The Hillary Clinton Conundrum
A refrain from Hillary Clinton’s supporters is that the treatment, coverage, and expectations faced by her campaign are unjust, unfair, and (likely most pointedly) not what a male would face with the same record of experience. The trap many fall into at this point is either agreeing with this assertion if one supports Clinton, or dismissing it immediately if one doe not. My assertion, though, would be that as with most things political – the grey zone of moderation is where the truth hides. Certainly, there is a degree of expectation and analysis that Clinton faces that is more unique to her gender. This shouldn’t act to swell or shrink her support on its own, but it should draw the attention of an informed electorate. Why, in this age - an age that should be marked by equality and justice - do sex (and race, as well) limit the standard of judgment of an individual?
As superficial as it may sound, one particular example of note would be the expectation to dress for the part. The trouble is that the specifics and expectations tied to that tend to exist on a sliding scale with gender. A man can appear in a simple suit and a stylish tie and be seen as the exact expectation of political or governmental leadership material. A woman in politics, much as a woman in general in our society, finds it far more difficult to dress for the role with the same minimal efforts. Trump even acts as a sounding board for this line of thinking when one looks over his critiques of female opponents on either side of the aisle (Carly Fiorina during the primaries, and Hillary Clinton in the election proper – just to name two of many examples of sexist bashing from Trump). This line of analysis draws light on a clear disparity in how the public treats male versus female political candidates (and there’s certainly a parallel to examine within American society in general), but it’s clear that it shouldn’t exist to anyone who truly embraces notions of equality. In brief: candidates should be judged far less on presentation and far more on content. In practice, males tend to be granted this kindness more readily than females.
The real trouble, I fear, is that it goes farther than that. Some voters even openly admit their unwillingness to entrust the leadership of our nation to a female. There’s a degree of sexist mistrust that permeates an unfortunate, hopefully small, portion of our populace. The challenge there is that there are examples of female leadership to be seen across the world (Angela Merkel in Germany coming most immediately to mind, but more dated examples could be cited with the likes of Margaret Thatcher). It seems laughable that we, the land of the free and the home of the brave, would lack the courage and wisdom to apply that freedom and equality to political leadership. The question becomes one of whether we are the nation that embodies the ideals of equality and enlightenment, or the nation that staggers and resists such noble aspirations.
The sole counter that feels necessary to lend credence to with this argument is this: there is a difference between applying sexist views to one’s political ideology and simply finding a candidate problematic or repugnant in and of themselves. For liberal readers the most immediate names in American politics that come to mind would likely be Sarah Palin & Michele Bachmann. Both candidates entered the political arena, fought the good fight, found their places in office, and acted in the way they felt best for their state or nation. The trouble is the gaffes, missteps, mistakes, and ineptitude of both Palin & Bachmann becomes undeniable at some point to nearly any rational observer. The problem isn’t their gender, but their questionable ideology and lack of knowledge. And so we come full circle to the question this election is asking of us: where does Hillary Clinton stand from a rational, detached assessment. Does she fall short in matters of ideology, experience, and public trust because of her gender, or because of her actions?
The answer, I must concede, is difficult to clearly read. Clinton’s background and experience in politics, government, and law is extensive. She has views and policies that are clearly defined, but we (the public) have seen her views evolve and change with time, emerging facts, and new data. She is well known both nationally and internationally – a factor that makes her ideal for coping with affairs both domestic and foreign. While her hawkish side is something some liberals are uncomfortable with, it may well be a selling point against the sexiest argument that her gender might tie her too closely to pacifism. This same hawkishness also shores up any potential sexist views of feminine weakness that some foreign leaders might hold. There are certainly misjudgments and short-comings that can be credited to Clinton: her support for the Iraq war, her disquieting association with Wall Street to the benefit of her personal finances, her slowly shifting views regarding gay marriage, etc. However – the two examples that stand most prominently in this election tend to be the controversies regarding Benghazi and her e-mail scandal. Benghazi has been investigated extensively, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence findings from 2014 offered stark conclusions that while events could have been better handled or prepared for there was no noted effort for a cover up or attempts to mislead investigators. While this would, one would hope, take the wind out of such sails – it has still failed to. Whether this is evidence of sexism pushing back against a landmark female politician or simply an attempt to dethrone a potent Democrat is difficult to assess. The e-mail scandal marks a more pointed problem, though, as Clinton herself conceded in 2015 that she owned responsibility for the e-mail usage and that she didn’t believe confidential materials were being transmitted over unsecure channels. FBI notations released in the last month, though, paint a different picture: with Clinton admitting that she relied on staffers to determine what material was confidential and admitting her ignorance at recognizing notations marking said confidential material.
The ultimate assessment though, is that Hillary Clinton is much like all politicians: a combination of assets and liabilities. To the rational observer her assets seem to clearly outnumber and outweigh her liabilities. The true assessment of her experience, her will, and her mettle do lend themselves to favorable views. Powell’s recent e-mail leaks highlighting her perceived hubris carry weight and, I would argue, point out her greatest flaw. However – if the flaw of pride based in decades of real experience and effort is the greatest flag to raise against her, one wonders how public mistrust has run so far amok regarding her. Does sexism exist as a prevalent force faced by women in general, but especially by those seeking roles in leadership? Yes – undeniably. This shouldn’t detract from the necessary efforts to critically examine any candidate regardless of gender, but should rather lead to a greater will to assess any candidate as they are: a potential politician, not a gender-based object. Still, I hold to the view that we are a nation of ideals we are ever pursuing. Part of that effort to form a more perfect union must be to break free of our limitations and weaknesses of gender based judgments.