Any woman who runs for the top job faces serious hurdles, says the forthright former secretary of state about a possible run
American women face a tough battle as they seek to shatter the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” – the election of a female US president – because of the enduring double standards in politics, Hillary Clinton tells the Observer today.
The former secretary of state, senator and first lady, who in 2008 became the only woman in America to have won a presidential primary, says that she has a “great personal commitment” to seeing a woman in the White House. “I’m hoping that we get it cracked, because it’s past time, but it’s going to be difficult.”
The successful candidate, Clinton says, will need to overcome several hurdles before the world’s most powerful job is in female hands – not least prevailing double standards around the perceived readiness of women to hold the highest office. “There’s still this built-in questioning about women’s executive ability, whether it’s in the corporate boardroom or in the political sphere. So you just have to keep demonstrating over and over again that women have just as much right to run for these positions, and for voters to be asked to consider them, as men do. It’s going to take another push, but I think we’ll get there eventually.”
Clinton stepped down as America’s top diplomat last year and has embarked on a book tour for Hard Choices, her new memoir of four years at the state department. She has yet to disclose whether she will launch a second presidential bid in 2016 in which she is seen as a strong candidate both to take the Democratic nomination that eluded her six years ago and to seal her return to the White House, this time as president.
Hard Choices begins with Clinton’s bruising defeat at the hands of Barack Obama in the 2008 contest to become the Democratic party’s presidential candidate. In her concession speech, on 7 June in Washington, she told her disappointed supporters: “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it’s got about 18 million cracks in it.”
Clinton tells the Observer: “I was the first woman to win a primary, and I won a number of them, but no woman had ever done that before.” She was referring to the New Hampshire primary in which she beat Obama in January 2008. She went on to win a total of 21 states in the Democratic race, coming a close second to Obama in the popular vote.
Despite those historic successes, Clinton recalls running for the presidency as “very combative, even brutal”. She says she faced a great deal of sexism on the campaign trail, whether from her political enemies or from the media, which devoted considerable air time and column inches to the way she looked, her facial expressions, “likeability”, relationship with Bill Clinton and even her cleavage. “Many women around the world who have been in politics and tried to become prime minister or president have had to face the same,” she says.
Despite the enduringly tough terrain for senior female politicians in America, there are signs of change. A poll conducted by Emily’s List, the campaign that seeks to have more pro-choice Democratic women elected to public office, found that 75% of voters saw a female president as a good thing that would send a positive signal to the nation’s children.
In the interview Clinton also talks about the political stasis in Washington caused by the partisan gridlock between the two main parties. She refers to Winston Churchill’s quote that “you can always count on Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else”, and says: “That’s the way I think we are behaving right now – we are running off in so many different directions. Boy, do we drag our feet, and, boy, are we overwhelmed by special interests and outside forces trying to dictate what we do or don’t do in our political system.”
Clinton has indicated that she is likely to announce her decision on whether to run early next year. If she does so, it will be her fourth gruelling presidential campaign – her second as candidate, on top of the 1992 and 1996 races in which she accompanied her husband Bill on his successful bid for the White House.
The last couple to struggle through four major presidential bids was Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Asked why she would want to put herself through something as punishing as matching the Roosevelts’ record, Clinton replies: “Well, they’re a pretty good example.”
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