Former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this week that she would like to see a female president of the United States in her lifetime. What she did not clarify is whether she would like that woman in the White House to be herself.
We can explore whether Hillary would be a viable candidate or president, but the question that needs to first be addressed is why there is such a hang-up and obsession in this most advanced society of ours about the idea of a female head of state.
To be straightforward about this obsessiveness, we must understand the ridiculous intimation here that we need to be skeptical about having the country led by a woman. Beneath the surface of speeches on the subject by Hillary and the news media in general is that for some reason a woman—unlike the men that will have preceded her—is not up to the task of leading the greatest country in the world.
Considering that some major countries have been led by women, including very capable and competent as well as charismatic people like Golda Meir in Israel, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and, today, Angela Merkel in Germany, amongst many others, is there a suggestion somewhere beneath the surface that there is something particularly inferior about an American woman in the White House?
That there are and have been presidents, prime ministers, and international leaders who are women is a casual as well as uninteresting matter of fact in many countries today. Some of those are Ireland, Croatia, Philippines, Trinidad, Bangladesh, and Slovakia, amongst others. There are few headlines or heart-stopping stories over these political facts. But here in the U.S., everything comes to a halt over the prospects that somewhere out there is a woman that might someday become President of the United States.
Before we go any further, let’s take a step back and look at the history of the idea of running a woman as candidate for vice-president. The question at that level is basically the same—why such obsessiveness and why is it such a big deal? Perhaps it is that so much in this country, despite its alleged and so-called openness and acceptance of equality between the sexes, is in reality just not as it is represented to be.
Back some time ago when then-congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro of Queens ran with Senator Walter Monday of Minnesota against Ronald Reagan in 1984, it drew a great deal of attention to the Democratic hopefuls but did not improve Mondale’s chances that year, and Reagan went on to steamroll over Mondale-Ferraro, winning in 49 states, including in some of the most serious Democratic and left-wing bastions like New York and California.
The gesture of selecting a female for vice-president—a position that media outlets here love to refer to as being “a heartbeat away from the presidency”—has to date been an endeavor enveloped in gossip and hype rather than serious political or strategic maneuvering. This was indeed even more so when Senator John McCain selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate to oppose Barack Obama in 2008.
Palin came across as a good balance for the seriousness associated with Senator McCain but failed to communicate a toughness or soberness that one would need when in fact they are one cardiac-monitor blip away from running the greatest and certainly the most important country in the world.
Neither Palin nor Ferraro before her had the gravitas or seriousness of leadership that Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher exuded. So serious and hard-hitting was Meir that David Ben-Gurion once referred to her as being “the best man for the job” of prime minister. It’s doubtful anyone would be able to survive that kind of comment in this day and age.
Which brings us to the 2016 presidential contest and the speculation that is rife in the media about whether Hillary will consider running, whether she has what it takes to become this country’s first woman president and whether she will be considered too old for the job by the time 2016 rolls around (she will turn 69 that year).
More interesting in this dynamic will be the status of former president Bill Clinton if in fact his wife, Hillary, should achieve success in 2016. He will of course still be a former president but will also be the First Gentleman or First Man or whatever one will refer to the husband of a president as. So influential was Mrs. Clinton during Bill Clinton’s presidency that at times that administration was considered a co-presidency of sorts. And that may be the case this time as well, perhaps to an even greater extent.
Even though Hillary Clinton logged over six million miles as Secretary of State, her lack of achievement as a politician, particularly in Washington’s favorite Arab–Israel conflict, is notable. Particularly in the aftermath of the Benghazi debacle, Hillary ought to be considered a damaged politician. But in particular because she is who she is, and is a woman who is a serious contender to be the first female president in the history of this country, she seems to be somewhat immune to any long-lasting irreparable damage, regardless of how severe. Frankly, it’s difficult to ascertain what precisely Mrs. Clinton was doing as she accumulated those six million frequent-flyer miles in order to improve the condition in the world.
In other words, what makes Hillary Clinton the female frontrunner at this stage of the game aside from the fact that she is Hillary Clinton? I mean can’t this country get serious about leadership at this critical juncture in world history? As Hillary said when she testified before Congress on the Benghazi fiasco, “What difference does it make what happened?” To that I would like to add, what difference does it make whether the president and leader of our country is male or female? After more than four years of Barack Obama already, and facing the need to endure eight years of his presidency, don’t you think we have perhaps had enough of setting records or breaking gender or race barriers?
It’s an odd thing, but despite our history of being a melting pot it seems that the great immigrant dissolve has slowed or perhaps even stopped and we are now rather overtly and most definitely a sectarian society. And that is true in particular when it comes to our leaders.
The unusual dynamic here is that a lot of the women out there just want a woman to be president, and it matters little whether its Broom-Hilda or Hillary. And that is most likely true of many in the Latino community who want to see Senator Marco Rubio or someone of his background or heritage become president someday. It was certainly true of Barack Obama in both his first and second term. His policies were not that vital or important; what was central to many African-Americans was that they shared a heritage with the president.
The only exception to the rule and to where there is discomfort with the matter is in the Jewish community. In 2000, when Al Gore selected Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, many in the community were supportive, but not because he was Jewish. We supported Lieberman because he was a good, honest, and hardworking man. He would have been a great vice-president, but there were still reservations. No other ethnic group or religion seems to have these issues. Those reservations run along the lines of: What happens if something goes wrong, perhaps even terribly wrong, during an administration with someone like Joe Lieberman in power—an Orthodox Jew on top of all else. It’s pretty simple. We harbor a fear that not only will the public blame it on Lieberman, but through him and because of him on Jews everywhere.
That’s why during that campaign we witnessed a great many questions, as well as hesitation and discomfort. I mean, people would articulate, do we really need a Jewish vice-president who is only a heartbeat away from, oh my, you know what . . . ?
These concerns do not exist in any other community. So Benghazi or no, Bill Clinton’s wife or not, and take or leave the fact that Hillary hasn’t any real accomplishments to her name. She has the name and is the right gender at what may be the perfect time in history. Sure, it’s an American media-driven obsession, but we love it. Run, Hil, run. You go, girl! v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at email@example.com.