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Hillary Clinton has been in the national spotlight since 1992, and has had more than her share of notoriety since her college days as the first woman commencement speaker at Wellesley College. So while I wasn’t sure exactly how the contributors to Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox would feel about HRC, as a political junkie from way back, I thought at this point in Clinton’s public life I knew almost all there was to know about her. It turns out I was wrong. In the research and the editing of this book, I actually learned many things about her, and about how she is viewed by voters, that surprised me, some of which could actually influence the outcome of the election:
1. Millennials may “date” Bernie, but they’ll “marry” Hillary. Almost every week, there’s a new poll claiming that the coveted bloc of Millennial voters is running toward Bernie Sanders like teen girls chasing Maroon 5. On the surface, that sounds like bad news for Hillary Clinton, since it’s generally acknowledged that she must win over that group of voters to make it to the White House. But polling shows that Gen Y-ers overwhelmingly want a Democrat in White House in 2016. So if things go Hillary’s way in the primaries, Millennial voters may still pine for Bernie, but they’ll settle down with Hillary.
2. Hillary has to be smart and likable. Barack Obama’s now infamous remark in a 2008 presidential debate – “You’re likable enough, Hillary” – may have doomed her campaign. Research shows that even though women voters say they want candidates to be qualified, the double bind for women candidates is that to be seen as qualified, they also have to be “likable.” As for guys? Women voters don’t demand the same, which is apparently good news for Donald Trump. For better or worse, Hillary Clinton must make sure that she is incorporating personal likability with professional experience in her campaign messaging. That is, at least until we as voters can get past the idea of needing a woman to be our BFF to earn our vote.
3. Some baby boomers still can’t forgive Hillary for not leaving Bill. Gen X and Gen Y voters don’t seem to care. You’d think that if voters were still stewing over the infamous woman in the blue dress, they’d hold it more against Bill Clinton than Hillary. Yet Bill has gone on to become a beloved international statesman, and Monica Lewinsky has earned another 15 minutes of fame by becoming an anti-bullying advocate. But more women than I care to count say they aren’t sure they can vote for Hillary because she didn’t leave her marriage after her husband’s affair came to light, believing that she only stayed because of what they perceived as calculating, personal ambition. Maybe Clinton’s performance at the most recent round of Benghazi hearings, as well as her stance on dealing with global terror, can convince them that regardless of her personal marital decisions, she actually is qualified for the job.
4. Hillary needs to play the grandma card. Many critics say that Hillary Clinton’s decision to embrace her gender in this campaign, rather than run from it as she did in 2008, is pandering and that she just can’t decide who she wants to be. But in this race, taking that a step further and playing the grandma card could work to her advantage. For one thing, it takes the question off the table that was seriously raised by some of her opponents last time, about whether a hormonal woman should be near the nuke button. Plus, it makes her a spokesperson for the domestic issues many voters are focused on now, like paid family leave. And as for that 3 a.m. phone call we worried about in the last presidential contest? As a 67-year-old woman, we know Hillary is probably already going to be awake for it thanks to post-menopausal insomnia.
5. Someday, you’ll be able to get your B.A. in Hillary Studies. I was a wonky political science major in college, so I’m fascinated with all things Hillary. But I never expected to find innumerable scholarly articles and professor-written books about her. Since her first run for the White House in 2008, countless academic articles have been written with titles like “Rhymes with Blunt: Pornification & U.S. Political Culture” and “Texts and Tweets from Hillary: Meta-Meming and Post-feminist Political Culture,” not to mention books with titles like Hillary Clinton in the News: Gender and Authenticity in American Politics and Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture. With all these, and more, that set out to parse our endless fascination with all things Clinton, can a Hillary Studies major at some colleges be too far off?
6. For better or worse, you can’t take Bill Clinton out of Hillary’s candidacy. Out of 28 essays in LHLHN, written by women of different ages, political parties and backgrounds, almost half of them make some reference to Hillary’s marriage to Bill Clinton and what that relationship means – good or bad – to how they view her as a presidential candidate. This focus on whether the personal aspects of her life with the former president, known sometimes just as #42, might be a reflection of the media coverage Hillary has received over decades. But it is hard to escape, since she is the first First Lady to seek the White House in her own right. And that begs the question of whether the first woman president should or could be riding into the Oval Office on her spouse’s coattails.
7. Her cookies beat out Barbara Bush’s. No, cookies aren’t a qualification for being elected president, but as we all know, Hillary was once infamously criticized for her somewhat caustic remark that she pursued her legal career rather than “staying home and baking cookies. At the time of that First Lady faux pas, Family Circle magazine invited her and then-First Lady Barbara Bush to battle it out over who did have the better chocolate chip cookie recipe. Even though Clinton had made it clear that cookie baking was not her forte, her Oatmeal Chocolate Chip recipe beat Barbara’s traditional version hands down! That’s probably something granddaughter Charlotte has to look forward to.
8. She’s a good neighbor who loves a Memorial Day parade. According to Chappaqua locals, almost every year since 2002, Hillary has marched with the Girl Scouts in her adopted hometown’s annual Memorial Day parade. She once told The New York Times, “I put this on my calendar every year, and I basically tell my staff, I really, really, really want to do this.” And even though she spends more time in Washington, D.C. than in sleepy Chappaqua, many local businesses attest to the fact that she is a good neighbor who has always made a point of patronizing their establishments, especially when her daughter Chelsea got married. That’s good business and good politics, especially as it relates to the whole likability factor.
9. Some people who won’t vote for her can’t help but admire her. That was one of the most interesting discoveries to me as I worked on LHLHN: The Hillary Paradox – take out the Hillary faithful and the uber-haters, and what you’re left with is a politician many people feel differently about on different days. Some women don’t want her to be president, but acknowledge that the walls she’s knocked down for those who come after her are significant. Others know that she’s a talented diplomat whose clout around the world should be used, they’d just like it to be from somewhere other than the Oval Office. In the end, these are the very voters Hillary must convince to give her a chance to finally break that highest and hardest glass ceiling.
10. She really is a paradox. In Gallup polling, Hillary Clinton has been voted the most admired woman in the world 17 times, yet The New York Times is on record as having called her the “most hated First Lady” ever. The media have referred to her has “nagging”, “controlling” and “conniving” but also as “loyal”, “fearless” and “intelligent.” Whether this disconnect is just a Hillary thing or a powerful woman thing, voters will have to decide if they can support a woman candidate who is full of contradictions, just as we all are, and whether they can be comfortable thinking that qualifications outweigh both the good and the bad terms tossed around to describe her in a way few male candidates are ever talked about.
Regardless of how the 2016 presidential race turns out, these questions raised about Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly impact other women who run for the White House after her. So we may as well sort out our thoughts now on how these issues about impact how we view women candidates.