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Hillary Rodham Diane Clinton:Woman who made history

By Tony Okeregbe
01 January 2017   |   3:22 am
As a senior high school contestant, who lost an election for the class president in Maine East High School in the early 1960s, young Hillary Rodham was told by one of the boys who won: "You are really stupid if you think ....
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton / AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECK

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton / AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECK

“I can say with confidence, there has never been a man or woman, not me, not Bill (Clinton),nobody, more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America!”(US President Barack Hussein Obama at the Democratic Party convention.)

As a senior high school contestant, who lost an election for the class president in Maine East High School in the early 1960s, young Hillary Rodham was told by one of the boys who won: “You are really stupid if you think a girl can be elected president.”

But when in 2016, the same girl, now Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, beat party contestant Bernie Sanders at the primaries to clinch the Democratic Party’s ticket for the presidential election, the world knew history was in the making. Pundits and informed analysts predicted that Mrs. Clinton would become the first woman to be elected President of the United States of America, and then she would make history by becoming the most powerful woman in the world. They reckoned, too, that as successor to Barack Obama, she would also make history as the first US president to have had a spouse as president. Had destiny prevailed on this succession, Clinton would also have made history as the first minority (a woman) to succeed another minority (a black man). She would, with Angela Merkel of Germany and Theresa May of Great Britain, have made history as the emerging powerful political face of Western economy.

In Mrs. Clinton, media analyses portrayed a woman so popular and so anointed by the political pantheon that certain respected progressives would confidently gamble with their American citizenship over her success. However, despite leading by popular votes, Clinton was denied the presidential position by the votes of the Electoral College. And since she did not become the first woman president of the United States of America, she could not become the most powerful woman in the world; she could not hold the record of being the US president with a spouse as president in her lifetime; she could neither become the first minority to succeed another minority as president, nor replicate the events of Germany and Britain.
Yet, Hillary Clinton made history.

Although the march towards her history-making feat did not begin in 2016, the resilience, steadfastness and strength of character exhibited during the presidential campaign were worthy of note. Having formally announced her candidacy for the presidential election in April 2015, on the platform of the Democratic Party, Clinton had to demonstrate to her party that she deserved the party’s nomination for the presidential election. With an organized team of ready-at-hand campaigners, a large donor network and political action committees, she set her campaign headquarters in the New York borough of Brooklyn. Her preparedness for the task ahead was shown by the focuses of her campaign, which included promotion of the cause of the girl-child and establishing universal early childhood education, raising middle class incomes, and making college more affordable, as well as improving the Affordable Care Act; all of which areas she had been tested both professionally and politically.

At the beginning of primaries in early 2016, Clinton had a strong self-proclaimed socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, to contend with in order to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidential election. However, riding on the crest of her popularity and political astuteness, she beat Sanders at the Iowa Democratic caucuses and South Carolina primary, won most of the contests at the primaries, and according to survey reports, by mid-year secured enough delegates and super-delegates to be dubbed the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.

Having won most of the states in the final major rounds of primaries, Clinton held a victory celebration in Brooklyn as “she became the first woman to claim the status of presumptive nominee for a major American political party.” At the end of the campaign, reports had it that Clinton “had won 2,219 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1,832; with an estimated 594 super-delegates compared to Sanders’ 47. She received almost 17 million votes during the nominating process, as opposed to Sanders’ 13 million.” By this victory, Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major U.S. political party, and was formally nominated on July 26, 2016 at the Democratic National Convention held in Philadelphia.

But it was not so much her securing the presidential ticket as the tenacity and doggedness she displayed in the course of her campaign that made her a woman of substance. If there is one thing Hillary Clinton’s candidature brings forth, it is the consistent, mellow fighting spirit with which she surmounted the entrapment created by patriarchy for adversaries. Whether one likes it or not, the pendulum swung the way it did at the presidential election simply because of Mrs. Clinton. The election was not between Clinton and Trump, but between Clinton and Not-Clinton; whichever way, Clinton was a factor. This Clinton factor reared its head in the e-mail controversy and the slanted media coverage accorded the Clinton campaign train.

Although the US Supreme Court had cleared Hillary Clinton of criminal charges over her supposedly careless use of private servers for official e-mail correspondences (an action allegedly capable of compromising US security), the Donald Trump media campaign train still made the controversy the fulcrum of its machine of calumny against Clinton. It would later be known that this smear campaign led to a major setback for Clinton.

Deploying the same tactics, the powerful media and information network supportive of Trump’s presidency turned the mass media into instruments of terror on Clinton. Contrary to the perception on this side of the globe, studies have shown that Clinton received disproportionately negative press coverage during the campaign. In series of criticisms and ad hominems directed at Clinton, they slanted news reports in a manner that would create a slanted perception in the minds of the public. The cultural implication of this kind of attitude is that the unwary public would come to live with the impression that, castigating people with lies are not only acceptable, but also people are likely to believe such lies if the media repeatedly disseminate them. As in the case of a powerful woman like Clinton, such an attitude is likely to create a ‘bring her down at all cost’ syndrome that portends a dangerous political culture for aspiring women politicians.

In all these, it was Clinton’s reaction which portrayed her as the winner she has always been. Concerning the e-mail controversy, she maintained her criminal non-culpability by taking recourse in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concluding report on the matter. Concerning Trump’s unconventional and Machiavellian campaign tactics, Clinton had responded with finesse and decorum. Rather than join issues with the same incivility and uncouthness, she defined her brilliance and mental superiority by her choice of words, which portrayed respect for the dignity of persons.

At the presidential debates, rather than discuss events and people like her contestant, she dished out well-thought-out actionable proposals and defended manifestoes that emanated from the bounty of her profound ideas. Whilst her opponent, Trump, vacillated over his economic policies, Clinton laid out an economic plan that is said to be “optimistic” and “wide-ranging” based on an economic philosophy she called inclusive capitalism. This economic philosophy would withdraw tax reliefs and benefits from US companies that move jobs overseas, while it would provide incentives for companies that would share profits with employees, communities and the environment. In furtherance of her cause for social justice, she supported and defended, amongst other issues, equal pay for equal work, pursued Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) rights by supporting same-sex marriage. Whilst she opposed Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants, she defended citizenship for undocumented immigrants as fundamentally “a family issue”.

In the brilliant reiteration of her ideas during the campaign, she weathered the storms set on her march to history by opponents with so much determination and tenacity, that even hardcore chauvinists would in thoughtful admiration concur: “This woman Clinton is really a man!”

BUT right from time, Hillary Clinton did not seem to give the impression that she existed in a man’s world. Born Hillary Diane Rodham on October 26, 1947 in Chicago, Hillary Clinton was raised in Park Ridge, Illinois, where she had her primary and secondary education. Reputed to be a competitive child and favourite of her teachers, young Hillary might have had innate and natural inclination for both influential political positions and first place. Confirmed investigations of her often told story claimed she had in 1961 as a young school girl written a letter to NASA inquiring to become an astronaut, only to be told that women were not accepted in the programme. Also according to Carl Bernstein’s biography of her, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, she lost an election for class president in the senior year, and was rebuked by one of the contestants: “you are really stupid if you think a girl can be elected president.” Upon leaving high school Hillary attended Wellesley College, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1969.

She thereafter attended the Yale Law School, pursued postgraduate studies on children and medicine and earned a Juris Doctor (Doctor of Law) degree in 1973. The exposures gotten from her student union positions, academic research assignments and scholarly engagements, as well as selfless voluntary community services for the cause of children, the poor and minorities, prepared her for the future. After serving as a congressional legal counsel, and member of the impeachment inquiry staff during the Watergate Scandal, in 1974 she moved to Arkansas, and married classmate Bill Clinton in 1975. During that period both were lecturers at the University of Arkansas, where Hillary taught Criminal Law. In 1977, she co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, was appointed the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation in 1978 and became the first woman partner at Rose Law Firm the following year. Following Bill Clinton’s election as Governor of Arkansas, Hillary became First Lady of Arkansas; a position she held for the 12 years her husband was governor. As Arkansas First Lady she led a task force that helped reform Arkansas’s public schools, served on several corporate boards and secured federal funds to expand medical facilities for Arkansas’ poor.

When Bill Clinton won the Presidential election and became the 43rd president of the US, Hillary found herself thrown into the First Lady position again. In that position, she exerted more influence and took on more official responsibilities than the traditional White House First Ladies did, for she was “the first inaugural First Lady to have earned a postgraduate degree and to have her own professional career up to the time of entering the White House”. Despite her role in the inner running of the White House, she was unsuccessful in her attempt to enact the Clinton health care plan of 1993. However, in 1997 and 1999, she helped create the State Children’s Health Insurance Programme, and tackled the problems of adoption and family safety and foster care. At the 1995 UN conference on women (held in Beijing), Clinton stated in a then controversial and influential speech, that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights”. When the Monica Lewinsky Sex Scandal threatened the First Family, she was bruised by the polarized comments it drew from the public, but she remained unbowed as she stood by her husband throughout the humiliating hearing that ensued.

In 2000, Hillary Clinton was elected the first female senator from New York, the only first lady ever to seek elective office. She was to repeat this feat in 2006 when she was re-elected to the senate. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, she voted to approve the war in Afghanistan as well as for the Iraq Resolution (a vote she later said she regretted). She took a leading role in investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders, amongst other crucial state responsibilities.

In 2008, she made her first attempt to run for president, but lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama. Her vast experience in politics and willingness to serve would later be rewarded when the Obama Administration appointed her Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. As Secretary of State during the Arab Spring, she supported US military intervention in Libya, an action that haunted her during the 2016 presidential debates. She also helped organize a diplomatic isolation and international sanctions against Iran, in an effort to force curtailment of Iran nuclear programme. Upon leaving office after Obama’s first term, she settled down to write her fifth book Hard Choices and to take on public speaking engagements.

Perhaps propelled by that natural inclination towards public service, Mrs. Clinton made a second presidential attempt, when she faced destiny on November 8, 2016. Although she polled most of the popular votes, Clinton lost to Republican rival Donald Trump, having failed to obtain the necessary 270 votes in the electoral college. And the rest is history.

FOR a silent influential category, Clinton represents what traditionally a woman should not be: Ambitious. A woman should conceal her ambitions in the same manner tradition expects her to shroud her nakedness, for brains and beauty are merely objectification of a woman’s biosexual configuration. In this deep-seated chauvinism of patriarchal psychology, a woman’s public display of erudition and brilliance is inconsistent with feminine modesty. The beauty of her brains is to be savoured within the confines of clandestine caucuses headed by overlords, in the same way a woman is ‘known’ in secrecy and privacy. By deploying brains, qualification and experience into fighting for the most powerful political office in the world, Hillary Clinton was going too far in this naked dance in the public.

WITH a treasure of such admirable qualities, garnered from years of eventful experiences in family, professional and political life, why did it matter in 2016? For Hillary-phobes, America abounds with so many women of incredible accomplishments, so why make a fuss about her? There are influential women in American politics, so what? There are brilliantly First Class lawyers in the US, and so? There are far more bruised and battered wives than Hillary in America, who still carry on with their marriage as if nothing happened, and so what difference does Mrs. Clinton make? The point is that, taken in isolation Clinton’s accomplishment may not be significant to the nerdy conservative. But when all her superlative qualities are viewed as a total package, providentially harnessed by the concourse of history, and reposed in one woman, the result is a phenomenon called Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Notwithstanding her achievements, Clinton, like all mortals grappling with existential problems, is not a saint. As the failures and foibles of her contestants have shown in so much magnitude, anyone aspiring for greatness as she did would have to break bones and court controversy on the path to success. And Mrs Clinton had her own fair share of such. Apart from the controversy generated by the US military intervention in Benghazi, Libya, in which four US citizens including the US ambassador to Libya died, some of her remarks in reference to women have been criticized as insensitive. For instance, once when responding to questions over conflict of interest between her job as wife of a governor and as professional, she was reported to have said: “… I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” Although she apologized later for that comment, an impression was formed about her as one idealistic lady with a distaste for women who are home makers.

Besides, her association with Huma Abedin, a Saudi Arabian born-American (Mrs Clinton’s aide, and in whose husband’s laptop some fresh e-mails were discovered), has given a different look not only into the “no charges” leveled on Clinton over the email controversy, but also into their professional and private relationships, which yellow journalism has often described as deeper than ordinary.

Beyond all this, by her deft demonstration of class, Clinton separates herself from the primitive bandwagon of ethnocentric white supremacist tendencies fast enveloping the fabled land of the free. She symbolizes a future negation of an America that is presently treading dangerously towards the path of mediocrity, short-sightedness and naive insularity. At a time America is inching towards the atavistic recesses of modern savagery and barbarism. Clinton represents a force of civility and global outreach. Her popularity, which cuts across the multicultural landmarks of America and beyond, is a reminder that hope lurks for progressives and indeed women in the now captive America as well as the rest of the world.

In a globalized world threatened by parochialism and lip service to man’s fundamental commonness, Clinton’s successes rekindle hope for minorities the world over. That her phenomenal success is one great gallop for womenfolk is demonstrative of this hope.

By vying for the Office of the President of the United States of America, Clinton was following a natural course in being. Once a seed is sown, watered and nourished, and then tempered by conducive and ameliorating environment, it blossoms to mature and fruitful finality, when its offshoots replays the teleology of vital movement. If nothing else, Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton made history by being the history that was never made.

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