In 1992, Hillary Clinton was derided as an extreme feminazi vying for all the power the White House could offer her as First Lady: A power-hungry Machiavellian candidate’s wife. A reporter from Columbus, Ohio famously asked her, “You know, some people think of you as an inspiring female attorney mother, and other people think of you as the overbearing yuppie wife from hell. How would you describe yourself?”
I was an angsty tween at the time and Hillary was a baddass. “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life,” she defiantly popped off to reporters on the campaign trail. The press had to punish her for such insolence. So of course, the election became about cookies. There was this “shrill,” “ambitious” woman who dared insult other women who chose a life of baking cookies. It gave the entire county the vapors.
“Never mind that Clinton went on to say feminism means the right to choose work, or home, or both; the damage had been done,” Jackie Judd at ABC News mused. “She’d been tagged an elitist and an ultra – feminist.”
The newspapers soon published Hillary’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies along with Barbara Bush’s. I was taken to a fundraiser where there were both Republican and Democratic cookies made available. Bush’s cookies were exquisite—soft, buttery pillows gently caressing chips of chocolate. And Clinton’s cookies tasted like burnt pretzels with artificial carob chunks. A thumbtack has more culinary appeal than Clinton cookies.
This was the beginning of the impossibility of Hillary: The Hillary Paradox (also the subtitle of a collection of essays that came out last year). In 1992 it was: You should have been home baking cookies, but instead you insulted women who bake cookies AND by the way, your cookies insult the idea of cookies.
Basically, damed if she does, damed if she doesn’t.
In 2008, I wrote about what I called the Hillary Standard. Yes, we have a double standard for women and other minorities. Men, for example, get to not know things (see: Donald Trump’s “we’ll just hire great people who know.”), but Sarah Palin got marginalized for being (and continuing to be) ignorant. As Hillary said herself at CNN’s Democratic Town Hall this week, “Why is there one standard for me and not for everybody else?”
Yes, good question.
The Hillary Standard has evolved into her own special Catch-22. Over the last 20 years I’ve watched Hillary learn from her mistakes, then get criticized for adapting to the times. I witnessed her husband appoint more black people to his Cabinet than any president before him, his struggles with the white power structure even inspiring Toni Morrison to lament that Bill was our first black president; now Hillary gets accused and heckled for being that white power structure. I’ve seen her win a seat in the Senate even though she was outspent by her opponent by over $11 million and then her husband cheating on her get credited for her victory.
I’ve also seen her lose a bid for the presidency and rack up a million miles as Secretary of State. I watched her get grilled for eight hours about Benghazi sans any fatigue or gaffes. I’ve watched her stay in public life and shrug off the “vast right wing conspiracy” that has never considered pulling punches. I’ve seen her not quit.
Every time we grumble what Citizens United has done to our elections, that was a suit brought by a group wanting to spend unlimited cash to take down Hillary Clinton. It was literally a group of citizens united AGAINST Hillary. You’d think Hillary would be the first person we’d celebrate benefitting from that decision as a candidate. For any other human being on the planet, we’d see it as poetic justice—a hilarious irony. Instead it’s the Hillary Paradox: Have your rabid rival get to spend unlimited amounts of cash to take you out but when you take advantage of the same law—you’re then a despicable corporate shill representing “big moneyed interests.”
It’s enough to make me want to stab myself in the eye with my vintage Hillary nutcracker!
She’s smart, educated, accomplished and experienced. She’d be touted as a steady hand at the wheel if it were anyone else. But this is Hillary Clinton we’re talking about so she might not be the next President of the United States. Why? She’s not exciting enough!
So Hillary might not get to be a revolutionary first female president because she’s not threatening revolution?!
Taking nutcracker off the shelf…
Not only does Hillary never (ever) get to make any mistakes, have a bad day or tell her haters she wants to go back to the time when they’d be taken out on stretchers. She has to be super well versed in all things, but not remind people of the past. Be an automaton but not robotic. Be warm but not emotional. Be a woman but not play the gender card. Be completely qualified, but not at all arrogant. Basically, embrace the Hillary Paradox.
Photo by Marc Nozell