Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008 got an extra dose of high-octane fuel by the history-making fact of becoming the first African-American president. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, seems more inclined to downplay her own history-making candidacy as the first woman to serve as President. Indeed, she’s gotten flack from younger women who are so liberated, they will vote against a woman just to show they can, asserting that they refuse to vote for a woman just because she is a woman (despite the fact that Hillary is the most skilled, experienced candidate who ever ran for the office). Running as a woman is a liability Hillary embraces at her peril, because her opponents will attempt to negate it as using the “gender card.”
Yet, at its core, her whole campaign is about the issues that are of concern to women, for as she says, she is running to break down the barriers that prevent every person from fulfilling their potential. The fact is women are part of each and every one of these marginalized groups.
And just as women’s reproductive rights are as much economic as they are about personal freedom, the long list of policies and agenda items Hillary is advocating for are as much women’s issues as they are matters of economic, social and political justice. But it takes a woman to prioritize them.
These issues include reproductive rights to be sure, but also universal health care, minimum wage, overtime pay, pay parity, paid family leave, access to quality, affordable child care and universal pre-K, student debt, protecting Social Security and Medicare, immigration reform and a path to legalization, gun violence prevention, clean air and water, climate change, clean energy. Add to this jobs creation and union rights, trade deals that protect American workers and the environment, investment in infrastructure, investment in Alzheimer’s research, medical research and innovation. Oh yes, and protecting voting rights, especially from Voter ID and other methods that disproportionately keep women from the polls.
As she said, at a Clinton Foundation “No Ceilings” event in 2015, “If we take bold steps to better the lives of women, we will be taking bold steps to better the lives of children and families too. Families rely on mothers and wives for emotional support and care. Families rely on women for labor in the home. And increasingly, everywhere, families rely on women for income needed to raise healthy children and care for other relatives.”
But 30 years of anti-Hillary propaganda have taken their toll, shaped an image and an argument. It is breathtaking that the question always posed to her – but not to the Republicans – has to do with “trust” and “honesty.” I am trying to figure out on what issue she has been less “trustworthy” or “honest”? Whitewater? Benghazi? Foster? A nurse in Florida told me that Hillary was responsible for 25 murders. I suggest that “dishonest” (or “shady”) is just a way around saying, “we can’t stand a woman who is competent and assertive” without admitting sexism.
Is she too cozy with Corporate America? In fact, that is the secret weapon to actually making progress. It is the strategy and the innovation that has been pursued since 2005 by the Clinton Global Initiative, which have forged partnerships among government entities, the private sector and NGOs that have funneled billions of dollars into 3400 constructive commitments that have benefited 430 million people around the globe. It’s a strategy that has been implemented by the Obama Administration in order to actually make social progress when Republicans just want to cancel programs aimed at uplifting people altogether.
But yes, the innovation that the Clintons have fashioned is to recruit as companies as allies, not enemies – getting Walmart, Coca Cola, The Hershey Corporation and others to invest in sustainable development, Goldman Sachs to create a new financing mechanism to save coral reefs, Proctor & Gamble to devise and distribute millions of packets that can purify water that saves millions of children from dying before the age of 5 from waterborne illnesses, and Monsanto Company to invest in revitalizing the honey bee population. CGI has fostered major cultural change within such massive multi-national organizations, and more than lip-service paid to social investing and economic sustainability. That’s not selling out, That’s converting the very entities that have the power to make real change.
Advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls has been a central focus of CGI and Hillary Clinton. There has been a recognition that if you improve education and family planning, create opportunities to be entrepreneurs or own businesses, you don’t just improve the lives of those women, you improve the lives of their children, their families, their villages and communities and their nations, with impacts far exceeding similar programs offered to men. That’s just fact.
When she was Senator, I recall Hillary Clinton sitting down with a woman’s panel that included the head of CARE, discussing how implementing micro-finance enabled a woman to borrow just $12 to buy a goat, so she could earn enough for school fees for her child.
“When more women enter the workforce, it spurs innovation, increases productivity, and grows economies,” Clinton said at CGI 2012. “Families then have more money to spend, businesses can expand their consumer base and increase their profits. In short, everyone benefits.”
She has brought on board the Buffet Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Nike Foundation, and a long, long list of powerhouses to address issues ranging from clean water and solar-powered lighting to training midwifes and creating the logistics to get vaccines to rural communities.
As Secretary of State, I recall Hillary Clinton’s commitment to CGI on behalf of the Obama Administration to sponsor millions of cooking stoves. Why was this so significant? Well it turns out that the method that women were using – burning carbon inside the house – was not only a leading cause of women dying, but also produced toxic, global-warming causing pollution.
In fact, First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let Girls Learn” campaign uses the same CGI techniques of engaging important corporate partners to achieve a significant goal, including Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, JetBlue, Starwood Hotels.
It is stunning that Hillary is being held to account for policies from Bill Clinton’s presidency, when she was First Lady – DOMA, welfare reform, NAFTA and the Crime Bill (all of which were designed to fend off the incessant attacks from the right wing which were determined to undermine his presidency from Day One, just as they have to Obama. It didn’t work – they still impeach them.).
Indeed, she was pilloried for overstepping bounds of a wifely First Lady – how dare she! clearly forgetting how Eleanor Roosevelt was responsible for just about every progressive program FDR ever devised- in trying to achieve universal health care. Besides that, times are different than the mid-1990s, and certainly, we have learned from unintended consequences of legislation, even if initiated in good faith. More significantly, Hillary is not Bill Clinton. Hillary is her own person.
Overcoming the “woman’s issue” is also a factor in her more hawkish stance. She can’t afford to be seen as being a weak Commander-in-Chief. No such concern for Bernie Sanders.
Much like Obama had to downplay race, Hillary Clinton seems to have downplayed women’s issues in this campaign, lest she be attacked (as she already is, nonetheless), for playing the “gender card.
But she has been most constant in her sensitivity and advocacy of women’s rights and the plight of the marginalized.
On International Women’s Day, March 8, she issued a statement crystallizing “the unfinished work” toward insuring that women and girls achieve full equality:
“On International Women’s Day, we celebrate women around the world, in all stations of life — mothers, daughters, grandmothers, teachers, doctors, soldiers, artists, workers, employers, leaders of all kinds. We celebrate their achievements and their humanity. We celebrate the progress we’ve made to advance the full participation of women in economies and societies. And most importantly, we recommit to finishing the unfinished work that remains, and ensuring that women and girls are treated as the full and equal human beings they are.
“Advancing the status of women is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. When women and girls participate fully, economies grow and nations are more secure. When their rights are denied, the opposite happens. No country can get ahead if half its people are left behind.
“I’ve spent my career working to break down barriers that hold back women here at home and around the world. As President, I will keep up the fight. I’ll fight to close the pay gap; make paid family leave a reality; ensure families have access to quality, affordable child care; increase the minimum wage; protect women’s health and reproductive rights; confront violence against women; and promote women’s rights around the globe. These issues ought to be core priorities of our government. They are not just “women’s issues”—they are family issues, economic issues, and they’re crucial to America’s competitiveness and security.
“This International Women’s Day, let’s take a page from the generations of women leaders around the world who never stopped working to make our world a better, more equitable place. And let’s always remember that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights, once and for all.”
Being a woman head of state is no longer an issue in places as diverse as Croatia and Pakistan to Germany and the United Kingdom.
As a woman, Hillary Clinton would prioritize and approach issues differently, even from Bernie Sanders who claims to be the great progressive. She has intimate knowledge of these issues from a grass roots level that even Bernie Sanders doesn’t have (while each one of the Republican candidates would certainly roll back progress to “take America back” to the halcyon days when white men ruled).
And if she does become President, she will become President Hillary Rodham Clinton, and hopefully, bring a woman’s touch to the most powerful position on earth.
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