The president she served, the president she married and the president she might become constitute the unfolding story arc of Hillary Clinton’s life – an evolving narrative that will continue to capture the attention of the entire world. What does her very public trifecta-in-life tell us about the kind of world leader Madame Hillary might become? There is plenty to ponder over the span of these phases in Hillary’s life, not the least of which is what can be reasonably inferred from her relationships?
If you’re a questioning thinker, then you’ll likely accept also that gender introduces a complex dynamic – a so-called “third-wave” feminism. A pent-up social movement that’s not completely dissimilar to the movement that elected the first African-American president in 2008.
Although gender and race are in no way indicators of a lack of leadership, troubling is that Americans may have already forgotten Madame Hillary’s meek acquiescence as a senator while President George Bush was running roughshod over the nation pushing through his radical right agenda – the Patriot Act, wars, drones, torture, renditions and so on.
Nobody Can Articulate Exactly Why They’re Willing to Support Her
Writing for The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza described attending a recent week long Ready for Hillary – super PAC – event at the Sheraton on Fifty-third Street in New York, where a series of panels were given by well-known Clinton-world personalities. “Everyone in the [Democratic] party seems to be supporting her, and yet nobody can articulate exactly why,” Lizza observed, underscoring the fact that Hillary has yet to say what she might want to do as President.
In contrast – present circumstances being much different – I recall leading up to President Bill Clinton’s declared candidacy that he was very specific – even detailed – about framing his presidential agenda. In fairness, that was a different era and those were the early days of the 24/7 cable news cycle.
To help struggling working-class and pink-collar women sort through the density of information surrounding Hillary’s professional public life and possibly provide some insight into the thoughts of Americans, I reached out for the opinions of two professional women. One, a California physician – Cole Fulwider, MD – the other a lawyer – Samer Hathout, a Los Angeles County prosecutor – both intellectually engaged and accomplished women.
The idea generally – at this early stage – was to hear from professional women who identify with the “glass ceiling” of a career and have wrestled up close and personal with the struggles of American life. They are women whom others might identify with, understand and respect.
RA Monaco: Provide a summary description of yourself as a professional – how would you like to be presented professionally, as a woman, an American? Include causes and movements that you’ve supported and identify with?
Dr. Fulwider: I am a physician and independently thinking woman who takes care of her own affairs. I am successful in my career and personal life. Native American rights, Black rights, NAACP, College fund, Southern Poverty Law Center,American Friends Society.
Samer Hathout: I am a prosecutor by profession. I identify as an American Muslim woman of African descent. I’m involved in social justice issues along with the empowerment of women [and] ending the slave trade in women [and] children and a follower of the “Half the Sky” movement by Kristof & Wudin.
RA Monaco: As a professional woman do you identify in any way with a social movement that might claim to be breaking the glass ceiling of the Oval Office and “that’s making history” by voting to elect Hillary as our first Madame President?
Dr. Fulwider: I think if she wins the Democratic nomination and can beat the Republicans, that takes priority over her being a woman doing that. I appreciate the difficulty of getting to that level as a woman.
Samer Hathout: I consider myself to be a feminist. The first female president will be a victory for that cause, but I also question whether it would actually change the system, since our first African American president was unable to change the system in meaningful ways.
RA Monaco: Do you see voting for Hillary as making history? Or, is it repeating history and the policies of President Bill Clinton?
Dr. Fulwider: I do not think she will be constrained by Bill’s style or policies.
Samer Hathout: I don’t think she’ll necessarily repeat Bill Clinton, but I don’t see her being a change maker. Of course, our first woman president will be historical, but I don’t see massive changes in policy.
RA Monaco: Which do you believe would be a more likely result if Hillary were elected President: a) The policies of President Obama would have continuity upon which she would build; or b) she would represent a new leader that can bring us together to make change confronting the problems of the nation?
Dr. Fulwider: Each era has its own circumstances and she would navigate them herself with her own priorities. However, the militaristic attitude of our country is deeply ingrained and would be difficult to escape for any reasonable person because of advisors, economic reasons and plain old propaganda.
Samer Hathout: Just as Obama was a continuation, Hillary will be too. Our country is not run as much by our elected leaders as we think it is. Our leaders cater to the capitalist enterprises that keep them in power.
RA Monaco: Do you agree that older voters would relate well to Hillary – her life journey and numerous family struggles?
Dr. Fulwider: Yes and younger voters might not be burdened by misogyny as much, except for the religious fundamentalists.
Samer Hathout: Older women perhaps, but I don’t think older men will be influenced.
RA Monaco: Would younger voters find it difficult to relate to her because of her role in the Obama Administration?
Dr. Fulwider: I don’t think so.
Samer Hathout: Her involvement with the Obama administration may give her more credibility with younger voters since Obama was able to garner a younger demographic [and] harness that energy (at least early on in his term).
RA Monaco: What personal trait or event would you point to, if any, that would demonstrate or support the case that Hillary possesses the capacity for strong leadership?
Dr. Fulwider: Her capability to compromise without giving up, her persistence in serving the public, her desire to lead, her remarkable intelligence and her caring attitude all contribute to her ability to lead.
Samer Hathout: Her rise politically in a man’s world and her ability to come out from her husband’s shadow.
RA Monaco: If you can recall the Benghazi related clip of Hillary saying, “What difference does it make?” Do you think that clip will harm her ability to offer herself up as the strong leader American needs?
Dr. Fulwider: That was out of context and will require an ad to neutralize its effect.
Samer Hathout: If explained in full I think it makes her stronger because she won’t let herself be bullied.
RA Monaco: Do you see Hillary as a strong willed independent decision maker who would stand on her own affirmations – even without the support or endorsement of her husband?
Dr. Fulwider: Yes.
Samer Hathout: She doesn’t need her husband, but she’s still beholden to the system.
RA Monaco: If Hillary becomes the Democratic Nominee would you support her over the current crop of potential GOP candidates?
Dr. Fulwider: Of course.
Samer Hathout: Definitely.
RA Monaco: Do you favor a different candidate as the Democratic Nominee? If yes, who?
Dr. Fulwider: I like Elizabeth Warren because of her attempt to rein in the financial kings of Wall Street.
Samer Hathout: So far Elizabeth Warren if she continues to fight against the power elite.
RA Monaco: Would Hillary be positive for immigrations?
Dr. Fulwider: Probably.
Samer Hathout: Yes as would any Democrat.
RA Monaco: Would Hillary be positive for the environment?
Dr. Fulwider: Probably.
Samer Hathout: Depends on the power [and] money of the opposing side – again same as the majority of Democrats.
RA Monaco: Would Hillary be positive for privacy?
Dr. Fulwider: I’m not sure, but I hope so.
Samer Hathout: I doubt it. The power structure needs privacy rights to be curtailed.
RA Monaco: Would Hillary be positive for civil liberties?
Dr. Fulwider: Yes, especially women’s rights to control their bodies.
Samer Hathout: I don’t think she’ll stand out from any other Democrat.
Shouldering the Record of Her Husband
Requesting more on her take of whether Hillary’s campaign image would have to shoulder the record of her husband President Bill Clinton – a record where the President and Republicans aimed only at social services and joined together against big government – Dr. Fulwider responded with an unqualified, “No, not at all. Particularly because I think of her as a one termer…more free to be progressive.”
Only one term, really? What did this well read, politically engaged professional woman – having lived as an adult through the entirety of Hillary’s very public career experiencing many of the same challenges – see that brought her to the conclusion that Hillary would be “more free to be progressive?” Her use of the word “progressive” left me wondering – as a member of the other sex – what clues I had missed that suggested Hillary would ever be progressive.
“It’s about time we stop blaming the poor and seek to help rather than exploit them like revenue hungry municipalities are presently doing,” lamented Dr. Fulwider.
Was America waiting for a Madame President to break the two hundred year cycle of a government that has continued to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful – land to railroads, tax breaks to oil corporations and using its armed forces to suppress strikes, rebellions and now domestic protests?
Are Today’s Women Leaders Just Figureheads
Both Samer Hathout and Dr. Fulwider’s responses left me pondering a larger question – the answer likely to be the same for men and women – are today’s women leaders just figureheads or real? The response of Ms. Hathout continues to resonate, “Our country is not run as much by our elected leaders as we think it is.” If given the chance, would Hillary be a leader at all?
Although politicians and their nation-states seem more constrained than ever, the records of individual women leaders like Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany suggest – for better or worse – they’re a potent force.
On the other hand, author Naomi Wolf who, as an advocate of “power feminism” – which holds that women must assert themselves politically to achieve their goals – questions whether women like Hillary are being called in when the ship is sinking?
Having advised the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Naomi Wolf noted, “The sad irony is that women are finding their moment in the political sun at a time when the nation-states they are leading are finding their ability to forge national solutions to their problems extremely limited.”
Private Actors Taking the Place of Governments
Most disconcerting – in these moments – is the growing trend driving international trade treaties, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that allows private actors to take the place of governments, legislatures, and heads of state in setting policy. Given Bill Clinton’s record of having fostered and endorsed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and recent fast-track efforts during the Obama Administration driving the TPP – policies that would essentially neuter the voices of the American people, even our own Congress – it seems fair to question whether Hillary and other women are emerging at the top because men do not want to take the blame for the fallout and impending failures of the nation-states.
While Madame Hillary has endorsed president Obama’s executive authority to prevent the deportation of as many as five million undocumented immigrants, she hasn’t said what she thinks about his proposed National Security Agency reforms. Also, even though she was in charge of the process that will eventually lead to a decision about whether the Obama Administration would allow TransCanada to build its pipeline transporting crude from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico – a defining issue for environmentalists – Hillary has been conspicuously silent about the Keystone XL pipeline, leaving little doubt about her cautious political calculations.
Our Short-Term-Oriented Political System
The idea that Dr. Fulwider already saw Hillary “as a one termer,” highlights our short-term-oriented political system which hasn’t been very good – read terrible – at addressing long-term problems. Is it a consequence of the influence on our leaders and the “capitalist enterprises that keep them in power” as suggested by Ms. Hathout?
America needs a leader with a plan to bring back the middle class which has seen its share of the nation’s income decline since 1970. Considering all of the recent Census data, The Economist reported that, “The most unequal country in the rich world is thus becoming even more so.”
President Obama’s education secretary has said that “our education system hasn’t done enough to help Americans compete” in the global economy. A new study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development supports the observation.
Also, it’s hard to put an economic price tag on a worse-case scenario that could follow if we were to continue to sit on our “climate change” hands – a topic that is apparently beyond our society’s ability to address. Americans seem to think that the scientific community is divided on the cause of global warming despite that since 1991, “roughly 97 percent of all published scientific papers that take a position on the question agree that humans are warming the planet,” that’s according to a piece earlier this year in The Washington Post.
In a worst case scenario, avoiding human extinction might depend upon our finding someone other than a figurehead – an actual leader. Someone not “beholden to the system” as Ms. Hathout suggested – willing to “fight against the power elite” or “rein in the financial kings of Wall Street” as Dr. Fulwider said.
The Legal System and the Legitimacy of the Market
Without real leadership our domestic economy is destined to continue to suffer the side effects of these failures which are likely to last a long time. At risk is losing our trust in the legal system and the legitimacy of the market – fairness is central to our incredible history of cooperation as a nation and the human species.
The issue is not just that the US is one election or financial crisis or a few percentage points of income concentration away from becoming an ungovernable state. Rather, our leaders don’t seem to understand our social structure well enough to manipulate it for the greater good.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not easy to feel optimistic about America’s economic future. Without a real leader – not “beholden to the system” that has a substantive plan – the seriousness of these long-term trends should signal alarm.
America may have reached that breakthrough moment when gender is no longer the most important issue – which for Hillary could grow into a social movement. However, the important question at this moment isn’t where we’re being led, but will Hillary lead?