lunes, 1 de agosto de 2016

In praise of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton is now the first female candidate in the history of the United States. This is objectively a bigger milestone than the nomination eight years ago of Barack Obama, who might have been black, but was also a man, and thus belonging to the same gender that has held the Presidency since 1789.

How come then, that it is difficult to perceive the same kind of enthusiasm that the U.S. (and even the world) held eight years ago when Obama was nominated?

It is true, of course, that Hillary Clinton is a known commodity. She has been in the national radar since the summer of 1992, nearly a quarter-century ago.

She was an unusual First Lady, in the sense that she did try hard (although ultimately unsucccessfully) to break the floral-arrangements mold of that role (even Michelle Obama, who is a superqualified professional, has had to center on issues like child obesity and healthy eating, worthy, no doubt, but not exactly challenging for a woman of her intelligence and poise).

She endured a cad of a husband (good President, but seriously underwhelming as a life partner) with grace and dignity, which has somehow been transformed by her enemies into heartless ambition to reach the Presidency, as if she endured her husband's infidelities because of the sole goal of becoming President decades later. It is almost as if her critics cannot conceive of a love that is able to transcend one's partners infidelities (it happens every day in real life).

She has been a non-decorative First Lady of Arkansas for twelve years, a non-decorative First Lady of the United States for eight years, a Senator representing New York for eight years, Secretary of State for another four years. She is obviously qualified for the job.

As a politician, she has, of course, weaknesses: she voted for the Iraq war in 2003, which in hindsight looks like an obvious mistake (but one in which half of her fellow Democratic Senators concurred, and one in which she was thoroughly misled by the Bush administration). The e-mail business as Secretary of State shows, in my opinion, the limitations of a 62-year-old person in 2009 regarding technological issues rather than some cavalier attitude towards national security.

It is true that she seems to belong to the old school of showing American strength through military force rather than through diplomatic means, and it is absolutely true that she is an uninspiring public speaker, plodding and fake-sounding, specially after eight years of probably one of the great public presidential orators in Barack Obama.

However, the fact of the matter is that everyone who has actually worked with her in the last forty years says she is dedicated, hard-working, exceptionally well-prepared, level-headed, and with a good sense of humour. And let's be sincere: speechifying is a good asset for a President, but hardly the main core of the job, which is being the top administrator of the United States, a task that is mostly boring and involves hard work (in other ways, a task that suits Hillary Clinton wonderfully).

She probably will be an average-to-good President, somewhere between George H.W.Bush and her own husband (full disclosure: I think she will be a bit worse than Obama, who has all her good qualities, plus being a good communicator).

How come then she is not running thirty points ahead of Donald Trump, a man who has no experience whatsoever, is a racist demagogue who routinely insults Muslims, Latinos and minorities in general, who shows his breathtaking ignorance and lack of temperament to be trusted with the nuclear codes on a daily basis?

We are hearing lots of explanations about it: the fact that Donald Trump speaks to a set of voters (white working class with "racial resentment" issues) who feel their wages are stagnant in the last half century (they are, and that is their strongest point) and that they have been disenfranchised (specially since the election of a black president... hmmmm), the fact that hardening polarization means that there are not many voters in the middle, etc.

But let's just talk about the big elephant in the room, which is sheer, unadulterated ol' boy sexism: a substantial part of the American commentariat and of the American public seems to have issues with having a female Commander-in-Chief.

This, of course, will not be a surprise to any professional woman who has had to juggle the problems which being a mother, a wife and a worker involve. The fact of the matter is and remains that professional women are subject to much stricter scrutiny than professional men: they have to work harder and they receive less accolades from their colleagues and less money from their bosses.

Things get even worse when they try to balance their professional lives with their marriages. And they get even worser (I know I am inventing a word here) when they aim to become more successful than their partners (particularly, when they earn more money than them or try to get a more important position).

The fact of the matter is that Hillary Clinton is resented by a substantial amount of men (and women!!!) because of her trying to achieve something that up until now had only been reserved for men. A substantial amount of Trump voters are people who just think, deep in their hearts, that a woman is being too "uppity" by trying to become President (the very same people, by the way, that thought eight years ago that a black guy was being too "uppity" by trying to become President).

We keep hearing that Trump voters have legitimate concerns (I actually think they do, on a strict economic basis). But they have chosen a mightily wrong vessel to channel them. It would be one thing if the Republican Party had a qualified white man as their nominee against Hillary Clinton (the Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz debacle shows that even a very conservative Latino was too much to ask for). But having chosen Trump, the high and even the low moral ground has been ceded. Mitt Romney was mocked four years ago for looking "like the guy that fired you from your job". Donald Trump became well-known for a TV show whose catchphrase was "You're fired!"

Hillary Clinton, because of her accomplishments in nearly forty years of public life, would be a strong candidate for the Presidency in any case. That she is a woman who has juggled her profession, her marriage and her motherhood quite successfully in the last fourty years, if anything, should be a plus, not a detriment. And her thrice-married sexist opponent, who changes wives when they begin to age, grades women on a regular basis for their looks ("she is not a 10" he will say) is literally the polar opposite of her. With all her defects, she embodies an America worth aiming to: a more equal America. Trump does not want to make America great again; he wants America to go backwards.