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Hillary Clinton's Critics Completely Miss the Point

Sep 26, 2017

 

We always wondered when she would emerge. Bruised and battered from an American election campaign like none other in the country’s history, Hillary Clinton took a well-deserved, and much needed, break from the lime light. Except for a couple of brief appearances, she has said little and shared even less. And, really, who could fault her?  

Beautifully positioned by the Democratic machine to break America’s rather pernicious glass ceiling as the country’s first female president, Hillary Clinton's campaign had more runway, and money, than even she had dreamed. It seemed pre-destined that a woman would finally become president of the United States.

Until it wasn’t.  

In our collective post-election haze, it was incredibly tempting to equate Trump’s triumph with Clinton’s very personal failure. Nevermind that the Democrats writ large couldn’t get their heads around the reality of a Trump-phenomenon, much less take it on.

Many sought to blame Clinton for wanting to be president in the first place, where, over years, decades really, she persisted, insisted, in fact, that she ought to be in the race.  Underneath, many faulted Clinton for her audacity to want the big prize despite marital and email scandals, motherhood and her roller coaster ride as First Wife.  

No matter that she served as the US’s most popular (ever) Secretary of State, or was elected and re-elected as a successful Senator for the state of New York. Forget Clinton's renowned policy acumen as both a senior member of Obama’s administration and Senator, or her well known ability to reach across the aisle. 
Hillary Clinton (source: Clinton's twitter headshot Sept 2017)
Source: Hillary Clinton's twitter account headshot

What Hillary Clinton has been wearing since last November is a massive election defeat, and now that she has written a book which documents this extraordinary period, she is being pilloried by one too many commentator, often male, for daring to speak up. How could she, they say, seize the occasion to tell this harrowing story featuring herself as the anti-star, and bring our attention back to a campaign few want to remember.  

Welcome to the anti-feminist backlash where ambitious women who stumble, let alone fall, by design or circumstance, are expected to stay out of the public realm - where many believe they likely should have stayed in the first place. The boldness of women like Hillary Clinton to seek opportunities to talk about it publicly seems, for some, too much to bear. 

There is, in all this hand-wringing about Clinton’s re-emergence, a subtext that politics is really for the boys, and girls are only allowed in when they out-perform and ultimately deliver for the (often male-dominated) troops. Once tarnished, their flaws fully revealed, these political women are viewed as largely disposable, having entered an arena that wasn’t really theirs to own in the first place. Stoicism and silence are the order of the day. Reflecting on the experience, let alone capitalizing it, are regarded as beyond the pale for most female politicians.  

But politics, and leadership, is fundamentally an exercise in resilience, in believing that you have something to offer for the public good. It means constantly putting yourself out there, persisting under ever-changing circumstances, navigating an unruly political apparatus, discerning who is friend and who is foe, mounting a compelling narrative, and ultimately confronting an unpredictable electorate where hundreds, thousands, or possibly millions of people may not vote for you or your party.  

Succeed or fail, few women in the United States or Canada, have traveled that journey, especially as leader, and what they have to say is extraordinarily useful. And not only do they have the right to share it, the lessons they have learned are key to the next generation of women leaders. 

Running, winning, losing, reflecting, rebuilding and moving ahead are all part of the political cycle. Very few politicians, men or women, have gone untouched by a campaign that didn't go awry, political conditions they did not predict, and real loss. The courage and capacity to run for public office, for leader, Premier, Prime Minister or President knowing full well that you may lose are the defining features of tenacity and conviction, regardless of outcome.  

As 338 Members of Parliament return this week to Ottawa, we’re all aware that more than a few have stumbled over the past year and some. Not everyone is living up to expectations and some have had a steeper learning curve than others.

Despite this, hanging up their gear and going home is the last thing we should want. Learning on the job is part of politics, and it is part of life. And if we want more diversity and more women in the House who aren’t political hacks and junkies but real and imperfect people, there will be, no doubt, bumps in the road, often big ones. 

Notably, throughout North America, Hillary’s loss hasn’t served to demobilize women. On the contrary, Equal Voice and its sister groups in the US have experienced a dramatic up surge among women who feel highly motivated to run, to get involved in politics, to make a difference.

While clearly not her intention, Hillary Clinton, by virtue of her very human and raw experience, is not the poster child for crass political opportunism as the cynics want you to believe, but a captivating champion for why it matters so much to get in the game. Undoubtedly, far more women need to seek and serve in electoral politics for democracy’s sake and Hilary’s defeat underscored that more than ever.

Who better to learn from that someone who has nearly seen it all? Whether you buy it or not is up to you.

 
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This article was written by Nancy Peckford
Equal Voice’s National Spokesperson
& Executive Director.

Originally published in the Hill Times Online
18 September 2017

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