Forty six years ago, when I was an 18-year-old Yale freshman, my scholarship job was to clear away the dishes three nights a week in the Yale Law School dining hall. I have little doubt that among those whose plates and silverware I picked up were Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton. Knowing that they met the spring before this, I'm guessing they dined together a lot at that point.
In the nearly half a century since then, I've followed Hillary's story from the vantage point of a woman only a few years behind her in age who has known her own moments of triumph and reward as well as failure and heartbreak. Different ones, played out on a far smaller stage. But recently it occurred to me that certain parallels exist -- never more clear to me as they are now. Hillary's story has also reminded me of another one. My own.
The fact that this is so has taught me a lot about how to view Hillary Clinton's attackers from within her own party -- and all of those so quick to criticize women who take action rather than standing on the sidelines, offering critiques. I am speaking of those of my fellow citizens -- many of them friends, or individuals with whom I share core values -- who have chosen at this of all moments, as we approach a crucial election, to expend their energies undermining the one person who stands between the American people and a dangerous, utterly unqualified racist demagogue who would be President.
They didn't get their top pick. The candidate we got is guilty of not being perfect. So they're picking up their marbles and going home, but before they do, they're firing off a few nasty salvos of their own, before Trump gets busy unleashing his own. What are they thinking?
A little history: Though a lifelong Democrat, and a Bill Clinton supporter, I was never a big fan of Hillary in the past. Where her husband so often injected passion and poetry into our lives, she offered none of his brand of glamour or magic. She was too cautiously centrist for my taste, too much of a political compromiser, too ready to bow to those "special interests" who would get her husband, or her, elected.
But this year, as I watched the primaries unfold, and now as we enter into the season of an election in which the contrast between candidates may never have been more stunning, and the consequences of one candidate's potential victory and another's potential loss never as grave, I've found myself revising, totally, my assessment of Hillary Clinton.
I didn't fall in love with her this year. I didn't lose sight of decisions she'd made, actions she'd taken that differed from what I would have hoped for. I don't need to have a best friend for my President. Or a visionary idealist. Who we need at this moment is precisely who the Democrats just nominated: A tireless, dedicated, unstoppable -- and totally unglamorous -- workhorse, whose gifts have less to do with charming us on the podium and more with getting the job done. And the same traits that once made me feel critical of Hillary now inspire me with confidence.
I am grateful for Hillary's ability to work with Republicans. I cheer for her sober, sane, not-always-liberal but totally fair-minded choice in a running mate. And when I ask myself who, of all the politicians in our landscape, now or within recent memory, might possess greater ability to actually get legislation through an intransigent Congress, who could succeed in getting good or even great Supreme Court nominees confirmed, who can work with world leaders whose ideology differs most from our own, I cannot come up with a better candidate than Hillary Clinton.
A troubling phenomenon occurred, when I began speaking publicly in support of Hillary Clinton. My inbox and Facebook page was peppered with angry language, not about Donald Trump, but about Clinton. I'm going to believe some of these stories -- some, not all -- may even have some basis in truth.
Here's what I know from my own 45 years of scrutiny in a less glaring spotlight: There's simply no way a person can have functioned uninterruptedly in the public eye for this long without having faltered along the way. No way a woman can have been scrutinized as relentlessly as Hillary Clinton, and for as long, without some unattractive revelations coming to light.
Reading these stories as a woman who has been, in her own far smaller way, in the public herself for almost exactly as many years as Hillary Clinton, I also know this: The more a person has extended herself, the more she's put herself out in the world, the more likely she is to have stumbled on occasion. The more visible her failures. This is certainly true of Hilary Clinton, whose long resume of public service her husband recounted at the convention the other night. And it is true in my own career life. The more at bats you get, the more hits. But also, the more strikeouts.
The only way I know to ensure a perfectly untarnished record is to have no record at all. The only way I know to steer clear of strong criticism is to steer clear of ever taking a strong stand. Those of us -- particularly those of us who are women -- who have chosen to put ourselves out there in the world, with all our failures and shortcomings on display, will never be strangers to criticism and attack. Let us not be fooled into forgetting the identity of the true threat to our nation. It's not the woman in the pantsuit, friends, who has spent the majority of the last half century in public service. It's the man well to the right of her, who -- when not caressing his daughter's rear end -- is raising his arm in a way that looks awfully close to a Sieg Heil, and serving the desires of one individual only.
Joyce Maynard's most recent book, "Under the Influence," was published this spring.