By Peter Daou and Tom Watson
In Saturday’s Democratic debate, Hillary briefly recalled her work as New York’s junior senator in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack: "I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild; that was good for New York, that was good for the economy and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
Later in the debate Bernie Sanders agreed: “I applaud Secretary Clinton. She did. She's the senator from New York. She worked – and many of us supported you – in trying to rebuild that devastation.”
The Beltway pundit class did not approve of Hillary’s answer, exposing the always lurking media antipathy toward her, the constant search for a scandal. Politico chief political correspondent Glenn Thrush (a veteran reporter we know and like) went so far as to label the former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State’s words “cray cray.” We do not believe Glenn would use the same language against, for argument’s sake, President Obama.
Furthermore, as Bernie Sanders explicitly agreed, her remarks were accurate. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta noted after the debate: "When people attack her and call her quote-unquote the 'Senator from Wall Street,' they ought to remember that she was instrumental in trying to rebuild an important part of the New York economy."
Indeed they should – because in some ways helping to rebuild lower Manhattan and defending a crippled New York City economy against cuts in post-9/11 aid demanded by right wing Republicans was a defining moment in the newly-elected senator’s career. And Hillary did it without grandstanding; she simply dug in and fought for New York.
We understand why 9/11 is a red flag in any debate, even 14 years after the fact, and why to this day, people are understandably emotional about those events. New York is our home and we were both there that terrible day. Tom worked on several post-attack projects and recalls a singular moment from the recovery:
I was working as a consultant, and our firm was involved on a pro bono basis in various aspects of serving the families of the uniformed personnel killed at the Twin Towers. It was an emotional, grinding, exhausting time and in comparison to the sacrifice of those who literally gave their lives for fellow New Yorkers that day, our contribution was minimal and in many ways, the very least we could do.
But I remember a meeting of officials late one evening. All Republicans – and if you recall that era, the New York firmament was dominated by the GOP (though in retrospect, a far more liberal brand than their current successors). The meeting included commissioners and key political figures. Names you would know. They were talking politics. This former Bronx political reporter was listening silently (always the best method of journalism) as they turned to gossiping about their Democratic counterparts. Who, someone asked, has been the biggest surprise?
“She just works. She’s not trying to get into the photo. She’s completely briefed and knows the details.”
“That surprises me.”
“Also, she’s great with the families. She takes time. She’s not like she is on TV.”
The moment stuck with me. Indeed, up until that conversation I probably retained the same one-dimensional view of Hillary as many Democratic males of my generation. A few months later when I met Hillary at an event related to that discussion, it confirmed the loosened-tie late night views of those Republican men and their off the record impression. And frankly, it started me on the path to supporting Hillary in 2008 and co-founding #HillaryMen with Peter this cycle.
So when I see Hillary’s words misinterpreted or cynically twisted for mentioning – briefly, accurately and without grandstanding – her role in those months after 9/11, it sends my own red flag flying, because my memory of that time is still so vivid.
Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.