How 2016 Will Be Different for Hillary…and the Glass Ceiling

13 Apr 2015

Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she is officially a candidate for the presidency in 2016 was met by an explosion of excitement from her longtime supporters. Hillary’s accompanying video hit just the right note, celebrating an all-inclusive America and an upbeat, can-do attitude. The focus is on us, with Hillary running to be our champion.

Reporters stated that her choice to give the news to the press via email and then make a splash on social media—bypassing a traditional press conference—marks a different kind of campaign from her 2008 run, and a return to the grassroots “listening tour” she employed so successfully when she became the first First Lady to ever run for and win elected office— and a Senate seat in 2000. Yet this kind of intimate outreach is something Hillary Clinton has been doing for years throughout her career in public service.

Despite her popularity as Secretary of State, Hillary took criticism for “degrading the office” by meeting with so many women farmers, small business owners and grassroots activists around the world for the purpose of “connecting the dots between women’s rights and major foreign policy concerns such as global economic development, food security, extremism and political stability.” As she had said, “What gets measured, gets done.”

Here at home, that same kind of outreach is required to find solutions not easily understood from inside the Beltway. Hillary knows and embraces this. As she begins her new campaign for the presidency, voters will get a chance to rediscover one of her core strengths. Hillary’s argument that empowering women is a means to help both men and women succeed, in families and economically, will soon be tested on the campaign trail.

She may have to compete not only with Republicans, but with much of the mainstream media, which has nursed a Hillary obsession spanning some 25 years. In 1992, The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd stated that Hillary was thought of as the “overbearing yuppie wife from hell,” while TIME’s Margaret Carlson that same year stated that Hillary would likely be punished for her mistakes “out of proportion to their significance.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Pundits—perhaps driven more by profit than public service—have presented Hillary Clinton as a caricature long on click-able, if sometimes manufactured, controversy. Their version of the former Secretary of State bears little resemblance to the public servant known to the rest of us.

Hillary holds a fascination for the American people, in part because she expects to have a seat at the table and thinks all women should. She spent a lifetime fighting on behalf of children’s and women’s rights, education, and first responders. She has worked to end to human trafficking, raise the minimum wage, and to provide health care and benefits for military families.

Even her most powerful detractors admire her indefatigable nature. Friends and political opponents alike have said Hillary “is utterly there for you,” and “is extremely well respected throughout the world, handles herself in a very classy way and has a work ethic second to none.”

Perhaps her mother Dorothy put it best when she said: “Hillary always had the capacity, the confidence and tenacity to stare the devil down.”

Yet we are a cautious nation when it comes to entrusting women in leadership roles, no matter how much evidence is presented of their smarts, accomplishments, and abilities. We are more inclined toforgive a man his public transgressions, while females face pressure to carry the flag for all womanhood in order to be accepted. The tendency is still to measure a woman by likeability (read “non-abrasiveness”) and a complex set of interrelated benchmarks that men are not required to meet.

In 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama waged an epic battle for the presidential nomination that captured the imagination and hopes of millions, the joy of watching a qualified woman vie for the presidency was marred by commentators calling Hillary Clinton a hellish housewife, Nurse Ratched, she-devil and bitch. Many voters were blindsided by what British Journalist Andrew Stephen called a “gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind” that had been “shamelessly peddled by the US media.” Despite this, Hillary won 18 million votes. More than any candidate in primary history – a far cry from the media’s depiction of her as the clear loser of the contest.

Seeing a woman make it all the way to the end of the primaries was a great gift to the American people, even though Hillary ultimately didn’t win the Democratic nomination in 2008. As Hillary told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “This shows boys and girls everywhere that you fight on until the bell sounds.”

After the fact, big media questioned Hillary’s decision to forego mentioning the historic nature of her candidacy, yet on the few occasions she did, she was called out by media for playing the “gender card,” with her supporters referred to as “vagina voters.”

Watch Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign Announcement

Perhaps it was too much for the American people to digest that any woman would have been able to cross the ultimate threshold without a trial run. It had to be a two-step—or an eight-year—process.

But 2016 is not 2008. As reporter Jonathan Allen noted, the current climate features “a shift in political atmospherics that favors attention to lower- and middle-class economic concerns, such as early-childhood education and paid time off, that motivate women voters, as well as many of their husbands, fathers, and sons.” These “atmospherics” are Hillary Clinton’s wheelhouse.

Another key difference is the enormous power of social media, defying traditional gatekeepers and offering the American people an opportunity to engage in a new way in the coming election. Millennials, with whom Hillary is quite popular, will be 30% of the voting electorate in 2016. Many of them don’t get their news from traditional outlets. So while Hillary surely wants to hit “reset” with the press, having a social media backstop is a smart idea. As evidenced by some of her recent campaign hires, she’ll make the best use of new tech tools for direct outreach to voters.

Hillary will also have the advantage of hindsight. In 2008, it took her a while to step out from her husband’s political shadow and allow herself to be the happy warrior, wicked-smart policy wonk sharing specifics with voters in town hall settings around the country. She continued the practice as Secretary of State, where she used what she called “townterviews” to share America’s message, and hone her own, with local activists. She’s much more comfortable now letting Hillary be Hillary.

As Secretary Clinton noted in a recent ELLE interview, “There’s a certain consistency to who I am and what I do, and I think people have finally said, ‘Well, you know, I kinda get her now.”

Many news outlets, including Jodi Kantor of the New York Times, suggested she might want to downplay her new role as a grandmother, yet Hillary is reveling in it and her status looks to play significantly into her campaign. In the new epilogue to her book, Hard Choices, Hillary wrote,

“You shouldn’t have to be the granddaughter of a president or a secretary of state to receive excellent health care, education, enrichment, and all the support and advantages that will one day lead to a good job and a successful life… Becoming a grandmother has made me think deeply about the responsibility we all share as stewards of the world we inherit and will one day pass on. Rather than make me want to slow down, it has spurred me to speed up.”

Yet TIME Magazine is still offering magazine covers that feature Hillary as the fifty foot woman with a miniscule man dangling from her shoe. Likewise, the questionable New York Times’ cartoon showing Hillary buried by a giant cell phone a la the wicked witch of the east. This what Professor Kathleen Jamieson refers to as visual vilification, using unattractive imagery to attach “negative affect” to a candidate in an effort to make you take that discomfort into the voting booth.  While Hillary’s opposition will work overtime to try to attach controversy to her name, more lasting damage is always accomplished by this media practice.  Hillary’s campaign may not mention it – but some supporters are already putting the press on notice that sexism won’t be tolerated this time around.

In 2016, Hillary’s grassroots efforts will have to push back against the old stereotypes surrounding her (and women, in general), if we hope to have an election about the issues, not identity politics.

Social media and the ever increasing power of sites like this one offer an opportunity for connection with, and understanding and definition of, the candidate as never before – bypassing the same corporate owned media outlets so desperate to control an election’s outcome.  If we are vigilant, it will now be harder for mainstream media to sell Hillary as an “overly-ambitious” automaton (male politicians are not ambitious?).

Per Gallup, Hillary was just voted America’s most admired woman for a record breaking 19th year. The grassroots organization Ready for Hillary has already amassed a mailing list of almost 4 million foot soldiers waiting to be called to duty. They’ll have their work cut out for them. No matter Hillary’s success as a Senator, her dedication and qualification as the only candidate with foreign policy experience, she will still have to overcome the challenge that any party faces in trying to hold the White House for a third term.

As well, the difficulty of being the trailblazer who finally breaks through to become the first women president after 44 men cannot be underestimated.

According to the Harvard Business Review, women score higher than men in 12 out of 16 markers of outstanding leadership. It was the women Senators of both parties who worked together to bring an end to the government shutdown of 2013. Janet Yellen now holds a position second only in importance to the President himself, as the first female Fed Chair in the organization’s 100 year history. By all accounts she is quietly doing a great job.

The rumblings of a new paradigm are there.

If the American people are ready to embrace electing someone who is a leader while female, Hillary’s got a better than even chance.


Syndicated on *BlogHer*

Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin.  Sharing the untold story of Hillary’s 2008 campaign, Dirty Words exposes media sexism in a society not as evolved as advertised.  “The book tells it like it is for women aspiring to power.”  #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

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