Tammy Wynette, Tea Bags and Baking
1992Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the national stage when Bill Clinton ran for president. I was a freshman at Drake University during primary season and ordinarily, the Iowa caucuses would have been an exciting experience for political science students of either party. However that year, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) had entered the race and so the caucuses were not competitive. The big race was New Hampshire and so when Gennifer Flowers went public with her 12-year affair with Governor Clinton, the 60 Minutes interview with Bill and Hillary was critical not just to that primary, but to his political future.
This was the interview that coined the infamous Tammy Wynette “Stand by Your Man” comment which went “viral” before “going viral” was a thing. By all academic and political hack measures, Hillary Clinton saved her husband’s political career during that 10-minute interview, but that statement combined with comments made later to reporters asking her about conflicts of interest with her work at the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas in which she snapped, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” left an indelible imprint in the minds of Americans.
I was 19 years old and remember that interview and the campaign that followed like it was yesterday. Consider for a moment that in 1992, Roe vs. Wade was not yet 20 years old and that less than 30 years prior, states could criminalize birth control. It was not until Griswald vs. Connecticut (1965) that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marital privacy thus, setting the stage for Roe. The 1970s had been a decade of progress in the second – wave feminist movement with legislation and court cases that advanced the cause of gender equality and fairness in hiring. It was the era of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. There were marches and demonstrations, women across the country in small towns and on college campuses demanding equality not just in law, but in practice.
The 1980s were seen holistically as a “return to normalcy” after the turbulence of the 1960s and 70s. This included a reassessment of traditional gender roles in American society; a reassessment that was truly determinant by class, region and in some cases education level. In 1991, Susan Faludi published “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women” in which she argued that during the 1980s, America witnessed a media-driven backlash to the advances women made in the 1970s. The media chose to emphasize and promote women in traditional gender roles over those of independent, single, childless and modern.
It was an interesting theory and a good book. And that was the world in the early 90s. Phyllis Schlafly was still a powerful voice in the anti-feminist movement. In 1992, the Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass in Iowa for many of the same reasons as it failed nationally a decade before. Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice after Anita Hill testified against him and described sexual harassment, a phrase, and term that had barely been uttered on national television. Much progress had been made and the forces of order were pushing back.
And out of that emerged Hillary Rodham Clinton.
MeI became a liberal in high school. The issue? Abortion. Looking back, I wonder if I just wanted to be political or to make a statement and so I decided to pick one of the more controversial issues of the day. Answering that may take more reflection. Back then there were pro-choice Republicans but the Democrats had ‘pro-choice’ and ‘reproductive rights’ in their platform. I distinctly recall asking myself if I could think of a situation in which I might decide to have a procedure. The answer was “yes” and obviously, I would want that procedure to be safe and performed by you know, a licensed professional. Just like that, I was a liberal and when it came time to register to vote, a Democrat. The rest of the liberal platform came with ease and fell within my worldview. More importantly, the Democratic social and fiscal policies, even when we were ‘wandering in the wilderness’ during those post-Vietnam War years made sense to me, they fit with my Christian faith and values.
But more than anything, I was a feminist and as a feminist, I admired Hillary. Idolized might be a stretch, but ‘admired’ is still too squishy. While “America” blew up over the Tammy Wynette comment and the tea and cookies insults, I loved them. And honestly, I could not understand why everyone was so upset. It was Tammy Wynette. She was “old country.” Why on earth did any of it matter? Hillary was brilliant. She supported her husband and was a good mom. She kept her last name (until she learned that one of the reasons Bill lost his first re-election campaign was because she kept her maiden name, so she added the ‘Clinton’). She had committed herself to public service and fought for women and children. Who cared if she baked cookies?
While some Americans saw these comments as an assault on traditional gender roles and an insult to women who chose them, I heard them differently both then and certainly now. The feminist movement promoted and let’s be honest, in some cases pushed and fought hard against centrifugal forces to allow women, all women, the same opportunities of men. The movement’s champions, from the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York never sought to displace men nor grant privileges to women that they did not deserve. Rather, feminism has always been about tearing down barriers; barriers to entry, education, advancement and ultimately success.
But along the way, Hillary and millions of women like her (including me and likely you too) have been faced with conflicting priorities. While the feminist movement led to many advances in areas of education, politics, and private industry, its opponents tended to use the movement’s goals as a way to divide us. For those of us who chose a career over family, there were labels. For those who chose the opposite – to forego their careers to care for their families, they too may have felt inadequate and “sell-outs” to the cause. And finally, those like Hillary, who chose to do both, and to do both publicly, were open to criticism and hostility from both sides as well as internal criticism and self-doubt as to whether we were hurting our families by pursuing careers and vice versa. The comments in New Hampshire, I believed then (to the extent that I understood the dueling forces) and I certainly believe now are credited to the conflicting messages and internal human responses of women to those questioning our priorities, especially when every day our primary goal is to just “keep it together.”
Politics is an ugly business but as the Clinton campaign turned into the transition and the transition to the administration, the vitriol was different and much more personal. Clinton’s first term was difficult and that included, in no small measure, Hillary’s attempt to reform health care. The Republican Party regained majorities in both the House and the Senate during the mid-terms but even then, the partisan bluster was unusual at that time (of course, compared to 2016, the 90s were a bedtime story). Animosity toward the First Lady was pointed and disturbing; unlike anything, I had seen or experienced in the past. After health care failed, Hillary did seem to step back from policy and for a while, maintained a more traditional role in the White House.
Interestingly, Hillary’s approval ratings always trended up when she was perceived as the “victim” or when she was on the defensive. Bill Clinton’s infidelities come to mind. But she also proved herself a capable ambassador and women’s advocate on the international stage so it was not surprising that she would pursue a political career in her own right by running for and serving in the US Senate. By all accounts, Hillary was a very successful Senator; you do not have to take my word for it – Google. In the eight years that she served in the upper chamber, she had a track record of bi-partisan cooperation and collaboration. She continued to support policies that benefited working families and children (aka – not Wall Street) and fought for first responders who became ill after inhaling poisonous dust at Ground Zero.
Finally, despite what you might read on some conservative blogs, Breitbart and FOX News, Clinton was seen as an activist and successful Secretary of State. We can have the Benghazi debate all day long and we can discuss successes and failures of middle eastern policy. But among foreign policy experts (those that know how this stuff is done), Clinton ranked toward the top.
“What Happened”This brings me to today. Hillary’s latest book, “What Happened” was released on Tuesday by Simon and Schuster. The publisher teased a few excerpts last week and they were what you would expect; specific moments from the campaign trail or interludes with Donald Trump that would hype the release and make people want to buy. I was hesitant. Like a lot of people, I have no desire to relive Election Day now that I know how it turns out. In the weeks following that horrible night, I stopped watching the news, limited Facebook views and only listened to the “Spa” satellite radio station. Thank God it was almost Christmas season – the holiday channel would soon start playing wall to wall cheesy seasonal music. Within a day or two of the election, my cousin told me to “just get over it” and that “had the Democrats nominated someone better than crooked Hillary, that they would have won.” I politely responded that America had just given a lunatic the keys to the nuclear codes so, “I think I’ll be upset for a little while longer.”
But it was exactly the “just get over it” that triggered the impulse to read the book and I am so glad that I did. Earlier this week there were multiple sources who would not be named, Democratic operatives who would not go on the record, who just wanted Hillary to “shut up,” “just go away,” and “stop reliving the past.” There are plenty of op-eds in the national media that have said the same. Interestingly, in those that I have read, all the opinion writers admit to not reading the book. Those that had read the book focused on the blame game; specifically that Clinton pointed directly at Jim Comey’s October surprise as the defining moment that made the difference. And the data backs it up. Clinton was ahead in most polls before the October 28, 2017, letter to Congress. After that letter, she lost her lead. She also points to the Russians and their interference campaign as having a significant impact on the results. She believes that there was collusion on the part of the Trump campaign and this book offers her perspective on what Russian interference looked like. All of this is important to document – it is history and it is her perspective.
But “What Happened” is so much more than laying blame. Hillary’s critics want her to accept responsibility for losing the election. She does that. Repeatedly. But she also points out countervailing forces at work in this cycle that absolutely played a role. To not assess their impact would be an act of political and historical heresy, particularly given that a foreign actor had such a significant impact on events.
Clinton walks through the campaign in almost storybook narration and unveils a very deep and personal element about herself. For decades she has been accused of being unauthentic, criticized and sometimes demonized for doing or saying something that is taken out of context or in some cases, never happened. And that is before the Russians and the right wing blog-o-sphere started writing nonsense stories with headling like “Hillary is a murderer,” and “Hillary heads up pedophilia ring.” What exactly does being “authentic” mean? She pulls from a vast body of literature and cultural writings to try to understand the public’s perception of her and how and why it changed through the years. I think it’s fair to assess and ask the question “why” did she leave the Secretary of State’s office with 60% to 65% approval ratings among the public and key Senate and government Republicans declaring publicly of her strength and success as top diplomat only to see these numbers plummet and to hear these very same people say horrible things about her personally? These are important questions not just for Hillary and America today, but for history.
In one of the early chapters, she recounts what it was like to attend Trump’s inauguration. She shook the hand of soon to be Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke and said, “I am not really the anti-Christ.” Zinke blushed and said, “Oh I did not really mean that,” and walked away. Zinke, when running for Congress in 2014, called Clinton the Anti-Christ. In public. And on the record. A former First Lady, US Senator and Secretary of State. The anti-Christ. I have read this paragraph so many times and each time I am dumbfounded. The anti-Christ. He must know that she is a grandmother, right? Free speech is great, but there is also decorum. It is “okay” for a candidate for office (and the ultimate winner and later cabinet official) to refer to a public official as the anti-Christ?
And that is not all. Jason Chaffetz shook hands with her at the inauguration, thanked her for her service and within a few hours posted a picture of said greeting to Twitter with the words, “The investigation continues.” Of course, nothing compares to the “Lock her up” chants, led by an Army General (from the stage of the Republican National Convention), the Governor of New Jersey, the former Mayor of New York City and of course, the President of the United States. Two of those individuals actually have law degrees and have used them to prosecute cases. They know, as well as James Comey, why there was no charge to take forward. Flynn was a general for God’s sake and as such, should never be leading a chant that promotes actions against the rule of law. And Trump? Well, he’s an idiot.
I have seen and read too many “opinion” pieces that want Hillary to go away and just stop talking about 2016. She speaks to that in this book and so I will not regurgitate those thoughts here. I will say this. No. Americans need to come to grips with what we have done. 62,979,879 people freely and in sound mind, walked into voting booths across this country and chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. 62,979,879 chose a thoroughly unqualified, inarticulate, soulless creature bereft of dignity and intelligence to lead the largest economy in the free world. The choice could not have been clearer. Given Clinton’s resume, it was a slam dunk, “well duh” moment. As easy as answering the question, “Do you want fries with that?” And yet, 62,979,879 people made an incredibly ignorant and illogical decision that may well lead to catastrophic results both here and abroad. We should all be asking ourselves how that happened but if you are one of those 62,979,879 consider the real reason for your decision.
ConspiracyBrett Arends published an opinion piece in Market Watch back in February 2016 where he facetiously asked himself whether he was supposed to hate Hillary because she was too left or was it because she was “too right?” He then confused himself further by listing all the controversies and conspiracy theories associated with Hillary in the last 25 years. I enjoyed this part:
“And for all that time, there has been a deafening chorus of critics telling me that she’s just the most wicked, evil, Machiavellian, nefarious individual in American history. She has ‘the soul of an East German border guard,’ in the words of that nice Grover Norquist. She’s a ‘bitch,’ in the words of that nice Newt Gingrich. She’s a ‘dragon lady.’ She’s ‘Elena Ceaușescu.’ She’s ‘the Lady Macbeth of Little Rock.'”
He then proceeds to list 66 of her High Crimes and Misdemeanors starting with murdering White House lawyer Vince Foster and dumping his body in a park and ending with ‘looking bored during the eleven hours of Benghazi testimony.’ The main charge though – the one that will get the indictment was, “She totally has a vagina.” You can find the full list right here. It was a fun read – and a good trip down memory lane.
Feminists rarely play the ‘woman card’ meaning, we do not look for reasons to call people sexist. Contrary to popular belief, women who believe in gender equality and all of its implications are not interested in rising at the expense of men. Life is not a zero-sum game. But seeing this election, and really the last 25 years through my eyes tells me that women and specifically, women in positions of power have a long way to go in the struggle for equality. The truth is, we may never get there. After this election, I am not so sure.
Hillary haters will point to all sorts of reasons for why they could not vote for her. Every single one of them is bull shit. Had the Republican nominee been Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, then yes – I would absolutely agree with decisions based on policy. A Hillary Clinton vs. Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been a traditional Democratic-Republican match up. But Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump? No. I have heard a few good ones or at least a few good attempts. One was “she would not even pick up the phone to save four Americans lives.” I can only assume this is a reference to Benghazi and that the individual in question has no idea what happened there, nor what the seven congressional oversight committees, plus one House select committee found during their investigations. Had there been a “Google” attempt, this voter would have learned how and why the Benghazi Consulate did not have the security apparatus that it needed or that was requested. Was Hillary accountable? As Secretary of State, absolutely. But did she decide that she was “too busy” to pick up the phone and call in reinforcements? Of course not. To believe that is to believe in the Tooth Fairy.
Then there was “Pizzagate” which I am not sure actually turned any voters, but it speaks to the nature of conspiracy theories on the far right. Toward the end of the campaign and perhaps with the help of the Ruskies, and definitely with the aid of Michael Flynn Jr., a fascinating story made the rounds about Hillary Clinton and John Podesta’s pedophilia ring operating out of a New York pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong. Now, this would be funny except for the pedophilia thing and the fact that after the election, some crazy guy got in a car with a gun and drove to New York, walked into Comet Ping Pong and shot off a few rounds (after looking for the kidnapped boys). I guess it is not funny at all. Thank God no one was hurt. But this crazy story had been making the rounds on the right-wing blogosphere and Alex Jones Infowars (a favorite of the Prez).
Where there is one, there is a thousand. CNN Money posted a story just the other day about the newest industry in Veles, Macedonia. Writing fake news stories, hosting fake news websites and pushing conspiracy theories – mostly in favor of Donald Trump. They made so much money in 2016, they are gearing up for even bigger profits in 2020. And guess who their targets are? You guessed it! The 62,979,879 illogical and irrational voters that chose this lunatic and hopefully, they’ll be able to get a few million more. (That is sarcasm folks). (Mmmm – I wonder if they get a bonus for each additional Electoral College vote? Or are they bonused by the popular tally? Something for Mueller I guess). All these thriving capitalists needed was an energetic consumer base (check), indoctrinated by years of vomitous bile (check), half-truths and outright lies about Hillary Clinton (check) and a new service industry was born!
Hillary Clinton is so much kinder and so much more introspective than I ever could be in this situation. You can read that for yourself in “What Happened.” For decades she has dedicated herself to her family and to her country. She has committed to public service and has spent a lifetime fighting for women and children in this country and around the world. She has been demonized and maligned for her efforts. She has probably been the most investigated American citizen in the history of this country and after all of the time and money spent, finding nothing, her critics say, “Well she must have paid someone off.” “Anyone else would have gone to jail.” It always amazes me how many armchair lawyers and legal experts we have in this country, that with no access to facts or data and certainly no understanding of the law, are able to pass judgment on anyone and everyone based on what they “heard on TV” or better, “read on the internet.” Seven congressional committees investigating what happened at Benghazi were not enough, let’s create a House Select Committee. Eleven hours of testimony and a report that said, “no new facts have emerged” reluctantly signed by the Republican Chairman and yet, “Hillary killed four Americans.” Eighteen months of FBI email investigations with a report (and a very damaging public statement) of ‘no indictment’ and Clinton got away with something because she deleted 30,000 emails OR because her name is Clinton.
It never even occurred to the 62,979,879 that no laws were broken? It never occurred to anyone to believe the guy who had the job of leading the investigation? You just never thought to turn off FOX News and maybe Google something? I had someone on Facebook, whom I barely knew express to me, “Come on Amy, you know she is guilty. If anyone else did this with their emails they would have gone to jail.” Uhm, no I do not know she is guilty and no, you are wrong. OTHER PEOPLE DID do this in the past and never went to jail, nor were they investigated. In fact, our current Vice President of the United States of America did the same thing (used a private email account for official state business) but he was worse (in my opinion) – he used Google or AOL servers. Every Secretary of State prior to Clinton used personal email, and again – those accounts were Google or AOL. Hillary used a server that was already set up for former President Clinton and likely safer than Google or other public servers, but that never made it out in the public arena, nor would anyone have believed her.
The answers to all of these questions were no because a good portion of those 62,979,879 had been conditioned to hate Hillary Clinton or to believe the worst about her. They did not see her as a former Senator, First Lady or Secretary of State. They did not see her as a wife, mother or grandmother. They saw her at best, as part of the establishment whose recklessness had somehow killed four people (she didn’t) and at worst, the anti-Christ (she’s not).
I really wonder how many of the 62,979,879 falls into the latter bucket. Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and ran across Fox News. Now mind you, I am not sure how Fox News ended up in my Facebook feed. Perhaps in a moment of “diversity,” and wanting to hear the other side, I clicked ‘like.’ Well, I fixed that. FOX was streaming (or replaying) Hillary Clinton at a book signing in New York City. The comments on this post were repulsive. I am visibly nauseous and disgusted just thinking about what I read yesterday. The disrespect, ignorance, and just meanness of so many people was absolutely revolting. Now I suppose, and honestly, I hope, that 90% of the comments were driven by fake accounts and bots (Ruskies). Maybe the Russians are still out there being divisive. In the past, when I have seen this type of bile, I will click into some of the accounts to get a sense for who these idiots are, where they live and in general, what else they post. But yesterday, I just could not do it.
The amazing thing about Hillary Clinton is her perseverance. She, unlike me, does not hold a grudge. From reading this book I can tell, she really wants to understand the plight of working people and how we can address economic and social needs regardless of whether they like her. And so, while many of her critics want her to just go away quietly, that is not going to happen. She will continue to champion women and children’s issues and will help build and support grassroots activism. Anyone seeking to dissuade or temper her engagement should be the ones to just sit down.
“They Hated Eleanor Too”I found this post by Cynthia Koch at The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation website today, In “What Happened,” Hillary talks about a visit that she and her friends made to Val-Kil cottage at Hyde Park a few months after the election. Walking in Eleanor’s footsteps and reading some of the hate mail that she had received during her First Lady years reminded Clinton that perceptions and reputations change. Eleanor Roosevelt is now seen as the most effective and popular first lady in American History but was apparently reviled by some contemporaries because she did not comport herself to traditional gender roles.
“A woman is like a tea bag. You don’t know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
It must have been difficult and lonely for Eleanor to be rejected by the very same people that she was committed to serving. Likewise, it must also be painful for Hillary Clinton to be demonized and reviled by so many that she helped over the years. Imagine listening to some of the reporting on FOX News or reading articles on Breitbart – or knowing that a conspiracy theory about you led a man to fire a weapon in a crowded restaurant – and not understanding why so many people hate you. Not understanding why so many Christians hate you.
Fortunately, Hillary Clinton’s faith in God and America runs much deeper than the hate of 62 million people. By the end of “What Happened,” I was more convinced than ever that America made a huge mistake and that Hillary Clinton would have made one of our best presidents. And I think that more than anything else that is why she has been demonized for so many years. Smart, powerful, and effective women become less likable as they grow more successful (That is proven – there have been studies). In politics, if the other side does not want you to succeed, they have to figure out a way to damage you.
Tonight I stopped at Barnes and Noble and bought two hardcover copies of Hillary’s book. I will make a few notes on the inside front cover and place them both in the safe in the basement. When they are older, I will give my niece and nephew a copy and explain why I think Hillary Clinton was an important historical figure. Would I love for them to be liberals? Of course! But that is not why I want them to read her story.
Hillary’s life is about public service. She has lived the Methodist credo “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” She is brilliant and studied; prepared and thorough; meticulous and strategic. And like most smart women, she knows what battles to fight and unlike a few men, knows how to strike a really good deal,
How do I know? Because while I am not close to Hillary’s level in any of these qualities, I see myself and other professional women in her story. The context may be different and certainly, the obstacles are disparate but the qualities and the behaviors are similar. Hillary’s story is a lesson in perseverance and patriotism; hope and sorrow; family and faith. That will be her legacy.
America does not need a woman president. America needs the best-qualified person as her president. In 2016 the most qualified person for the job was Hillary Clinton. History will tell the truth about why she was not number 45 and it will not be complementary to the 62 million. But it will be complementary to Hillary.
It is 25 years later and both Hillary and I have made a few mistakes. Hers were obviously publicized in greater detail than mine and they had a larger impact. At the time of that 60 Minutes interview, I would never have guessed that I would be where I am today and I am not sure that I would have guessed that she would have been the first female presidential candidate of a major political party. Despite her mistakes, I continue to think of her as one of our greatest Americans and being the amateur historian that I am, I am confident that history will reflect the same.
Thank you, Hillary. Never stop talking.