Hillary Clinton finds a soft spot

2015-04-19 15:00

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The former first lady’s concern for mothers and children has been a constant in her career and will feature prominently in her US presidential race, writes Michelle Goldberg

Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement on Sunday may mark the moment the Democrats officially became the party of family values. Throughout the late 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s, conservatives were remarkably successful at pummelling Democrats as foes of ordinary parents and their children.

Progressives occasionally tried to argue that families were protected by economic justice and a stronger social safety net, not abortion bans and anti-gay demagoguery, but while this happens to be true, it often failed to resonate.

Too many Americans blamed feminism and the sexual revolution – and by extension, the left – for social and economic upheavals that had left them reeling. Ozzie and Harriet’s America was always a brief, half-imaginary historical anomaly, but a lot of people longed for it, and the right was able to weaponise that longing.

For a long time, Democrats flailed about, trying to respond. Indeed, some of Bill Clinton’s most depressing acts of triangulation – firing Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for her remarks on masturbation, signing the Defense of Marriage Act, ending Aid to Families with Dependent Children – involved trying to conform to a Republican definition of wholesomeness.

Now, though, we have finally moved past that.

The surprisingly moving video announcing Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency shows that Democrats have finally found an authentic version of pro-family politics. The video, titled Getting Started, features ordinary families preparing for milestones – a woman deciding to move house so that her daughter can be in a better school district for kindergarten, a couple getting ready for a baby, a stay-at-home mum about to return to work, two men engaged to be married.

“Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,” says Clinton.

The campaign announcement suggests this will be a very different Clinton campaign than we saw in 2008, one that emphasises gender and so-called women’s issues instead of running from them. And whatever you think of Clinton, it’s a triumph of feminism – or, at least, a certain kind of feminism – that issues like family leave and childcare are about to be at the centre of a presidential contest.

There is historical irony and historical continuity in Hillary Clinton emerging as the standard-bearer for a family-focused progressivism. It’s ironic because throughout the 1990s, Clinton was demonised as a cookie-hating enemy of home and hearth.

“When Bill and Hillary Clinton talk about family values, they are not talking about either families or values,” said Pat Robertson at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

“They are talking about a radical plan to destroy the traditional family.”

At that convention, Republicans went out of their way to laud Marilyn Quayle, the vice- president’s wife, for being what the New York Times called the Un-Hillary, a woman who had given up her legal career to serve her family.

“Marguerite Sullivan, Mrs Quayle’s chief of staff, was asked to draw distinctions between her boss and Mrs Clinton,” said the Times. ‘Marilyn Quayle is absolutely committed to her family,’ she replied. ‘She makes time for the children; she’s always home for dinner at 7pm.’”

In reality, however, Clinton was never any sort of family-scorning radical feminist.

Indeed, however chameleon-like her public persona, concern for mothers and children has been a constant in her career, from her early work with the Children’s Defense Fund to her book It Takes a Village, to her work in the state department on maternal mortality. Contrary to the right’s caricature, Clinton’s feminism always had a distinctly maternalist bent.

And now her campaign will too. This is a sign that her team has changed. Gone, thankfully, is the odious Mark Penn, who advised Clinton in 2008 that voters see presidents as father figures and did “not want someone who would be the first mama, especially in this kind of world”.

More than that though, it’s a sign that the country has changed.

The rapid public embrace of gay marriage has turned it from a Republican wedge issue into a Democratic one, casting conservatives as the scowling enemies of loving couples who want to join the most bourgeois of all institutions.

The rise of female breadwinners, and of women in the workforce more generally, has eroded the idea that “family” means a working father and a stay-at-home mother. Family values thus no longer signify retrograde social arrangements.

Today, it’s more obvious than ever that it’s liberals who are fighting for women (and men) to be able to make time for their children and get home for dinner at a decent hour. It’s encouraging that Clinton is making this her banner because it’s long been her cause. – The Nation, distributed by Agence Global

Goldberg is a senior contributing writer at The Nation and author of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, and Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism

Tinseltown nails its colours to the mast

Hollywood stars have chorused support for Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign, indicating that Tinseltown will be firmly behind the former first lady as she sets her sights on the White House top job. Within hours of Clinton confirming her plans to stand next year, celebrities including Jennifer

Lopez, Scarlett Johansson and Magic Johnson gave their stamp of approval to her bid to become the first female commander in chief

“I’m very excited by the news,” singer Jennifer Lopez was quoted as saying by Eonline at Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles. “I think it’s time for a woman (president)” she added.

Basketball legend Johnson, a staunch Democrat, meanwhile took to Twitter to give his support.

“I feel @HillaryClinton will be a great President for the American people and she will make sure that everyone has a voice!” Johnson said.

“@HillaryClinton will fight for the poor, middle class and embrace young people!”

Actress Johansson meanwhile suggested Clinton would be battle-hardened and more prepared for a second tilt at the White House following her bruising battle with Barack Obama for the Democratic ticket in 2008.

“It’s very exciting to see Hillary,” Johansson said.

“Now is the right time. She needed to get through what she did to get to this point to run again. Now she’s ready for it.

“I think she’s a very good politician,” Johansson told an Access Hollywood reporter at Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards.

Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s hit series “Girls” posted an image of Clinton on Instagram scrutinising a cell phone.

“This is Hillary reading a text from me that says ‘with you every step of the way, gurl’ #mypresident,” Dunham wrote above the photo.

Actress America Ferrera, best known as the star of the sitcom “Ugly Betty” posted a picture on Twitter of her campaigning for Clinton in 2008. “I believed in her then, I believe in her now. @HillaryClinton #mypresident,” she added.

Uzo Aduba, one of the stars of award-winning Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” opted for a one-word message of support, with a Twitter message reading simply: “Hillary.”

Singer-songwriter Carole King was similarly sparing in a tweeted message, responding to Clinton’s announcement with the reply: “I’m in.”

While support of Hollywood and entertainment industry power players are an important source of campaign fundraising, surveys have shown that the backing of celebrities holds little sway over the way Americans vote.

A 2012 poll for CBS News and Vanity Fair reported that 89% of respondents said the celebrity endorsement of a particular candidate made no difference to them when it came to voting.

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