Hillary Clinton rose to power, stumbled before end goal

She was rated by Americans for 20 years as the most admired woman in the world, yet failed to win the presidency.

Bill Clinton's shadow became both a boon and a burden in her bid to attain the presidency herself [Reuters]
Bill Clinton's shadow became both a boon and a burden in her bid to attain the presidency herself [Reuters]

It was the sector of America that Hillary Clinton had made her special cause: the female 50 percent.

She was to be the one bringing to the White House the sensibilities and sensitivities of her gender that had never been truly appreciated.

And in a contest pitting her against the first presidential candidate who had been openly quoted as treating women as sex objects, Clinton’s advantage seemed to be secure.

But in the end, her following never delivered at the polls.

True, she captured 54 percent of the total female vote, according to ABC News exit polls.

But among white women, Donald Trump won 53 percent versus 43 percent for Hillary.

Her share of the total female vote was one point less than Barack Obama received four years ago.

Former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary celebrate his victory in the Democratic runoff in Little Rock, Arkansas 1982 file photo [AP]

Years after Hillary Rodham yielded to convention and became better known to the world by her married name, she said: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfil my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”

By that time – 1992 – Bill Clinton was running for president and Hillary had emerged as a public figure in her own right, though still in her husband’s shadow.

That shadow became both a boon and a burden in her bid to attain the presidency herself.

But Hillary had to deal with two paradoxical realities: rated by Americans for 20 straight years as the most admired woman in the world, yet drawing the disapproval of six in every 10 voters.

Her standing reflects the polarisation of America’s political landscape but also the choices made by the woman who has climbed higher than any other up the greasy pole of power.

Along the way, Hillary assumed a long list of contentious roles.

Growing up in suburban Chicago with a conservative father and a homemaker mother who had been given up by her own parents, Hillary was bred as a Young Republican avid for Barry Goldwater, the party’s 1964 presidential candidate.

But the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement transformed her into a dissenting Democrat by the time she graduated from Wellesley College.

Her politely defiant college commencement speech coincided with rising campus unrest across the country and gained her first national media attention.

It was at Yale Law School that she met Bill Clinton, who shared her interest in politics and eventually persuaded her to leave Washington, where she had worked on the congressional staff investigating disgraced President Richard Nixon.

She joined Bill in his native state of Arkansas, and after a failed run for Congress, he served 11 years as governor.

He appointed her to head a public education reform panel, Hillary’s first high-profile political position that won her wider recognition as a leader.

At the same time, Hillary became the primary family breadwinner, at times earning four times her husband’s salary as a lawyer representing big corporations and serving on their boards.

During his winning 1992 presidential campaign, Bill touted Hillary as a prime asset, saying: “You can get two for the price of one.”

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington in 1993, before the Senate Finance Committee on healthcare reform [John Duricka/AP]

But once in the White House, the job she was given ended in glaring failure.

Her mission was to come up with a formula to assure healthcare security to every American, a plan that could win the support of labour, employers and the health insurance industry.

It was met instead with a lethal barrage of resistance, including opposition from many fellow Democrats.

The secret proceedings of her healthcare task force also contributed to an image of evasiveness that her foes have seized upon ever since.

They were eager to see her caught up in controversies involving the handling of the White House staff and a murky Arkansas property deal which lost the First Couple their investment but ultimately landed several of their old associates in prison.

Some even blamed her for the suicide of a former law firm colleague.

Along the way, Hillary was forced to testify before a grand jury over property investments, an appearance never made by a first lady before or since.

Many of Bill Clinton’s predecessors indulged in extra-marital affairs, but Hillary was the only presidential spouse to bear the public embarrassment.

She described herself as “dumbfounded, heartbroken and outraged” when he confessed to his affair with a White House intern.

Yet even after his admission, Hillary defended his conduct as a mistake brought on by pressures from “ugly forces” who conspired against the president.

The scandal, capped by the first presidential impeachment in more than a century, did Hillary no harm when she won her first election campaign handily in 2000.

New York Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton during her victory rally in 2000 [Ron Edmonds/AP]

Clinton’s eight years as a conscientious US senator from her adopted state of New York kept her in the headlines but never produced a major legislative accomplishment.

They did, however, serve as a springboard for her first presidential run in 2008.

In a pack of eight Democratic candidates, Hillary found Barack Obama emerge as her only serious opponent, one who capitalised on her Senate vote endorsing George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. 

Her narrow loss of the nomination would have returned Clinton to the Senate but Obama’s offer to be his secretary of state thrust her on to a world stage.

In one of her memoirs, Clinton said her prime objective had been to reshape US foreign policy around “smart power” – a combination of military, political and economic tools in pursuit of human rights, grassroots democracy, women’s empowerment and open internet access.

But after leaving office she made some of her differences with Obama clear, especially over his cautious approach to Syria.

“The failure”, she wrote, to build up rebel forces against the Assad regime “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled”.

And she belittled Obama’s slogan of “don’t do stupid stuff”: that, she said, was not an organising principle for great nations.

Hillary Clinton found Barack Obama emerge as her only serious opponent during her first presidential run [Evan Vucc/AP]

While she and Bill cultivated friends and donors for their charitable ventures, the couple also built a sizeable nest egg of their own by earning an estimated $230m since leaving the White House, mostly from speaking fees and book contracts. Their combined net worth is  at least $50m.

But American voters have rarely begrudged politicians for their personal wealth.

Bernie Sanders, the man Hillary defeated for the Democratic nomination, may have questioned her ethics for accepting $250,000 or more for a speech to Wall Street bankers but never accused Clinton of corruption.

Unlike Donald Trump, who called Clinton “corrupt” over her handling of state department emails, for which she apologised as a mistake but not a criminal one.

Some of her admirers joined Clinton’s detractors in complaining that her penchant for excessive secrecy, however justified, would prove to be her Achilles’ heel.

That was certainly a major factor in her undoing.

But in her concession speech, Hillary made no mention of the reasons that so many American women saw in her an unacceptable champion.

Instead she looked to a time, “hopefully sooner than we might think right now,” when another woman would achieve what she never would.

Former president Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton look on during a ceremonial swearing-in for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2009 [Haraz N Ghanbari/AP]
Source : Al Jazeera


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