By Anam Mittra:
Never has the oldest democracy in the world, in its 240-year independent history, had a female President. You would think that a country which saw an active and historic suffrage movement would have already achieved this.
The current presidential elections in the United States (US) is being closely watched with bated breath, as a seasoned female and an openly ‘Socialist’ male politician, battle it out for a Democratic nomination. If Hillary Clinton wins this nomination, she would come one step closer from 2008 (when she lost to Obama) to clinching the title of literally being the most powerful woman in the world.
The question is- will 2016 be her lucky year?
Hillary Clinton’s curriculum vitae would make the best of us jealous and impressed in equal measure. A graduate of the prestigious Yale Law School, she was the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation (1978) and was named the first female partner at the Rose Law Firm (1979); both in Arkansas. After being listed as one of the ‘100 most influential lawyers in America’ in 1988 and 1991, she went on to becoming the first female Senator from New York in 2000. In a series of ‘firsts’ which would be topped by her post of Secretary of State in the Obama administration, she is now in her second presidential race which seems to be as closely contested as the previous one.
A cursory glance at her campaign website throws up photographs from her campaigns and you can notice the strong female presence at her rallies and speeches. Women are an important variable for Democrats. In the 2012 elections in the US, of the total votes polled by women, 55% voted for Obama in comparison to the 44% for Romney. In her manifesto, Clinton has promised to work towards equal pay for equal work, access to essential services like abortion and paid family leave. Additionally, she has detailed measures for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses including preventive measures as well. Clinton has a history of actively working for women’s rights in the capacity of a Senator and First Lady.
Yet, there have been reports of plunging support for Clinton from the very group that has always been a loyal demographic. There have been reports on how women’s support for Clinton has been shrinking the past 2 months. Clinton was ahead of Bernie Sanders (her chief rival) by 45 points amongst women, but this has now dropped to a difference of just 19. The gap despite being significant is a tremendous cause for concern and requires a bit of digging into Ms. Clinton’s past and her tryst with controversy.
Bill Clinton owing to the Lewinsky scandal (and other charges of sexual assault) was almost impeached during his tenure as President. Hillary, being the First Lady, got sucked into the whirlwind of her husband’s alleged actions, and her personal conduct during that time may now be hurting her present aspirations. History has caught up with Clinton after she accused Republican hopeful Donald Trump of having a ‘penchant for sexism‘, and he retorted by pegging her as a ‘hypocrite’ given her husband’s ‘sexual misconduct’ in the past.
Hillary Clinton’s defence of her husband at the time when these allegations came forth is now being viewed as being strongly anti-women. She had undertaken an ‘aggressive, explicit direction of the campaign to discredit’ those who were coming forth with stories of having consensual and non-consensual sexual relations with Bill Clinton. Memoirs of previous aides have revealed that Ms. Clinton used words like ‘floozy’, ‘bimbo’ and ‘stalker’ for these women; this tends to be the typical misogynist response for women who break their silence about sexual injustices committed against them.
Presently, young women who are enthusiastic supporters of Clinton, are stumbling across evidence of Bill Clinton’s controversial past. Hillary Clinton’s demeanour at the time might influence thinking voters and eat up into her voter base. Her supporters are calling this a planned character assassination, but with the US Presidential post up for grabs, all gloves are generally off.
Clinton’s stand on women’s rights, like her stand on LGBT rights, has been fraught with controversy. When she was First Lady she looked on as Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, 1996; a federal law barring recognition of same-sex marriages. Today, she has received endorsement from the largest LGBT rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, for presenting the ‘most robust and ambitious LGBT Plan any candidate for President has ever laid out’. Rational, thinking voters should give Hillary Clinton the benefit of doubt; in the capacity of First Lady her actions and words would have to contribute to her husband’s survival in the White House. That will be seen as opportunistic by some, but that is politics and expecting idealism is just naïve. She has introduced myriad policy measures in her more overtly political roles that seem to have partially undone the damage, given the support amongst women and the LGBT community.
Hopefully, this will be enough for her to stay afloat.