A significant number of Republican women — 49% — find their party “stuck in the past.” That’s according to an internal memo from the conservative groups Crossroads GPS and American Action Network that made the rounds last week.
This would seem to be the perfect moment, then, for a female presidential candidate of any stripe. The problem is there is only one on the horizon, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has to overcome a queasiness that polls don’t quite know how to measure. Is it a combination of political cynicism, feminist angst, post-menopausal petulance and postponed pride felt by many of us who want to embrace this woman as well as what she represents?
I keep recalling the words of a friend in Massachusetts who said recently, “Every time I get right up to the point of finally liking Hillary, she does something that knocks me right back down again.”
I am not alone in my hesitancy to put my arms around Hillary, but neither am I necessarily the norm. Judging by the long lines at the bookstores, there are real fans, or at least many who want to say they shook hands with potential history. So why, when I should be celebrating the possible coronation of one of my own, am I instead filled with conflicting emotions?
- The feminist in me applauds any “mature” woman who lets her years of accomplishment, and lines of experience, speak for themselves. The narcissist in me wishes Hillary would lose 15 pounds and get to the dermatologist.
- The fighter in me is impressed that as secretary of State, she was the toughest one in those White House meetings. The liberal in me wishes she’d lean out when it comes to warfare. And lean in on issues like Ferguson before her consultants calculate it is OK to do it.
- The Ms. in me accepts she has a unique marriage that works. The Mrs. wishes she would draw a few boundaries. (Did he really have to deliver the eulogy for the man who funded all those anti-Clinton programs?)
- The professional in me is envious she is making a zillion dollars an hour for her first-class time. The private citizen in me is offended by her tone-deaf idea of what is fair.
- The boomer in me is thrilled to see an older woman succeed. The realist in me is concerned she would be 69 as she begins the toughest job in the world.
- The historian in me appreciates the commitment of families like the Adamses, the Roosevelts and the Kennedys. The voter in me is really tired of the Clintons.
This all may qualify as one of those white women’s problems, but it is entirely possible that Hillary is the lens through which many of us see ourselves.
What really rankles, though, is the Clinton sense of entitlement. For some reason, I think back to a classmate who was elected student body president of Lincoln Junior High in Santa Monica three straight years. I don’t remember anyone particularly liking her — she was that girl who got high scores and never once detention —but she made us feel that we should honor her. A friend in Seattle, a longtime Democrat barely getting by as a landlord, summed it up with, “Well, I guess we’re stuck with Hillary.” That sense of inevitability not only conjures up resentment toward those who always got in, but it also reminds us how many of us felt left out.
Is all this too much to place on one person’s shoulders? Of course it is, not to mention asking her to embody an idea whose time has come. Barack Obama did it, but he had an arguably greater personal story, and he was new school. Hillary has paid her dues, stood by her man and devoted most her life to public service. But one thing feminism has taught us is not to settle, and in that spirit, I wonder if others aren’t as qualified, including Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren — maybe even someone from the party still “stuck in the past.” Hey, maybe my former classmate is available.
Ah well, Hillary is the ultimate survivor, and for that alone, I will likely give her my vote, if not a hug.
Michele Willens is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast and the Atlantic.
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