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2008 JFMA


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First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton with her husband President Bill Clinton.

Special Dossier: Presidential Primaries

Women and the U.S. Presidency
Empire, Change and Service

-- Irene Diamond

The welfare of women and children has animated my being my entire adult life. When I entered the Princeton graduate program in politics in 1968 the catalogue said, "Preference would be given to qualified young men." I arrived nine months pregnant and the graduate advisor was aghast. His skepticism of whether I could succeed intensified my determination and I went on to write the first feminist scholarly book on women in political office: Sex Roles in the State House. When Geraldine Ferraro received the Democratic nomination for Vice-President I was so exhilarated I jumped into my car and drove through the night to get to the convention in San Francisco. I have never voted for a Republican in my life but if Hillary Clinton were to win the nomination I will have no choice but to do so. Let me explain.

The “experience” argument the Clinton campaign has been touting is an insult to all the women political leaders who have achieved their positions though contesting elections in their own right. Obama is actually more experienced in that regard if we take seriously that leaders are forged through the difficult process of making policy choices when beholden to constituents who hold preferences that conflict with the leader's judgment. Hillary's 35 years of experience does not derive from working in local communities, a key training ground for women who go on to run for political office. While her work with the Children’s Defense Fund showed a deep concern for the consequences of public policy and private prejudices, it is still basically just another ivory tower position, which did not organize at the grassroots level. As we all know, her experience in politics came from being a First Lady in Arkansas and then becoming the First Lady of the United States with the most responsibility since Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor may have been Hillary's heroine, but the health care debacle, does not suggest she was able to translate her admiration into negotiating skills we might hope to expect of women leaders.

The Clinton campaign touts Hillary’s inspiration as a role model. Women, whether young or old, and men who truly respect women, need to think seriously about what Bill Clinton's sexual addiction means for the well being of women who are abused by partners and husbands. Bill Clinton’s betrayal was demeaning to both the Presidency and to women. During the Clinton years I was anxious to forgive because I saw the Clintons as a target of nasty right-wingers.

Today, as a woman who has had to endure the consequences of a family court system that does not take the abuse of women and children seriously, I feel very differently about the Clinton years. There is no way to assess with any precision the impact of a President who was so out of control as to abuse young women who admired him. What we can say is that what goes on in the White House shapes the climate in both public and private life. I wonder about all the men who were emboldened by Bill Clinton and all the women who stayed in situations that were horrendous for them and their children because of the model of Hillary sticking by her man. The first woman President might actually bring some fresh air to the sometimes-pained relations between the sexes. If we allow ourselves to hear from or about the many women Bill is alleged to have seduced, we see a loyal spouse who went out of her way to harm those who dared to speak out.

At this point in our nation's history, we cannot afford to bring the corruption and cynicism of the Clintons back to center stage. I believe women represent a force for good in public life. I do not notice any of the current crop of splendid governors or the current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives complaining in public that they are being treated unfairly because of their sex.

In dealing with the threats of Hezbollah, the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and genocidal religious fundamentalism in Africa, the U.S. needs a President with a calm temperament and steady judgment, who can be forceful diplomatically before resorting to war. This campaign season, the only candidate with those skills is Barack Obama. Barack is blessed with a unique combination of uncommon cerebral reasoning, down to earth humanity, spiritual depth, and inspirational rhetoric his election holds the promise of renewing U.S. leadership of the free world. Hillary’s graceful exit is the best way she can quell forces that threaten our nation’s welfare externally and internally. Watching this campaign from the land of multi-racial Israel, where there is no quick path to peace --despite the false promises of presidents, secretaries of state, prime m,inisters, and those whose living depends on peace negotiations – Obama’s message of change and transformative calls to service is creating bridges of hope for peoples across the world.

Irene Diamond taught for eighteen years in the political science department at the University of Oregon and is currently Dean and co- founding director of Ohr Esther: A Center for Arts, Research and Service, Raanana Israel. Her forthcoming book is entitled Umbilical Chords: Feminine Rising in the Fifth Millennium.

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