Listening to one of Hillary Clinton’s stump speeches as she pursues the Democrats’ presidential nomination, you could be forgiven for suspecting that, taken at her word, she has been personally responsible for the liberation of women. In truth, her vapid and dismissive response to Bill Clinton’s history of abusive affairs likely set the women’s movement back many years. Hillary’s citing of a fabled “vast right-wing conspiracy” somehow, according to a compliant press corps, made Bill’s appalling history seem a mere side issue, all the allegations presented as no more than mere excuses to bring him down. Lies under oath, innovative uses for cigars and interns — even rape if you accept the word of at least two alleged victims and the late Christopher Hitchens, who wrote of having spoken at length to a third.
But none of this bothered Mrs Clinton, who has continued to present herself as the essence and hope of womanhood’s advancement. What she ignores are the key advances that have made life better for women and enabled them to take up opportunities previously un-achievable or forbidden. Legislation for compulsory school education for all children in the late 19th Century arguably opened the way. Those educated women would grow up to demand the vote, more control of money, and less back-breaking domestic drudgery.
Development of modern obstetrics in the early 20th Century meant for the first time most women would live as long or longer as men. (Take a look at the British TV series Call the Midwife to see that progress in action.) Prior to this huge advance, many women died in or after childbirth. The advent of the Pill in the 1960s allowed women to enter and continue careers previously ruled out for most by child-rearing. In turn, their own daughters needed to spend less time looking after younger siblings, freeing them to pursue advanced educations and careers.
But, no, in Hillary’s mind it seems the liberation of women depended mainly on elite blue-stockings who grew up after World War Two and made their careers, and much noise, in law, academia and the media. The more astute and marketable sold millions of books and newspapers, and changed many laws. However, and by their own admission, women have failed to achieve “true equality”, a shortfall which Mrs Clinton and supporters assert can best be remedied by installing her at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Principles, honesty, scandals, corruption and the airy dismissing of a horn-dog husband’s predations, apparently they count for nothing beside the urgent need to see a set of XX chromosomes in the Oval Office.
Really? If form is a guide — and every punter knows it is — then Mrs Clinton has failed dismally by own standards. As a former board member and director of Walmart, Hillary knew a lot about women in the sort of low-paid jobs she has oft lamented are symbols and symptoms of female oppression. Did she change anything at Walmart? Nope, not a thing. More recently, as US Secretary of State, Hillary visited many countries where women remain subjugated and are denied education. Did she utter a word in defense of her downtrodden international sisters? Again, only a siplomatic and self-serving silence.
Here I am reminded of a flight across America in 2008, when a I found myself seated next to a quintessential San Francisco “liberal” woman. The presidential primaries were in full swing at the time and over airline nuts and G&Ts, we chatted pleasantly about the Democratic candidates. I remember our conversation quite vividly because something she said was quite remarkable.
Going into the campaign, she had, of course, wanted Hillary to be her favoured party’s candidate, even to donating money and signing up as a Hillary volunteer. But then Obama cast his magic spell. And, in her mind, it became more important for the US to elect a black man than a white woman. I thought her change of heart spoke volumes. First, perhaps, her abandonment of Hillary suggested that women had in fact actually achieved that of which their grandmothers could only dream. What was left to fight for was either less important or else might always be blocked (perhaps by the intransigent behaviour of Bill Clintons and other wayward men). But for blacks and other minorities, change was still to come.
Sadly, despite the lady’s optimism in 2008, in Obama’s seven years and counting since, the way ahead for young blacks in America has become more difficult than ever. Most black children in America don’t grow up with their own fathers. One-third of black school students won’t graduate from high school. As noted by Hillary’s Democratic challenger, Bernie Sanders, half of all young US blacks are unemployed. Even when employed, the average household income of US blacks is 40% lower than the US average. And close to one in twenty US black males is in jail at any given moment.
These are terrible statistics, after nearly two terms of the first African-American President. The Obama project — if it was considered by the majority of Americans back in 2008 to inspire and lift black Americans — has failed. But would Hillary have done, or now do, any better?
The State of Arkansas, where Bill and Hillary lived in the Governor’s mansion for over a decade, is poor, Southern and has a 15% black population. And while they lived in Arkansas, Hillary became involved in a range of child- and family-advocacy issues. She should know the issues of black poverty, family breakdown, educational drop-out, unemployment and crime like the back of her hand. In the current Democratic primaries, the black vote has stuck with her more strongly than women voters. Yet, where is the evidence that Hillary in the White House would do any better than her buddy Barack in solving the enormous problems still facing US poor in their violence-beset black communities?
Hillary’s 1996 best-selling book It Takes a Village makes the point that improving a child’s prospects requires beneficial input from the whole community. And, in her 2016 campaign she emphasizes the need for more jobs to be created (or rather, retained) in America. Job growth would push down the 50% real unemployment of young black Americans, enabling them to help their children more.
But, is what Hillary says just blather? Or, if elected, is she likely to achieve substantial goals? In this regard her record offers some damning clues.
As First Lady in the 1990s she became very involved in the then-campaign for US healthcare reform, but was unable to get her favoured program off the starting blocks. When she was a Senator for New York in the 2000s, she served on five committees and a commission, but seems not to have been personally persuasive in the Senate on any major issue.
As Secretary of State, again she managed to talk-the-talk, all around the globe. But, arguably, US relations with many troubled countries (e.g. Russia, Syria, Iraq, North Korea) worsened.
Notoriously, as Secretary of State she used a private computer server to conduct official business, including transmission of some apparent state secrets, actions which might well see her indicted. And her response to the slaughter of a US Ambassador and colleagues in Benghazi was at first to distract the public by blaiming an unrelated anti-Muslim film made in California) and then, when that lie was exposed, to brazenly demand what difference it made anyway?.
However, given that some polls — not all, mind you — show Hillary would beat her likely Republican opponent, the unusual Mr Trump, in November, it seems a good many Americans are prepared to celebrate their first female president. Should that prove the case, I just hope that, this time around, that strength of character she extols as her primary appeal is up to the task of making her husband keep his roving hands off the help. The indications are that there will be precious little resolve to tackle any other of the world’s trouble.