I was born before women had the right to vote. Now, at 93, I hope to see the most qualified and widely experienced person in America, Hillary Clinton, be elected president. If our goal is to find the best person to serve, then we must include every person in the talent pool, including half the population who are women.
As the mother of seven children and the wife of former three-term U.S. Sen. Vance Hartke, I have enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life, some of whom were leaders of our country. When asked how I balanced my personal and public interests, I’ve always said that I love my kids, Indiana basketball, and the politics of accomplishment, though on some days not necessarily in that order. After more than a half century in political life, I have had the chance to see many leaders up close, helping me compare and contrast their qualities.
I was fortunate that Eleanor Roosevelt became an early mentor when we settled in Fairfax County after Vance won his Senate seat. Eleanor urged me to “get involved in the life of the country and care about what goes on in the world.” Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to have lunch with the last 13 First Ladies, be appointed by President Kennedy to chair the Freedom From Hunger Campaign, and advocate on behalf of the kidney dialysis bill that has saved over one million lives.
On the fun side, I recall that after a long day of campaigning with Harry Truman, the President asked Vance and I if we would join him for a shot of bourbon. My husband, a teetotaler, declined, but I said “pour me one to the top.” In the 1960 presidential campaign in Indiana, I held John Kennedy’s legs when he got worried that the adoring crowds would pull him out of the convertible. “Hold tighter, Martha,” he would say as people surged forward to touch him. At the 1965 Inaugural Ball, I danced with Lyndon Johnson, waltzing around the room while he whispered sweet nothings in my ear about the importance of Medicare and the Higher Education bills he wanted passed.
I often get asked: compared to other leaders you have known, what is Hillary Clinton really like? If everybody knew Hillary as I have known her over the last 25 years, you would join me in urging her to run for president. Like so many other Americans, I am impressed with her vast range of knowledge on issues. She has more experience in dealing with the world from a variety of state, national, and international perspectives than any other political leader in America. Secretary Clinton has demonstrated that she has the diplomatic, managerial, and legislative skills to lead this country and make America a respected and trusted partner in world affairs.
In my eyes, at the top of the list of her many qualities is the obvious importance she places on family. She is a wonderful mother, as anyone who has met Chelsea can attest. She is the kind of person you look forward to seeing - easy-going, caring, and just plain delightful to be around. She has a keen sense of humor, stays amazingly grounded, and listens and genuinely cares about the stories of families who are struggling.
Hillary has the character, the drive, the strategic vision, and the right stuff to be president. I hope to see the day when I can smile at Hillary and say, “Hello, Madam President.” Although women could not vote when I was born, they can vote now, and even be president. When I talk to my granddaughters, I tell them that the future is open to their greatest dreams because they are part of the story of America, ever brighter, with promise for all.
Martha Hartke, Falls Church