It is time for Hillary to stand up, or stand down. But she cannot stand still. And if she isn’t prepared to stand up, she should sequester her self-promoting hype machine.
I appreciate that women yearn to be affirmed of their role in US society with the ascendance of one of their number to the highest office in the land. It is a blemish on our national record that a nation which professes to be democratic, a nation which has made many advances in equality for women prior to this century, has yet to elevate a competent woman through its political processes to this pinnacle. It is not for shortage for competent women.
But Hillary is not that woman. Not when you strip her down to substance. And women do themselves no favors by heaping their aspirations for recognition and advancement on a less-than-capable standard-bearer who will not likely deliver results, partly for reasons of her own, and partly for circumstances beyond her control.
Why Not Hillary?
Viewing her through gender-neutral eyes, my main question is: what has she accomplished of substance in her various roles?
As First Lady?
I would rank her below Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Laura Bush in representing that position with its inherent limits but high visibility.
As US Senator?
Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, but I do not recall any significant legislation, or any significant policy stance that distinguished her, beyond her effort to prove that she could ‘work across the aisle’, get along with the boys, and be acceptably hawkish. And this recognizes that as a freshman senator her options are inherently limited, but not non-existent for a person of her stature. Others have done more with less.
As Presidential Candidate?
Not the best job in staff selection or management. May the Fates have mercy if the same competence is brought to the Oval Office.
As Secretary of State?
Accomplishment 1. She put a friendlier and more rational face on US diplomacy, but that was a very low hurdle to clear from the prior administration.
Accomplishment 2. Gave greater visibility to women’s issues on the international stage.
Accomplishment 3. Most frequent flier miles of any secretary of state since the Wright Brothers.
Work-in-Progress 1. China. Neither better nor worse
Work-in-Progress 2. Af-Pak-istan No further comment needed.
Work-in-Progress 3. Israel-Palestine – No worse, no better, no fault of hers, but no cigar
Work-in-Progress 4. The Middle East – We don’t control it, we don’t even influence it any more, but we don’t have a clue either.
Fail Number 1 Benghazi – before the attack. We should have anticipated the level of risk and planned security accordingly.
Fail Number 2 Benghazi – during the attack – What was the Ambassador doing in such a vulnerable location virtually unprotected? Never adequately explained. Maybe not her personal responsibility, but it was her organization’s fail, and we know where the buck must stop.
Fail Number 3 Benghazi – the aftermath. The job of a leader is to lead. Susan Rice shouldn’t have had to take the heat as long as she did. Where was Hillary? No doubt there was in-fighting among various agencies with exposures to cover, but where was Hillary? Benghazi was her 3:00 a.m. call, and by all external appearances, she blew it. Most importantly, whether or not that is true, if she runs for President, the opposition will hammer her with insinuations that will be presented as fact, and will have the ring, if not the substance, of truth.
On a good day, Hillary will likely have a Congress as capable and congenial as her predecessor, and her options to govern will be as robust.
If Not Hillary, Who?
Tough question. I don’t have the answer. I think the first woman president most likely must come from a State governorship with a proven track record of accomplishment. Alternatively, she must be a leader of another venue with substantive accomplishment, not merely advocacy, and not merely an accomplished triangulator.
When I consider Hillary, I compare her to women in public life that I respect:
Kathleen Sebelius – Field General for Obamacare. Quiet, determined, hasn’t yet blown an incredibly complex assignment in spite of all the carping and sabotage from the usual suspects.
Sheila Bair – former head of the FDIC. Provided sound leadership of a critical institution at a critical time and apparently could stand toe-to-toe with the Boys’ Club and not flinch. Could be a team player when required, and speak her mind when needed.
Lisa Murkowski – Senator from Alaska – makes Sara Palin look like the wanna-be Momma Grizzly that she is. Has more testicular fortitude than most Republicans and Democrats. I may not agree with all of her positions, but I respect her independence of thought in a political neighborhood where that trait is generally fatal.
Elisabeth Warren – Fought for consumer rights before it was cool, and long before the systemic abuses became so blatant that her position could no longer be rationally denied. Green to the Senate, she has nonetheless wasted no time in bringing some moral indignation to an institution that otherwise seems grossly short on moral compass. Needs to ripen on the vine a bit, and achieve the kind of solid accomplishment she was capable of but denied in her role forming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
It may be that none of the above ladies would have all the necessary attributes of an effective president, but they each reflect qualities and a level of attainment that I find lacking in Hillary. If women in the US are to achieve the next milestone of political advancement in the coming or some future presidential race, they must pick the best horse, and not the one that can prance with the greatest flair.
But Hillary, for all that she has invested in her aspirations, should not be denied an opportunity to earn what she believes is her destiny, and she still has an opportunity.
First, she needs to mount a concerted advocacy against the anti-women, anti-family agendas of the current US Congress and many state legislatures. She needs to rally and LEAD women and the men who value them to get off their apathy and demonstrate that they are a philosophical and electoral force to be reckoned with.
Second, she needs to lead the charge to create in 2014 and maintain in 2016 a Congress that she can work with. If she fails that, she will be no more successful than her predecessor, and possibly not as effective. Her own party is her second biggest obstacle to the White House.
Third, she needs to articulate, not triangulate, some clear and compelling policy initiatives that she is prepared to stand or fall on.
* * *
Leadership requires clarity of purpose and courage. While I empathize with Obama’s circumstance, we must move beyond it in the next presidential term. We have critical issues that cannot be deferred due to deception and political destruction by a minority Taliban of the radical right, or the dithering and diffusion of energies and purpose by a narcissistic Left.
If women are to advance their cause, they must first unify around a core agenda that can bring them together in critical mass, and then choose the best candidate, male or female, to advance that cause. If Hillary is to earn that opportunity, she must do it with more than a well oiled PR machine.
The time to act is now. The clock is ticking.