Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is Hillary Harming Feminism?

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s victory in the New Hampshire primary was a costly one. Not for her campaign—it was reinvigorated—but to the cause she had always been associated with: feminism. Since then, Clinton’s campaign for the White House has used the same formula: make Hillary feminine.

Reeling from her loss to Senator Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses and behind on every poll, Hillary Clinton came into New Hampshire knowing she needed to turn the tide in her favor. She was unlikable, said many, so her campaign machinery turned from an icon of the feminist movement into a blubbering contestant. It worked, sadly, suggesting that Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of a strong woman. She was not any more aggressive than any of the candidates, but she was a woman usurping a role reserved for men and that did not sit well with voters. She has to assume the role we reserved for her. She had to become “the weaker sex”.

Still uncomfortable with Obama’s popularity, the Clinton campaign dismembered feminism a second time by binding Hillary to her husband. Former President William Clinton was unleashed upon Obama protecting her weakling wife in what was until then, a fair fight. This strategy admits that Hillary cannot win the Democratic nomination on her own and she has to hang on to her husband’s coattails. She has been domesticated in the hopes that voters will finally accept her and elect her President.

Hillary Clinton could have pursued her path to the White House without gutting the feminist movement. She was given an opportunity to capitalize on her strengths but she responded inadequately. During the New Hampshire debate, she was asked why voters seemed to find her unlikable. “Well, that hurts my feelings,” she joked. Hillary Clinton has nothing to apologize for. Her strength comes from a time when women had to be loud to be heard and forceful to be taken seriously. Her strength is an asset, not a liability.

The Clinton camp might have feared that Hillary would not have survived New Hampshire. Better to shed a tear, and alter your personality, than to miss a historic opportunity to win the White House. Hillary has to win now because she can always be a feminist later. She’s the first and only woman to seek the Presidency –we can dial down her strengths and surely no harm can come from powdering her nose a bit. It is a strategic decision that will not possibly hurt feminism.

No. Winning at all costs diminishes Senator Clinton and everything she stands for. Like most other candidates she comes across as one who will say or do anything to win.
Should the voters choose another candidate for the 2008 presidential elections and end Hillary’s run for the White House then so be it. She is too important to lose as an icon. If she is elected President, she can never be the champion we thought that she was. What else will she sacrifice to win the Presidency? What else will she compromise to stay in office?

Hillary Clinton is not the candidate for change. She is tethered to her husband and his past. They are a husband are now a package but she is the weaker half who cannot win elective office without her popular husband by her side.

The Clinton campaign opted for the easy way out. It recast Senator Clinton as vulnerable and dependent unable to fight her battle by herself. But I imagine that this has to be so much harder on Mrs. Clinton. She strips herself of her strengths and appears more vulnerable for the sake of the nomination. This has to be insulting and excruciating for a person of her intelligence. It is difficult just to watch her doing it.

Of course, the Clinton camp’s strategy may work. Americans may vote the new softer Hillary for President in November. But students of politics may have expected an epic clash where Senator Clinton takes a field of aspirants and eventually triumphs on the strength of her public record and her character. She should win because she is strong. Some part of us wants her to take on that challenge and to be the first woman President of the United States. But Hillary Clinton will not become the first woman President of the United States. She will be the first President fortunate enough to be married to William Jefferson Clinton.

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