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October 3, 2016

Most polls show that Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the first debate between the two presidential candidates.  Nevertheless, she has since been criticized by some for coming across as “overly prepared.”  Trump, meanwhile, bragged openly about the fact that he had not prepared for the debate at all, and their preparation styles could be discerned easily in their respective debate performances.

There has always been a tendency in America to exalt the political candidate who most resembles an “average Joe,” and candidates who come across as overly serious, educated, and intellectual are criticized for seeming elite or aloof.  “He seems like someone you could get a beer with,” voters said of George W. Bush back in 2000, while his opponent Al Gore was viewed as stiff and uptight.  It’s a mindset that is both near-sighted and baffling.  In the case of this particular election, however, it is simply reckless.

There is an echo through the country now of growing anger as voters, particularly women, see Clinton—one of the most qualified presidential candidates of the modern era—criticized for seeming “shrill” or “unlikable.”  While her tendency to be “over-prepared” would not make her the coolest kid in high school, it should be considered vastly preferable to Trump’s complete lack of preparation. 

In preparation for the debate, Clinton did what she does best: grind.  In addition to her usual wonkiness, Clinton made sure that she came to the debate with an intuitive understanding of her opponent that can come only come from deliberate research and practiced response.  Throughout the debate, she made sure to appear overly-presidential in order to cast a stark contrast between the two candidates. Her demeanor was reminiscent of her poise and patience during the Benghazi hearing in October, a highlight and turning point of her primary campaign. Having studied Trump’s temperament and tendencies, the campaign knew that the best way to gain the upper hand over Trump was to get under his skin.  Repeatedly, Clinton implicitly baited him, and, as the night wore on, more often than not, Trump took the bait.  The most carefully crafted moment of the debate, however, came near the end, when Clinton, describing Trump’s consistent derision and devaluation of women, brought up Alicia Machada, a former Miss Universe whom Trump mocked for both her ethnicity and a rapid weight gain.  Standing next to Clinton on the stage, Trump seemed ignorant and incoherent.  Immediately following the debate, the Clinton campaign released a commercial featuring Alicia Machada telling her story.  The whole operation seemed almost planned from the beginning. 

The criticisms that Clinton is robotic and a know-it-all are qualities that would make her a good president.  The American people would like to believe that when the president sits down to make policy that will affect climate change or health care of public education that she will do so knowing the facts, that when she meets with world leaders about global safety that she will do so as a practiced communicator, that when she gathers with the Joint Chiefs in the situation room to discuss a potential nuclear threat that she will do so with a temperament trained to listen before speaking and consider before reacting.  With that in mind, Clinton is not just the best candidate; she’s the only candidate.  “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said at one point.  “And yes, I did.  And you know what else I prepared for?  I prepared to be president.  And I think that’s a good thing.”

Let’s hope that on November 8th, America thinks so too.

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