HIS­TORIC QUEST FOR OVAL OF­FICE

Demo­cratic nom­i­nee’s courage un­der fire could seal her pres­i­den­tial vic­tory, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

If there was a sin­gle mo­ment that cap­tured what would carry Hil­lary Clin­ton to the 2016 Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion, it came not dur­ing her sun-splashed cam­paign kick­off in New York last June, nor in any of her speeches cel­e­brat­ing hard-fought pri­mary vic­to­ries over Sen­a­tor Bernie San­ders. No, it was the un­scripted in­stant in which a blasé Clin­ton coolly brushed from her shoul­der a speck of lint, dirt – or per­haps noth­ing at all – as a Repub­li­can-led House panel sub­jected her to more than eight hours of ques­tion­ing in Oc­to­ber over her han­dling of the 2012 ter­ror­ist at­tack in Beng­hazi, Libya.

She may not be the or­a­tor Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is, or the re­tail politi­cian her hus­band was. But Clin­ton’s steely for­ti­tude in this cam­paign has plainly in­spired older women, black vot­ers and many oth­ers, who see in her per­se­ver­ance a kind of mir­ror to their own strug­gles. And Clin­ton’s very dura­bil­ity – her tenac­ity, grit and ca­pac­ity for en­dur­ing and over­com­ing ad­ver­sity – could be ex­actly what is re­quired to de­feat Don­ald Trump.

As a politi­cian’s wife, first lady, sen­a­tor and sec­re­tary of state – and as a two-time can­di­date for pres­i­dent – Clin­ton (68) has re­de­fined the role of women in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics each time she has rein­vented her­self. She has trans­fixed the na­tion again and again, as of­ten in sear­ing episodes of scandal or set­back as in tri­umph.

Par­ti­san at­tacks

“She came on the pub­lic stage as some­one who was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” says Ann Lewis, a long­time ad­viser. “She at­tracted fas­ci­na­tion, de­vo­tion and at­tacks – and the par­ti­san at­tacks haven’t stopped.”

Me­lanne Verveer, a close friend of Clin­ton’s who was her White House chief of staff, says: “Even as First Lady, it was ‘Who does she think she is?’”

Clin­ton’s con­fi­dantes say it is only fit­ting that, hav­ing over­come so many ob­sta­cles be­fore, in­clud­ing some of her own mak­ing, she now faces an op­po­nent so ea­ger to “go neg­a­tive” with her – and to re­fight the bareknuck­led brawls that have de­fined her ca­reer.

In her vic­tory speech two weeks ago, Clin­ton said the big­gest in­flu­ence on her life had been her mother, “and she taught me never to back down from a bully – which turned out to be pretty good ad­vice”.

It was with that same grit that Clin­ton picked her­self up af­ter a bruis­ing de­feat by Obama in 2008, when she as­sured a crowd of tear­ful fe­male sup­port­ers, eight years ago to the day, that they had made 18 mil­lion cracks in “the high­est, hard­est glass ceil­ing”.

For 14 con­sec­u­tive years, and 20 in all, Clin­ton has been named the woman Amer­i­cans ad­mire most, ac­cord­ing to a yearly Gallup poll. But her cam­paign and the con­tro­versy over her use of a pri­vate email server as sec­re­tary of state have taken a toll: her favoura­bil­ity and trust­wor­thi­ness rat­ings have plum­meted. And she is be­ing car­i­ca­tured, once more, as a cal­cu­lat­ing and in­au­then­tic ca­reer politi­cian: Lady Mac­beth, now in her own play.

In the same way, her longevity and fame are not undi­luted as­sets: the bag­gage she brings as a con­sum­mate Demo­cratic in­sider, demon­strated most dam­ag­ingly in the enor­mous sums she com­manded as a paid speaker to Wall Street banks, has weighed Clin­ton down in an elec­tion cy­cle in which out­siders have had the wind at their backs.

Clin­ton’s ca­reer has not taken a pre­dictable route by any stretch. She came of age in the fem­i­nist move­ment in the 1960s at Welles­ley Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts – where she urged her peers to spurn in­cre­men­tal change and in­stead work at “mak­ing the im­pos­si­ble pos­si­ble”, then was drawn to the South in fur­ther­ance of her hus­band’s am­bi­tions. She was one of her hus­band’s chief cam­paign strate­gists and over­seer of a failed health­care ef­fort, while hold­ing her mar­riage to­gether through his sex scan­dals

and im­peach­ment.

Pow­er­ful women

But if she seemed to em­body con­tra­dic­tions, they also re­flected a so­ci­ety in which ex­pec­ta­tions of women – and women’s ex­pec­ta­tions for them­selves – were rapidly chang­ing. It has al­ways been hard to parse opin­ions about Clin­ton and about pow­er­ful women in gen­eral. Roy M Neel, who man­aged Al Gore’s 1992 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, said in an oral his­tory of the Bill Clin­ton years that women in the South par­tic­u­larly dis­liked Hil­lary Clin­ton, the first work­ing mother to serve as First Lady and the first – and, so far, the only – to have an of­fice in the West Wing, be­cause she “ap­peared to be some­thing of an af­front to their sense of who they were”. If age-old an­tipathies to Clin­ton can be chalked up in part to Amer­i­cans’ strug­gles to ad­just to chang­ing gen­der roles at home, at work and in pol­i­tics, her his­tory of political com­bat has also left scar tis­sue which, in part, de­fines the can­di­date she is: wideeyed about the re­al­i­ties of Wash­ing­ton, but cau­tious and wary to a fault. Her pro­longed con­test with San­ders, whose cam­paign was not widely ex­pected to sur­vive the first few nom­i­nat­ing con­tests, laid bare the cost of that re­straint, both in style and sub­stance. As vot­ers have grav­i­tated to Trump’s unchecked im­pul­sive­ness and San­ders’ un­abashed ide­al­ism, Clin­ton has dis­played lit­tle of ei­ther. “This is not an in­cre­men­tal, cau­tious elec­tion, and be­ing cau­tious is not her friend,” says Anna Green­berg, a Demo­cratic poll­ster. “Both pri­maries ex­posed the depth of anger and frus­tra­tion and dis­gust,” Green­berg adds. “She has had to, and will have to, ad­just to it.”

For 14 months, Clin­ton’s cam­paign has been out of step with younger vot­ers and with swathes of an an­gry elec­torate that has de­manded more than the com­pe­tence and hard work she has promised. Her dif­fi­cul­ties with those vot­ers could be a warning sign.

It has not helped that her cam­paign has cy­cled through half a dozen slo­gans, from cham­pi­oning “ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans” to “fight­ing for us”, “break­ing down bar­ri­ers” and, most re­cently, “stronger to­gether” – play­ing on Trump’s more di­vi­sive re­marks about Mex­i­cans, Mus­lims and other groups.

As San­ders has de­monised Wall Street and Trump has dis­par­aged im­mi­grants, and as they have vowed to re­verse eco­nomic malaise, Clin­ton has run on a flinty prac­ti­cal­ity. The most telling prom­ise she has made is that she will not over­promise. “We don’t need any more of that,” she has told vot­ers. But what she lacked in rhetor­i­cal brio, she has made up for by listening to peo­ple’s prob­lems and pre­scrib­ing so­lu­tions. She shed tears in con­ver­sa­tions with a man whose mother had Alzheimer’s and a woman who lost a child to a gun ac­ci­dent.

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity

And she has shown a vul­ner­a­bil­ity she did not re­veal in 2008, when she cam­paigned as a strong would-be com­man­der in chief, seek­ing to neu­tralise any doubts about whether she was tough enough for the Oval Of­fice.

“I am not a nat­u­ral politi­cian, in case you haven’t no­ticed, like my hus­band or Pres­i­dent Obama,” Clin­ton said in one of her de­bates with San­ders, a re­fresh­ingly hon­est state­ment.

“Peo­ple are so un­de­cided about how they feel about fe­male lead­er­ship, and it’s some­thing peo­ple re­ally strug­gle with,” says Demo­cratic New York Sen­a­tor Kirsten Gil­li­brand. “The am­bi­gu­ity about Hil­lary is out­side of her. It comes from peo­ple’s own per­spec­tives.”

At­ti­tudes about fe­male lead­er­ship even­tu­ally may change, of course. And in talk­ing to re­porters this week, hours be­fore re­ports that she had clinched the nom­i­na­tion, Clin­ton looked past Novem­ber to a time when fe­male pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates may not re­quire quite so much dura­bil­ity to have a shot at the White House.

“It’s pre­dom­i­nantly women and girls, but not ex­clu­sively – men bring their daugh­ters to meet me and tell me that they are sup­port­ing me be­cause of their daugh­ters,” Clin­ton said. “And I do think it will make a very big dif­fer­ence for a fa­ther or a mother to be able to look at their daugh­ter just like they can look at their son and say: ‘You can be any­thing you want to be in this coun­try, in­clud­ing pres­i­dent of the United States.’”

York Times News Ser­vice – New

Is Hil­lary Clin­ton the best Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for the White House and what ob­sta­cles will she face dur­ing her pres­i­den­tial race? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word HIL­LARY and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

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