Hillary Clinton is the first woman to capture the presidential nomination of one of the country’s major political parties. The bruising challenge from Bernie Sanders and the caustic nature of the campaign must not overshadow the historic nature of her achievement. Hillary Clinton’s political trajectory—from first lady, to senator, to secretary of state and now Democratic nominee, offers a case study in the rise of women–from Freud’s discredited but long held belief that “anatomy is destiny”—to full participation in society.
Before Hillary Clinton, no woman in American history had even come close to winning the nomination for president of the United States, and yet, their bids are instructive. In 1964, Republican candidate Margaret Chase Smith refused to miss a vote in the senate or accept campaign donations. In 1972, New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm ran for president, not because she could win, but instead to prove that she could be in the race. Her experience as a presidential candidate caused her to observe that Americans “are more sexist than racist.” In 1988 Democratic Presidential candidate Pat Schroeder grew wary of the constant comment: “you don’t look like the President,” and in 1999 Elizabeth Dole’s courtly communication style that served her well as president of the American Red Cross and as the spouse of 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole, was less effective for a person angling to be the leader of the free world. Her competition—George W. Bush and Steve Forbes also had war chests few could rival. In 2004, Carol Mosely Braun, a one term senator from Illinois, could not rise about negative press and could not muster enough support as the lone female presidential hopeful in 2004.
2008 is when history turned. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who forty years earlier, in her Wellesley Commencement address, asserted that “the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible” almost did when she won 18 million votes –but not enough to capture the nomination. She is now the presumptive nominee, however, the 2016 race for the White House has been especially vitriolic with attention more on the negative qualities of each nominee than on the issues that drive the policies for our country.
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump came of age at a time of nonstop public upheaval—the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and a time of sit-ins, teach-ins, strikes, marches and protests. So far, the rhetoric of this campaign has been a rhetoric of confrontation. Now is the time for both campaigns to put the vitriol behind and begin an issue-driven general election campaign that elects the best leader for America.