I got to spend last week in France talking—and not writing—about the 2016 presidential election. It turned out to be a gift: a week of distance from the feverish, trashy tumult of American politicking on the eve of the first vote in Iowa. I hate this point in our election cycle, when pundits fill up the silence compulsively, anxious to get in as many misguided predictions as possible while no actual voters are available yet to prove us wrong.
Invited by the French Institute for International Relations to join its Annual Conference on the United States in Paris, along with my new friend Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review, I went on to address several classrooms of university students in Toulouse. I got the most questions about Donald Trump, of course, but the Hillary Clinton–Bernie Sanders race was a close second. French students are excited to know there’s an actual socialist in the race; female French students are worried that Clinton could lose, yet again. “Do you think women—especially women—are ready to vote for a woman?” a young woman in Toulouse asked me nervously.
“Yes,” I told her. Then I added, reassuringly: “Yes, we are.” Faced with her anxiety—and I admit I could be projecting across cultures here—I did something in France I don’t often do at home: I came out of the closet as a full-fledged Hillary Clinton supporter. And this time, as opposed to 2008, I’m backing her without apology, as the right and even radical choice. More than without apology; after 40 years of voting for male presidents, I’m supporting Hillary with excitement, even joy.
Had I not declared myself last week, in a Toulouse university lecture hall, I’d have probably done it here anyway, after watching the CNN Democratic presidential town-hall meeting Monday night. The town hall itself was great; Clinton, Sanders, and Martin O’Malley all looked admirable and presidential, in contrast to their awful Republican rivals. Democrats have a lot to be excited about this year.
But one moment got me particularly excited, and not in a good way. It came when a young white man—entitled, pleased with himself, barely shaving yet—broke the news to Clinton that his generation is with Bernie Sanders. “I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest. But I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”
“I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.” I’m not sure I can unpack all the condescension in that question. I heard a disturbing echo of the infamous 2008 New Hampshire debate moment when a moderator asked Clinton: “What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight, who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue?” Yes, the “likability” issue. I found myself thinking: Not again. Why the hell does she have to put up with this again?