Hillary Clinton: The Feminist President We Need?

The October 15th Democratic debate raised the bar considerably. There was no name calling, no bickering and even some show of support between the candidates. This was also the most watched Democratic debate in history, with 15.3 million viewers, as well as almost a million people watching CNN’s livestream. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders dominated the debate—quite literally, with Clinton speaking the most out of any of the other candidates, at 31 minutes and 5 seconds. As a feminist and cis woman, it would bring me the greatest joy and sense of triumph to see Clinton be elected as the first female president of the United States. But, as with any other politician, or human for that matter, she is flawed, giving me pause for thought. Is she the strongest, best feminist choice?

On the one hand, she was the only candidate during the debate to make a reference to reproductive rights. When asked to respond to Carly Fiorina’s concerns that federally mandated paid family leave would lower job growth, Clinton said, “This is typical Republican scare tactics…We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small businesses. I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court because I was practicing law..we need the join the rest of the advance world in having it.

When further questioned by moderator Dana Bash, that some taxpayers wouldn’t be open to yet another government program, Clinton had this to say, ” When people say that, it’s always the Republicans or sympathizers who say you can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care. They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and try to take down Planned Parenthood…They’re fine with big government when it come to that. I’m sick of it. We can do these things. We should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, ‘big government this, big government that’ except for what they want to impose on the American people. We’re going to make the wealthy pay for it. That is the way to get it done.”

The fact that, unlike almost the entire Republican debate, reproductive rights were only touched on once, was almost a relief. But Clinton managed to remind us that this is still an important fight and managed to steer the conversation to a more intelligent discussion. Bringing it around to the issue of family leave is so important because the US is just one of three countries that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. By offering paid leave, mothers are more likely to return to their job and end up with raises. Compare that to the 40% of first-time mothers who are forced to take unpaid leave, a quarter of whom either quit or are fired after their children are born. This is not just a female issue—this is a feminist issue. What’s left out of the conversation and what the US is a long way away from, is paid leave for mothers and fathers. Fathers have a right to take time to be with their children, just as much as mothers do. What’s more, studies have shown that fathers who are able to spend more time with their children not only report having greater confidence as a parent, but results in them being more involved as their children grow up.

A lot of Clinton’s fault lies in the fact that she often picks the popular position, rather than the right one. Until 2013, she opposed gay-marriage. She could have changed her mind of course, but from the past she comes from, it is more than likely that this was partially a political strategy. Now that the wind has changed, so has she. That being said, she has supported LGBT equality for a number of years. In a December 2011 speech in Switzerland, she stated, “Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

One issue that Clinton has been throughly supportive and outspoken about is the issue of prison reform and a call for more body cameras on police. Two days after the Baltimore riots, she spoke up, saying, “There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts…There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.” Clinton has noted the is a connection between unfair law enforcement practices and unfair prison policy. Though this may seem obvious, many politicians refuse to acknowledge the connection. 

Hillary is a great politician. She has the experience it takes to run the country, her delivery and communication is infinitely more polished than other candidates. She would make an exceptional president, more to the point, our first female president. This would set a new standard for the US, showing we have matured infinitely as a nation.

But, just because Clinton is a woman (as she repeatedly reminded viewers during the debate) doesn’t mean she should automatically get elected.The other cause for concern is that Clinton comes from a place of privilege. She is part of a legacy and much of her campaign is funded by big banks. My worry is that she is not for the people as much as she seems to say she is, but more for Wall Street. Will she truly try for an increase in minimum wage, more affordable health care for everyone and (dare I say) free college tuition?

She leans to positions that will make her look better, even if they are not the right ones. She is not always very clear on her stance, because she is trying to remain within the popular vote. Perhaps because of this, some of her ideas are less progressive. She is less willing to take a stance in case it’s too much of a political risk. She is a politician who makes promises, as all politicians do. If she can step beyond those promises, see them through and be willing to stand forward, ahead of the crowd, she will truly shine.

One standout moment, was when the moderators touched on the Clinton email scandal. Clinton stated that “the House Select Committee on Benghazi was ‘basically an arm of the Republican National Committee’, calling its investigations into her use of a private account a ‘partisan’ drive to take down her poll numbers.”  Bernie Sanders, supporting her, spoke out against the press’ focus on this topic, “…the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails…Enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.” At which point, Clinton thanked Sanders and shook his hand. It was moments like this, where candidates were willing to support one another, instead of strike each other down, that truly made the Democratic debate stand out in stark comparison to the Republican one. If we could pick and choose, maybe we should have Clinton for president, with Sanders as her vice president. Clinton would bring the experience and Sanders would bring the ideas.

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India Rose Kushner

A writer, journalist, poet and feminist.

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