rejecting what she viewed as the cynical politics of her era, she argued that we need “to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.” In doing so, Hillary Rodham defined her generation in terms that her classmates understood and appreciated, articulating a sentiment that many of us feel today.
Thirty-eight years later, our nation again finds itself headed in the wrong direction: The price of oil is increasing, and our icecaps are melting. Fewer and fewer children have health insurance, but more women are having abortions. Nearly every day, more American troops are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, but anti-American sentiment continues to grow.
Our President has failed to address these issues head-on. Where Americans have demanded change, President Bush has offered the status quo. He has sided with automakers in Detroit over environmental reformers. He has refused to offer a change of course in Iraq, even spurning the advice of the nation’s military leadership.
Come 2009, Americans will need a president who will challenge the status quo. In the face of such crises—of American leadership, energy security, and health care—we need a president who will lead us to redefine and reshape our world.
Hillary’s experience demonstrates that she can best approach the challenges President Bush has left us. She redefined what it means to be First Lady of the United States. Not since Eleanor Roosevelt has a First Lady been so close a confidant to her husband on matters of policy. She fought for much-needed universal health, represented the United States internationally, and became a driving force in U.S. foreign policy.
Born out of her experience at the Children’s Defense Fund here in Cambridge, Hillary has become one of the nation’s leading children’s rights activists. She initiated the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, which provided federal aid for states to provide coverage for children whose parents were unable to do so. In the face of Republican opposition, she led the fight to protect school lunch, childhood immunization, and childcare programs.
Opponents argue that she is too centrist for some, too liberal for others; some charge that while young Hillary profoundly believed in the politics of positive change, she has surrendered her idealism in order to maintain her power base.
Yet, Hillary continues to defy the status quo, a drive that is not relegated to the past, but indicative of her future leadership. She remains the nation’s most visible advocate for women, whether it means ensuring approval of the Plan B contraceptive or championing the Paycheck Fairness Act to prevent pay discrimination against women.
Beyond the policy areas with which she has been traditionally identified, Hillary has also proposed visionary plans to address energy security and human rights policy. Breaking through the dearth of initiative among politicians tied to special interests, her $50-billion Strategic Energy Fund will incentivize the development of clean coal plants and efficient ethanol plants, make hybrid vehicles more affordable through tax breaks, reward home and small business owners for increasing efficiency, and heavily invest in groundbreaking research. Blending pragmatism with an embracing, hopeful worldview, Hillary will jumpstart America's moribund energy policy by addressing the threats posed by both global warming and hostile Middle East regimes.
Other candidates have called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, charging that Hillary’s vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq indicates bad judgment. But, a far more relevant concern than what brought us to war is what needs to be done to end it. Hillary’s position is clear: If we are still in Iraq in 2009, she will pull us out, with a balanced approach of humanitarianism and realism to ending this tragic war.
That humanitarianism has additionally motivated her to ensure human rights around the world. Fighting to end the genocide in Darfur, she helped win passage of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act to impose sanctions on culpable individuals and to deny entry of Sudanese oil ships to U.S. ports. A month ago, in response to a young woman’s question about Darfur in Keene, N.H., she passionately talked about her continued efforts to expand NATO’s role in protecting civilians and argued for the creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur.
Hillary’s willingness to defy the ideologies of the past is her strength, not a weakness. Following on the heels of the most dogmatic administration in recent history, we welcome a president who approaches today’s complex issues with an eye toward workable solutions rather than unbending ideology—never haplessly accept the status quo, but always seek to expand the meaning of the American dream.
From Arkansas to Washington to New York, Hillary is much as she was on that summer day in 1969: a trailblazer guiding the generations who have followed her with courage and conviction. We can’t wait to see where President Hillary Clinton takes us next.
Indira Phukan ’09 is an ancient history concentrator in Cabot House. Rahul Prabhakar ’09 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. Ari S. Ruben ’08 is a history concentrator in Currier House. Prabhakar and Ruben are co-chairs of Harvard Students for Hillary, of which Phukan is a member.