Much has been made of Hillary Clinton’s presidential run since she announced last month. However you feel about it, there’s fervor to be had. On one side of the spectrum, various conservatives denounce Clinton more than almost any other candidate in recent memory. On the other side, scores of progressives are nothing less than exhilarated by Hillary’s announcement video, seeing in her what they have seen in so many other great political leaders. This is especially true of religious progressives (myself included), those who are hopeful that their vote for Hillary will engender the kind of policies their faith compels them to support.
To be sure, religious citizens have a penchant for idealism. Then again, how could we not? Faith-based communities are nothing if not visionary, as worshipers organize their lives around the notion that something better can and will one day come. Such sentiments are especially true for those devotees that commit themselves to the world of governmental affairs. For those of us that unify these two spheres, romantic visions of politics are not merely aspirations; indeed, they are part and parcel of the way we live our faith.
What’s more, Hillary seems to bring out the verve in we religious progressives, as she shows us a way to actualize our desired politics. She’s certainly maintained her own lofty ambitions throughout her career, and she seems to have confidence (much like us) that the right people can make tangible change for the American citizenry. Thus, for some, the prospect of Hillary in the White House is accompanied by a hope for substantial improvements in our body politic, giving us a glimpse into what could be.
Yet, the passion our idealism generates also provides ammunition to critics, with those less eager to see a Hillary win bemoaning how easily manipulated liberals are. Disregarding the substantive claims following our enthusiasm, they instead hurl jibes like “starry-eyed” and “bleeding-heart” in our direction, effectively asserting that an endorsement for Hillary must be due to ignorance, chicanery, or worse.
This is where it is crucial for us to note: Hillary is not just the candidate for those invigorated by her message, but also the candidate most able to implement the policies we long. In writing this, I am not appealing solely to her lifetime of public service. Nor am I gesturing entirely toward her unquestionable record of advocacy, or even the reforms she’s promised to make to some of our most complex social issues. Rather, it is due to the combination of these factors and much more that have made her such an estimable figure on the American political scene, as she has exemplified what it means to be both an accomplished government official as well as inspiring leader.
Therefore, if it’s our idealism that opens our ears to Hillary, so be it. After all, we religious citizens can only subdue our optimism so much, and our convictions will no doubt inform our judgment in these next several months. But when it counts, it would do us well to remember what Hillary contributes to 2016 and the future of the United States with a capacity to do what many other starry-eyed idealists have done in striving to make this country better.
Jacob Marthaller is a graduate student in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and Coordinator of the Religion and Film Project for the Virginia Center for the Study of Religion. His research interests lie primarily at the confluence of politics and theology.