I had my aha moment last week with regard to the success of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It came by way of Ezra Klein’s online piece on Vox. In it Klein posits a clarifying distinction between the Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns.
“Clinton employed a less masculine strategy to win. She won the Democratic primary by spending years slowly, assiduously, building relationships with the entire Democratic Party.”
Something had been bugging me about the role of gender in the campaigns. Clearly, there was a qualitative difference between the two. Yet, as certainly, Sanders’ campaign was not misogynist as Donald Trump’s blatantly is.
At the risk of being accused of sexism, over the years I have learned, as a son of a single mother, a brother to eight sisters, and a near 30-year veteran of a profession dominated by women, there’s a qualitative distinction between male and female leadership.
In a male leader, the ultimate point of reference and power seems to be the person himself. It’s the reason there have been very few Athenas and Joans of Arc in the historical annals and every avatar of the so-called great religions has been a man. Women apparently make neither good warriors nor saviors.
On the other hand, women are superior when it comes to relationship building, the thought of which that sends shivers up the spines of rigorously hetero males. Women build coalitions and tend to be more inclusionary and receptive to alternative points of view. My way or the highway cannot be found in their tool kits as it is inimical to team-building approaches, which take time and dogged effort.
“This work is a grind,” writes Klein. “[I]t’s not big speeches, it doesn’t come with wide applause, and it requires an emotional toughness most human beings can’t summon.”
And if there is anything Clinton is, it is emotionally tough. Some fault her for that. As a gay man who sought to submerge any public inkling of his truth for fear of being exposed and dismissed from the profession he loved, I don’t. I get it.
It’s one thing for a man to be a boat rocker; it’s another for a person who should “know her place” to be one. Especially being the first boat rocker as Clinton was when she splashed onto the national scene in 1992 and informed the American people her job wouldn’t be staying at home and baking cookies. From that moment, she earned and still earns the irrational enmity of American traditional man and woman alike.
The late, great governor of Texas Anne Richardson famously stated “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. Only she did it backwards and on high heels.”
Like every older woman, so has Clinton. She has been accused, even faulted, for not being a sterling politician. Yet, here she is atop the trajectory of history, a trailblazer who has been smacked and smeared, has stumbled and blown it, but always tenaciously persevered. Like the tortoise, there’s no quit in Hillary, but there is a willingness to acknowledge defeat. She understands losing a battle isn’t the same as losing the war. Klein concurs:
“Clinton is arguably better at that than anyone in American politics today. In 2000, she won a Senate seat that meant serving amidst Republicans who had destroyed her health care bill and sought to impeach her husband. And she kept her head down, found common ground, and won them over.”
The task before Clinton is far from smooth sailing. She faces monumental tasks: to unite her party, to reach out and welcome her erstwhile opponents in a meaningful and authentic way, and to fend off charges and smears, from the email issue to the mud Trump wallows in.
Finally, through the fog of war, she’ll need to not only present her agenda but do so in a way that assures those to her left she has heard them and those to her right she isn’t taking the country off a financial cliff. While the 18 trillion-dollar debt is real, so is our collapsing infrastructure and blue collar work force.
But if there is anyone who can, Clinton can. Not through preaching, nor excoriating, but through patient, rational delineation.