Wednesday 1 July 2015

A woman's place is in the White House, 2016

Carol Hunt finds the prospect of feminist and 'woman's woman' Hillary Clinton as US President tantalising

Published 29/12/2013 | 02:30

Hillary, US Secretary of State. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Hillary, US Secretary of State. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In 1993, Barbara Walters Presents began a tradition of choosing the 12 "most fascinating people of the year" on her famous ABC show. Topping the list was Hillary Clinton. Twenty years on, Walters once again announced her list. And once again Hillary Clinton comes out on top as the most fascinating person of 2013. That's some achievement.

Whatever one may think of Ms Rodham Clinton, ignoring her is not an option. Particularly as she looks set to become the first woman president of the United States.

Even articulating that in print makes me wonder if I should go back and erase it in case it jinxes her campaign. And yes, I know that Hillary has yet to formally announce her intention to run in the 2016 election, but really, does anyone think she won't? Short of wearing a badge saying "First Female President", Hillary's -- and Bill's -- hints about her future candidature could not be broader.

Earlier this year, at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Clinton said that cracking glass ceilings is the "great unfinished business of the 21st Century". She didn't exactly say that it was the presidential ceiling she had in mind and that she would be the one to crack it, but with the "Ready for Hillary" campaign steaming ahead with 25,000 donors and over €1.25m raised, and with Emily's List-- the biggest organisation in the US promoting women in politics -- launching a national "Madam President" campaign (it doesn't explicitly name Clinton but, with Elizabeth Warren ruling herself out, who else is there?), she didn't need to.

Currently, without even saying whether she will run or not, Clinton's popularity rating is unmatched by any other Democrat. A CNN poll last week suggested that, if an election was held today, and if Republican Governor of New Jersey were the GOP candidate, he and Hillary would be neck and neck for the White House -- but it seems unlikely that the warring Republican factions can agree on what candidate can best represent their interests, or even what those interests are.

Clinton has made it known that she believes it's important for the White House to have a female incumbent. Is this true? Surely the best candidate should be next president, regardless of gender?

Nancy Pelosi, an Obama supporter last time out, is now "praying" Hillary runs, saying: "Nobody has been first lady and senator and secretary of state. Think of the message it sends to women in the world. The most powerful figure in the world is a woman, and she also happens to be the most qualified for the job."

Like the movement to put the first African American president in the White House, the Democrats seem determined to make history again by putting the first woman in.

But what about all that Clinton baggage? Has Hillary managed to erase the picture of herself as the interfering, long-suffering wife of a serial, lying philanderer? Even though she said she was no "Tammy Wynette, standing by her man", that's exactly what happened. But, as a woman, no matter what she did, she would have been cursed for it. Stay with Bill? She's a doormat. Leave the two-timing father of her child? She's a home-wrecker. The rules for women in politics -- as with everything in life -- are different.

If Clinton is caught raising her voice, she's a termagant. If she shows gentleness and compassion, she's not tough enough for the job.

Was this why she felt the need to work so tirelessly in her role as Secretary of State? Her achievements during that four-year period were extra-ordinary, but doubtless they will receive far less comment than her choice of hairstyle or the suitability of Bill for the role of first husband.

Yet she has presided over the liberation of Libya, peace talks in the Middle East and the opening up of Myanmar. She is one of the most successful secretaries of state in recent history. One of her main initiatives was to champion gender equality, making women's rights a focal point of her speeches and interviews.

All of the above are what makes the prospect of Hillary Clinton as a US president so tantalising; she is very much a woman's woman. She is described as a good listener and an empathetic employer -- she remembers people's birthdays and the little details -- and she makes a point of keeping up contacts and personal relationships worldwide.

Unlike other female leaders -- Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, even Angela Merkel -- Clinton has always made a point of being very much a feminist. And though she can play hard, she has never felt the need to out-do the boys at the macho game.

Yet her very feminism is terrifying to some. One commentator said, "When she comes on television I involuntarily cross my legs," and when she spoke at the congressional testimony on the attack in Benghazi, the New York Post ran a picture of her with fists clenched and a headline that screamed, "No Wonder Bill's Afraid."

Over the years, Hillary has been called a "she-devil" who has got as far as she has only because her "husband messed around"; a "lawyer-spouse" who has "compared marriage to slavery"; the "Lady Macbeth of Arkansas"; an "overbearing yuppie from hell" (to which she replied that she was too old to be a yuppie); and of course there were those infamous placards reading "iron my shirt" that she faced during the last primaries she fought against Obama.

No powerful man would ever have to put up with such sexist comments.

Yet there will be a lot more of the same coming up to 2016 as the GOP and other Clinton opponents do everything in their power to sully her reputation. Already there's a Stop Hillary campaign whose mission statement reads: "Stop Hillary PAC was created for one reason only -- to save America from the destructive far-left, liberal cancer created by Bill and Hillary Clinton ... "

However, if I were a betting woman I'd say odds are we'll see the first woman president of the US elected in 2016. It will be fascinating to see if a female -- and feminist -- hand at the tiller will change the way the world does politics. Let's hope it does.

Irish Independent

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