Once fully manifested, the symbolism alone of electing the first woman President may turn into an unstoppable locomotive. It this doesn’t happen in 2016, look past Hillary to 2020. It’s inevitable.
If Hillary Clinton gets her party’s nomination and is elected President of the United States, it won’t be because of her over-the-top qualifications and feel-good pledge to end socio-economic inequality and help every individual who ever needed help. And it won’t happen because of her promise to lift up the left-out and level the stereotypical playing field.
In the end, Hillary Clinton may well get elected because she is a woman. Or rather, because of the electorate’s seeming inability to resist historic transformation purely for historic transformation’s sake. The people who got Barack Obama elected understood this widespread neediness well, and ran hard with it across the goal line. Hillary hopes to do the same.
Is she qualified to be President? Yes. She has the resume. Does she deserve to be commander-in-chief? Maybe; maybe not. Is she the best candidate? Maybe or maybe not. It’s too soon to tell.
But gender should not be a determining factor in who is elected President. Voting for Hillary Clinton next fall just because she is a woman won’t attest to anyone’s enlightenment. That enlightenment—that level of progressiveness—will be realized when as a nation we choose a man or a woman who is the best person to lead regardless of characteristics like gender or race or party affiliation for that matter. That kind of open mindedness should constitute our ambition and resolve as voters.
We’re not there yet. And it’s easy to believe for 2016 that if Hillary gets enough votes to take Bill back to the White House with her it will be because she, like Obama, was able to harness our emotional yearning to appear culturally correct; it will happen because enough voters jumped on a proverbial bandwagon; became convinced that it was “just time” to elect a woman.
Just as Obama was elected largely because of what he represented and not who he was or had accomplished, Hillary will win the presidency—or not—based on a marketing campaign and the endless American thirst for symbolism in the extreme. “I voted for the first African-American President; look how enlightened I am” swept Obama into the White House, and the “woman” iteration of this may very well work for Hillary Clinton.
The timing is right. Americans need a feel-good moment, a pink cloud to make us seem bigger than we are—to eclipse the “holy-shit” incidences of rising racism, the escalating law enforcement problems in the United States, and terrorism’s assault on morality and sanity domestically and abroad.
Hillary wins if and when the national refrain becomes, “I did this. We did this. Look at me. Look at us. We made history.” She gets elected after the James Carville equivalent for Camp Hillary—or maybe the Ragin’ Cajun himself—writes, “It’s the gender thing, stupid” on the dry-erase board in Hillary’s campaign headquarters.
Americans love symbolism; it’s in the national bloodstream. It’s our thing, inherent in who and what we are. The United States was built on it and we’ve been justifiably wallowing in it for more than two centuries: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the fourth of July, fireworks and flags, anything red, white and blue.
In between now and the party conventions and election in November 2016, Team Hillary will wage a modern, atypical campaign based on standard Democratic postures. We heard some of this in Hillary’s first major stump speech on June 11, when she positioned herself as the champion of the little guy—or little girl, if you will. She is going to make sure everyone has an equal chance of living the American Dream, or at least of dreaming it. The Clinton platform is gigantic in scope and growing, festooned with wonderful ideas that no one would oppose. Who isn’t in favor of warm and sunny weather all the time?
In the Clinton camp and campaign, big industry and millionaires and billionaires are the enemy. Big government, then, is your best buddy, although no one on Hillary’s side is going to tweet that.
This won’t be posted either, but it’s true that helping the lower middle class and poor catch up will require that the spigot in D.C. be fixed in the full-on position. This cost issue, incidentally, will constitute Jeb Bush’s counter campaign strategy. In a phrase, Bush’s and the GOP’s response will be this: “We all want these things, Mrs. Clinton, but your vision of utopia is not only delusional, it’s also financially unobtainable—it’s un-American, actually, a pie in the sky fantasy.”
The Hillary campaign will be stealth, relying heavily on social media as both of Obama’s contests did, and less on actual contact with the candidate and even less still on messaging through traditional media representatives, who ask difficult questions and tend to stalk candidates for gotcha opportunities.
Eventually, as the Hillary bus rolls along, her campaign strategy will move directly to the gender thing. It’s in her champion-of-the-have-nots platform already, but it’s not the lead punch yet.
Let the first-woman thing sink in incrementally and watch it explode on its own. That’s the early plan for Camp Clinton. She wants to be President like no one else who’s ever sought the office. But she also needs to believe she will have won the White House not because she is a woman, but based on what she’s done; on how smart, hard working and compassionate she is.
But the larger-than-large personality that is Hillary Clinton won’t much matter ultimately. The fact that she is the personification of historic change will.
Once fully manifested, the symbolism alone of electing the first woman President may turn into an unstoppable locomotive. It this doesn’t happen in 2016, look past Hillary to 2020. It’s inevitable. Perhaps as predictable as inequality and poverty.