Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hillary Clinton: A Role Model for Girls. Period

Hillary Rodham Clinton stands poised to make history and shatter, what she aptly called, the 'hardest glass ceiling' by becoming the first woman president of United States and yet women voters have not only been lukewarm to her candidacy but many even consider her in terms that are no less sexist than her male detractors, of whom there are legions. Sexism is a state of mind and has little to do with the gender of the detractor.

A group of women professionals shared a photograph of first ladies, current and former, and went gaga over Michelle Obama while omitting any mention of Hillary Clinton. These professionals, incidentally, also want to encourage, through mentorship, other women to aspire and achieve professional success which they feel needs training to surmount the odds of the working place where women are still seen as less than equals. Asked "what about Clinton" the response was "the jury is still out". This is stunning sexism and would be called out as such if a male had said it. Michelle Obama is a charismatic first lady and remains a traditional first lady espousing non-controversial feel good causes like combating obesity, a national epidemic, with feel good initiatives like growing a vegetable garden in the White House and by exhorting people to exercise more. On the other hand there's Hillary Rodham Clinton, former first lady, first woman senator from New York, first woman to win primaries in a major party, first woman nominee of a major party and former secretary of state. How could a group of strong willed independent minded women, especially those who run a group meant to promote women leadership, ignore Clinton and hold Obama higher? Sexism, albeit of a different kind from the readily recognizable one by males.

Whether it is 2008 or 2016 women in the democratic primaries did not flock to Clinton but they backed Obama and Sanders enthusiastically. In both cases Clinton was seen as not "progressive" enough compared to her rivals. This is not the place to litigate the merits or demerits of those arguments.

The Lady in the Pant Suit. Image courtesy

Lost in the din was the fact that while Clinton got no favors for being a candidate who could make history. She was rather held to a different standard, mostly because the candidate was Hillary Clinton and almost as frequently because it was a woman candidate.

Clinton has been in the national public eye for over 20 years since her husband got elected as president in 1992 and yet it was not until this year did the media unearth a little spoken of speech delivered by her in 1969. Clinton led a group of students and demanded from the dean of Wellesley that a student representative should be allowed to give a speech during Commencement. Clinton herself was the chosen speaker. Echoing FDR she said "Fear is always with us but we just don't have the time for it now. Not now". In her speech Clinton passionately spoke of poverty, student diversity and most importantly, rather shocking  to some, rebuked a sitting senator who was the Commencement speaker. Senator Edward Brooke, first African-American elected to the senate, cautioned against "coercive protests" in his speech. Clinton, ad libbed extemporaneous remarks to say "Part of the problem with just empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn't do us anything" and she went on to say, in words that a Obama or a Sanders would later use, "for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible". A young girl changed tradition at a hoary university and went beyond just rising up to the occasion and verbally dueled with a senator.

In 1995 Clinton gave a rousing classically feminist speech in Beijing that told the world "women's rights are human rights". It was, given the fragile state of US-China relations at that time, a gutsy speech and one that inspired many women.

"Women's Rights Are Human Rights" -- Hillary Clinton in UN Conference at Beijing in 1995
Today voters remember the Whitewater investigation, more appropriately it should be called witch hunt, as the start of the perpetual air of suspicion that would always hover above Hillary. What is less remember or completely unknown is Hillary redefined the role of a spouse of a politician in office. Not since Eleanor Roosevelt had a politician's spouse played a pivotal role in the administration. Whether as first lady of Arkansas or of the nation Hillary lived up to the promise of Bill, "two for the price of one". In Arkansas Hillary chaired the Education Standards Committee that literally reformed Arkansas schools to make them one of the nation's best from what used to be one of the worst.

Hillary Clinton and her campaign have not done a good job of introducing her to the voters. Bill Clinton's speech about his wife in the Democratic convention provided a sweeping view of the person Hillary was. As a Yale student Hillary involved herself in laws regarding child abuse, migrant labor and legal assistance for the poor.  She went on to write an oft cited article in Harvard Law Review titled "Children under the law".

When Bill Clinton lost the 1982 gubernatorial election he became, as he joked, 'the youngest ex-governor'. Hillary worked to get him rehabilitated and in response to suggestion that her retention of her maiden name does not help she changed her name to Hillary Rodham Clinton. That's the price a woman had to pay.

We forget that before Obamacare there was Hillarycare. Clinton fought a bruising battle for Universal Healthcare. The battle almost derailed her husband's nascent presidency. Her mastery of the subject remains unrivaled. In 2008 Obama airily promised universal healthcare without a provision called 'mandate' unlike that of Clinton's. Clinton's plan that included a 'mandate' was derided as a 'tax'. As president Obama's plan included a mandate and the US Supreme Court later called it a tax. While her efforts to overhaul the nation's healthcare burned to the ground Clinton gained a small but very significant victory by working with her Republican detractors to create a Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). Today that plan helps millions of poor children get lifesaving health care. If this is not leadership what else is?

Hillary Clinton's run for the US Senate showed her at her best. Ridiculed a 'carper bagger' Clinton worked her heart out to earn the votes and her opponent's sexism helped. During a debate Clinton's opponent Rick Lazio walked up to her podium and glowered above her and hectored her into signing a declaration.

Asked about her high unfavorables recently Clinton opined that her favorability ratings are usually very high while she's in office as First Lady or Senator or Secretary of State but drop, precipitously, when she's running for office. It was an astute observation that says she shares an interesting relationship with the  electorate. Her brilliance and experience is never in question and, to be fair, she herself is in question when she is seeking office but, to be equally fair, some of those questions are often in the tone of "any woman, but this woman". This is despicable cop out by those, men and women, who hold Clinton to a harsher standard because she is a woman to pretend like they would vote for a better woman. No and No and not at all.

Clinton has sponsored more successful bipartisan legislation than Obama and Kerry. In the Senate Clinton earned the very grudging respect of her GOP colleagues who had declared earlier never to do anything that would even remotely help her look good when she decides to run for the presidency. Though she entered the senate as a former first lady she played by the rules in a chamber that has archaic rules of seniority. A landmark work of her in the senate was getting the healthcare help that firemen of New York City who worked at the World Trade Center needed. She took on the Bush administration and got billions for New York City. A representative of the Firemen Union, a traditional republican supporting group, expressed admiration recently for her work. How this work even rated as "jury is out" category by a group that purportedly exists to help women become leaders? Pray, what kind of leaders do these women want to create? Ah, the politically correct woman leader who'll plant vegetable garden and talk about healthy diet. If a man had drawn such a distinction he'd be called, correctly, a sexist and these women should not be spared that label either.

8 years later things were not much different when she ran for the presidential nomination. At New Hampshire two men stood in a Clinton rally holding up a T-shirt that read "go home and do laundry". Clinton, running for elected office, had to manage an adroit chuckle to brush it aside with a "the last vestiges of sexism are alive". Charged endlessly that she's icy and does not show 'human warmth' Clinton partly won the state when in a candid moment she almost choked answering how she picked herself up every day despite the drumbeat of defeat from all quarters. Nobody thought it was abominable when a debate moderator cheerfully asked why she is not liked by many, because, after all, a woman should be liked by all. Never mind that all politicians, male or female, are not universally loved. Obama and Bush remain hated by half the country and yet it is only Clinton who gets that question. Obama, in an unfortunate moment for him, interjected to answer, without even looking at her, "you're likable enough Hillary". Clinton won New Hampshire, narrowly. The world loves a woman when she acts, well, 'womanly', looking askance for support and craving public approval but hates her when she is strong and is a rampart of strength.

The millenials we're told don't think it's a big deal anymore to elect a woman to office. That is wrong. Dead wrong. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in her memoirs recalled how she was taunted by her male colleagues for her appearance. It took Obama 8 years to acknowledge that Clinton, as a woman candidate, was measured by different standards.

It is ok for male candidates to strut about in the same dark suit, white shirt and red tie combo every day but Clinton's wardrobe was closely scrutinized for including when she wore tops that, horror of horrors, seemed to show just a hint of a cleavage. The storied Washington Post screamed "Hillary Clinton's Tentative Dip into Neckline Territory". From exposing Nixon and Watergate The Post's journalism had dipped, not tentatively, into 'neckline territory'. Defending the article the columnist said that how a candidate delivers the message, "the tone of voice, the appearance, the context", matters. Really? How many articles are devoted to any male candidate's wardrobe choices in that context? The Post's then media critic Howard Kurtz wrote an explanatory column about the scurrilous post article and helpfully titled it "Cleavage & the Clinton Campaign Chest".

A popular cop out admonition about Hillary Clinton is her standing by Bill Clinton despite his peccadilloes. Women, who anyway hate Hillary, often say with righteous indignation "oh I'd have left my husband". Did not Tolstoy teach us that "each unhappy family is unhappy in it's own way"? It never strikes many that Hillary and Bill could possibly love each other too much and love in such a way that it triumphs the pain. These are two very politically active spouses with a deep strain of activism in their veins. They, as a couple, have done much to shape up the Democratic party after the humiliating landslide loss of Hubert Humphrey. Marriages are complicated and the Bill-Hill marriage is complicated too but it is none of the voter's business. Let's not forget that Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy, not to mention a long list of others including most recently the wife of David Petraeus, all have stood by their philandering husbands.

Google the words "Hillary Clinton screaming" and you'll be surprised by the number of articles on that. Obama, Sanders and, of course, Trump all scream at the top of their lungs but it is Clinton who is considered a shrew because she speaks at the top of her voice. If she speaks softly she's seen as weak, not just weak but 'woman like weak', and if she speaks loud she's screaming. Late night comedian Jimmy Fallon mansplained to her how as a woman candidate she can never catch a break on her decibel.

Ask any working woman today and she'd confide how a male boss would look disapprovingly at her taking a sick day off or god forbid a day off to take care of a sick child. Yes, Clinton has a penchant for secrecy that is fueled by how her privacy has often been violated by witch hunting opponents and a public that simply thinks she's a congenital liar. But, it was not just her penchant for secrecy that made her to be less than forthcoming about her pneumonia afflictions. She later confided that as a woman, especially as one who's stamina is being questioned by her misogynist opponent, she thought she could downplay the news and work through the sickness. No, it is not easy to run as a woman for the highest office of the land even today.

If Donald Trump delegitimizing Barack Obama's birth and thereby the presidency is correctly labeled as racism then why is delegitimizing Clinton winning the nomination not labeled sexism? If it was ok for Obama to win the nomination powered by unprecedented turnout of the black vote why is it any less when Clinton does the same? Who gave Sanders the right to run down Clinton's victories as something she won "in the south"? First they said she won the primaries in the South. Then she won the Mid West. Then she won the North and then she won the very liberal California. Two days before the New York Primary pundits were musing over a possible humiliating loss for Clinton in her home state after Sanders held rallies attended by raucous tens of thousands, twice. Clinton won by a wide margin and then pundits and others brushed it as "oh well it's her home state".

The Sanders candidacy has cast a shadow on how brilliantly Clinton won against heavy odds. Nothing illustrates this better than what happened in the Dakotas. North Dakota had a caucus, a format that heavily favored Sanders's motivated youth vote, and Sanders won by 40 points. South Dakota had a traditional primary, a format that is truly democratic and tends to favor Clinton whose voters are older, and Clinton won by 2 points. But the real story is within. The total votes cast in North Dakota were 400 and Sanders got 250, Clinton 101 and uncommitted 10. The total votes cast in South Dakota were 53,00 and Clinton got 27046 to Sanders's 25,958. Sanders carried the Alaska caucus by 63 points by taking 440 votes to Clinton's 90 votes. In the much anticipated California primary, Clinton got 2.7 million votes and bested Sanders by 9 points to his 2.3 million votes. In New York out of 1.8 million Clinton garnered 1.05 million and beat Sanders by 16 points for his 750,000 votes. When all was done Clinton led Sanders by millions of votes and hundreds in delegate count. Yet, on the night she officially crossed the threshold and made history by becoming the first woman nominee of a major party Sanders not only refused to even acknowledge that but he even went to the extent of disputing her win.

Clinton showed what leadership is in 2008 when after a very hard fought primary Obama barely edged her, unlike how she beat Sanders handily in 2016, she not only bowed to the inevitable she turned herself into the most committed soldier to getting Obama elected. A group of African-American women told NPR that Clinton's conduct earned their respect. How Clinton conducted herself vis-a-vis Obama earned the votes of a critical section of the Democratic party and it is precisely those voters that Sanders brushed aside.

The sexism of Sanders was very latent and couched within his perfectly democratic rights to fight for an electoral victory that he thought he should get but many of his followers did not bother with any fig leaves and flaunted their sexism against Clinton. A Washington Post analysis of sexist tweets showed that of all the sexist tweets against Clinton nearly 14% came from Sanders's supporters. When Sanders's combative campaign manager Jeffrey Weaver said Clinton's "ambition" could tear the Democratic party US News rightly called it out as sexist by saying that running for the presidency, indeed, takes ambition and Sanders himself was no less ambitious by calling for a revolution and therefore to single out Clinton, a woman, for ambition is sexist. Sanders acted so sexist during a debate that left wing economist and columnist Paul Krugman said Sanders was beginning to mirror the "Bernie Bros", a virulently sexist group of Sanders supporters.

Another popular trope to discredit Clinton is to accuse anyone or any organization supporting her as being "in the tank" or, oh the horror, "establishment". This came mostly from the Sanders supporters. Sure, not every criticism of Clinton should be tagged sexist and there is ample in Clinton's conduct and ideas that could be subject to fair criticism. But criticisms often descend into delegitimization of her candidacy and her wins. Editorial boards of newspapers sympathetic to Sanders's policies gave him latitude to explain details regarding his foreign policy and his central theme of taking the financial industry to the woodshed and Sanders, to their surprise, came out woefully uninformed or to be blunt, clueless. Naturally, they all endorsed Clinton and for that sin alone they were tarred with the "establishment" brush. Commenting on a Washington Post article that sought to explain to Clinton why she's not winning by a large margin against a horrible opponent like Trump a reader listed a whole litany of epithets, "lying, imperious, vindictive, harridan". Harridan? My foot. The comment was a top pick comment. Clinton, as per the fact checking site politifact, is no more lying than Sanders and way more truthful than Trump who has no notion of what truth is. Calling for a 'revolution' is not imperious but Clinton is. Let's not fool ourselves that Clinton's candidacy is something that's not historical and that her struggle in the polls is only because it is a Clinton.

Amongst the so called progressive it is an article of faith that Clinton is hawk compared to the peacenik Sanders. Sanders is a hypocrite when it comes to war. He often claims that he voted against the Iraq War resolution because he felt it did not meet his criteria owing to lack of specifics, plans etc.  By that standard he should've voted against the Afghanistan war too but he happily voted for it because he realized that voting against it would cost his senate seat and he did not, in his own words, want to lose an election for the sake of a war vote.

The Iraq vote has been used to literally pillory Clinton for nearly 8 years. What is little known is how Obama very adroitly cast only "present" votes, not even abstentions, as state legislator in Illinois and cast every vote for Iraq related resolutions later just as Clinton. Unlike Obama Clinton was not known to shy from action. Senator Tom Daschle advised freshman senator Obama to prepare a run for the presidency as early as possible and not be inhibited by lack of experience. Daschle reasoned that a freshman senator will have little or no votes to defend. Yes, Obama mounted a successful campaign because, unlike Clinton, he had nothing to defend.

From Madeleine Albright to Samantha Powers and Hillary Clinton it is interesting that strong willed women have persuaded American presidents to initiate a military action in the interest of preventing genocides. If this is hawkish then so be it. Rarely has a presidential candidate been so experienced and shown such deep engagement with issues as Clinton has. If there is one thing that Clinton will never be accused of it is inaction.

There is endless prattle about Clinton and Benghazi but little note of the fact that as Secretary of state Clinton worked with republicans to increase "survivor benefits for military families" from a paltry $12,000 to $100,00. Pray what is Sanders's legislative record, that too with bipartisan support? Nothing. Zilch. To say that he does not have a commendable legislative record because he's a puritan warrior only insults the process of democracy.

Clinton has a great record of working with republicans. As member of the Senate Armed Services committee she earned the respect of senators like John McCain. Today, faced with a Trump takeover of the White House, droves of republicans, diplomats and others, have endorsed Clinton. This is a stunning act that is often taken little notice. Newspapers in deep red states that have never endorsed a democrat in many decades have endorsed Clinton. If this person is not a role model for women who else is?

For those sexist doubters of whether a woman can be a commander-in-chief another woman from another era answered best when her island nation was threatened total annihilation by an armada.

"I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and thin foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field".

The words of Queen Elizabeth spoken to her troops at Tilbury will be vindicated by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Let us then elect Hillary Clinton, not only because she's a woman but because, today, she's the best choice. Anyone voting for Trump, directly or indirectly is a traitor to the American dream and such votes have the danger of making November 8th "a date that will live in infamy". Hillary Rodham Clinton is all that stands between a racist, misogynist, bigot and the Oval office. Let's get Hillary Clinton elected so that we can make the words of Longfellow, that FDR quoted in his handwritten letter to Churchill amidst another era of great peril, come true:

Sail on, Oh Ship of State!
Sail on, Oh Union strong and great.
Humanity with all its fears
With all the hope of future years
Is hanging breathless on thy fate


1. North Dakota Caucus
2. South Dakota Primary
3. Alaska Caucus
4. California Primary
5. New York Primary
6. Washington Post Analysis of sexist tweets
7. Sanders campaign and charges of sexism
8. Queen Elizabeth speech to troops
9. Jimmy Kimmel mansplains to Hillary Clinton
10. Hillary Clinton and Surviving families benefits
11. Obama's "present votes"
12. FDR's letter to Churchill
13. Hillary Clinton's Commencement speech at Wellesley
14. Why Hillary Clinton's Beijing speech matters
15. Washington Post article on Hillary Clinton's 'neckline'
16. NYT article about the Post article on Clinton's 'neckline'
17. Washington Post article by Howard Kurtz "Cleavage & Clinton Campaign Chest"

No comments: