US Analysis: A Clinton Win is Not A Victory for Women — It’s A Defeat for Political Opportunity

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Helen Laville, Reader in American History at the University of Birmingham, writes a Birmingham Perspective:


Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she intends to seek the Democratic nomination for President of the United States surprised no one — we’ve been here before.

In 2008 Clinton ran a solid campaign only to be blindsided by the irresistible promise of Barack Obama. This time round she looks almost certain to secure the nomination. If she then wins the election, she will be the first female President of the United States of America.

But who beside Hillary wins?

See also US Audio Analysis: Is Hillary on the Way to the White House?
US Audio Analysis: Hillary Runs For President

Focusing attention on the Presidential race is as tempting as it is misleading. The media circus that is the US Presidential elections is a fascinating drama, and watching the candidates slug it out can become addictive. At the heart of this drama is the enormous symbolic importance of the Presidency to the American Dream.

Children all across the US are brought up to believe that the great thing about America is that anyone can be President. “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story,’ Obama told a captivated 2004 Democratic convention. “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

Clinton’s 2008 campaign for the presidency similarly suggested her run for office had a symbolic value beyond personal ambition or partisan goals. In response to a heckler chanting, “Iron my shirt,” Clinton declared, “I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling for our daughters.”

The mythology of the Presidential office feeds a particularly American glorification of the promise of individual accomplishment at the expense of collective progress. The election of Obama led many to declare that America was “post-racial”, a premature declaration of victory that cases of racially-motivated police violence from Ferguson, Missouri to South Carolina have decisively disproved.

The election of Hillary Clinton will no doubt be greeted with similar assertions that America is “post-gender”. But the use of one or two people as a litmus test for the values of an entire society is grossly misleading. The focus on high-profile female politicians such as Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin obscures the massive under-representation of women in American politics. Women currently make up only 19.3% of the current House of Representatives, and only six of the 50 State Governors are women.

True, a Clinton victory might go some way to inspiring American daughters to imagine themselves in the Oval Office. It is equally possible that a bruising and brutally sexist election campaign will have the same effect in discouraging and depressing women’s political ambitions that Clinton and Palin’s 2008 campaigns had.

What will be most telling about a Clinton victory is not that Hillary will be the first woman to win the Presidency, but that she will be the second Clinton to do so. American politics is becoming an increasingly small field. Despite the rhetoric that anyone can grow up to be President, the stranglehold of American political dynasties is astonishing. The Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons, the Gores, the Romneys — the value of a family brand in American politics is in striking contrast to the ideals of individualism at the heart of the American Dream.

African-American activist Stokely Carmichael once observed: “It is not radical if Martin Luther King becomes President, if decisions are still made from the top down….If decisions get made from the bottom up, that’s radical.” His point was that getting a black man into the White House did not in itself change the racism endemic in American society.

Getting a white woman into the White House is an equally narrow victory. And if that woman is Hillary Clinton, it speaks not to the broadening, but to the narrowing of political opportunity in America.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I partley agree that a women president would be largely symbolic but it could be the start of getting more women in politics if its conceivable that they could get to the top of the tree. Also I really doubt that many would honestly take issue with a women president in modern America, this is 2015 not 1955 after all.

    Speaking of dynasties (mildly inaccurate to call the Clintons a dynasty as they married not blood relatives) what happened to the Roosevelts, do they have any influence these days? What about the families of other famous presidents like Lincoln and Washington? Also political families are quite common in Europe (though not really in the UK), e.g. in Greece there is the Rallis in Greece, have had 3 prime ministers, one 2nd of whom was the German puppet of WW2.

  2. In Iran, Presidential candidates are pre-selected by the Supreme Leader; in USA, it is done more complicatedly by a combination of Wall St., the Pentagon and AIPAC [i.e. the ultimate veto belongs to the Supreme Leader of Israel].

    In both cases no-one opposed to the system can succeed.

    • I really don’t think you have a clue what you’re talking about. You’re just repeating the garden variety conspiracy theories that emanate from places such as Iran. It’s pretty tedious really. So much ignorance. I doubt you know the first thing about how someone becomes a Presidential candidate in the US beyond the senseless conspiracy theories you read throughout the backwards middle east.

      • Which of the current US Presidential candidates has not shown grovelling obeisance to Israel and been caught on camera dry-humping the Whaling Wall in a skullcap?

        Which one has not promised to increase military spending?

        Which one has not promised to relieve the already practically non-existent tax-burden on their corporate billionaire sponsors?

        • Wow. Someone is even more ignorant than I originally believed. Well, let the education begin.

          “Which of the current US Presidential candidates has not shown grovelling obeisance to Israel and been caught on camera dry-humping the Whaling Wall in a skullcap?”

          Umm…how about the current president? Perhaps you were living under a rock when Obama’s advisors called Netanyahu a “chickensh**”. Not to mention the strong opposition to Israeli settlement expansion and the continuation of talks with Iran despite determined opposition by Israel and AIPAC. I would hardly call that a “groveling obeisance to Israel”. If you’re talking about forsaking Israel’s security for the benefit of the terrorist regime in Iran, then that will never happen. We aren’t about to just let Israel’s neighbors push it into the sea the way that the deeply anti-Semitic middle east really wants and that has nothing to do with AIPAC or an Israeli conspiracy. Why? Because the American people have always overwhelmingly supported those policies. The more I hear from irrational people like you, the more I sympathize with the type of people Israel has had to deal with for their entire history.

          “Which one has not promised to increase military spending?”

          Again, look no further than the current president. Perhaps you were asleep while Obama has repeatedly slashed the military budget. This isn’t rocket science. You can take about two minutes to research this and find out for yourself instead of spreading rambling conspiracy theories. He did it well before he was elected to his second term.

          “Which one has not promised to relieve the already practically non-existent tax-burden on their corporate billionaire sponsors?”

          Well gee whiz. You really stumped me on this one. Oh, wait a second. No, actually Obama has already proposed 4 TRILLION dollar tax hike on the rich. Actually, throughout both his terms he has steadily raised taxes on the rich. Gee, this was really hard. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re just repeating the same mindless and factually incorrect conspiracy theories common in a part of the world not exactly known for their brilliance and democratic principles. I just love how people like you always act like the will of the American people means nothing and that everything which happens is some dark Israeli/AIPAC/Military industrial complex/rich corporation conspiracy theory. How do you say “absurd hyperbole” and “paranoid” in Persian?

            • … and here’s his humiliating act of obeisance when he was a candidate … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUFa6d4R6OU

              Also, Mr Killlist DroneBoy never slashed the military budget, just imperceptibly retarded its phenomenal growth rate.

              Finally, he gifted more government money [to be extracted from the poor] to Wall St. than anyone in history.

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