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Robert Reich: Remembering My Date With Hillary – OpEd

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Last Tuesday, during a Guardian Live interview, Hillary Clinton said the United States remained in a “real battle for our democracy” against pro-Trump forces on the far right who are seeking to entrench minority rule and turn back the clock on women’s rights. 

“I do believe we are in a struggle for the future of our country,” she said, adding that “the January 6 insurrection at our capitol was a terrorist attack.”

Her words reminded me of the warning she issued back in September 2016 — that Trump had “lifted up” and “given voice” to the “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” parts of America. He had legitimized them, she said, with his “offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric,” and she noted that “their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million.”

She was widely criticized at the time for demeaning Trump supporters. I suppose calling them “deplorables” wasn’t the best way to earn their affection and votes.

But her overall concern was exactly right. She still views America’s central challenge as a battle over hate and intolerance, and she’s still right.

I first met Hillary Clinton in the fall of 1966 when she was a college sophomore named Hillary Rodham. (Five years later I introduced her to Bill, but that’s another story.) She had long hair and thick glasses, and an infectious laugh. She was president of her class and I was president of mine. We were both interested in reforming American education. I invited her out — not so much for a date as a kind of presidential summit. We went to the Nugget Theater in Hanover, New Hampshire, to watch Antonioni’s film “Blow Up.” That’s all I remember.

Fifty years later, when she ran for president, a reporter from the New York Times phoned me. He had come across some of her letters from college. In one of them she mentioned our “date.”

His voice grew serious. “Is there anything you can remember from your date with her that might shed light on how she would perform as President?”

I didn’t know how to respond. This was the New York Times, for crying out loud.

I told him we had gone to see Antonioni’s “Blow Up.”

“Anything else?” he asked.

I paused. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this…”

“What’s that?” I could hear the eagerness in his voice.

“She wanted an inordinate amount of butter on her popcorn.”

There was a long silence.

“Hello?” I asked, fearing my lame attempt at humor had put him off.

“Still here,” he said. “Just writing all this down.”

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Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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