Does Hillary Have Help?

October 8th, 2007

How Bill is affecting Hillary’s campaign

By Christina Bryant

Being married to a politician is not an easy task - especially to a presidential candidate. You can forget about privacy (because naturally you should have nothing to hide) and free time (you live and breathe the campaign). And after all of the work, what recognition do you receive? Traditionally, it’s the title of “first lady.”

But for the first time, a former first lady is breaking tradition by campaigning to take on the presidential “pants.”

Since Senator Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president, the media have focused on her gender. Although it may seem that they’re simply directing America’s attention to something obvious, they have also posed a few questions that are worth asking.

Yes, there are apparent challenges to running for president as a woman, but there appear to be even more for a married woman. How should a woman approach a campaign if she’s to have a fighting chance against her male opponents? Can she have her husband by her side, with the possible risk of being overshadowed by him, or should she minimize his involvement in order to maintain her strength as a woman? Whichever strategy she chooses, a female presidential candidate’s marriage can affect the way she is viewed by the media differently from that a male candidate’s.

Hillary Clinton’s high profile marriage to former president Bill Clinton has led some in the media to closely examine their relationship. In a campaign that is already making news for challenging traditional gender roles, there are also headlines about Bill’s political past, along with his celebrity status, and both could cause complications for Hillary.

Before Hillary began on the campaign trail, the pundits were already scrutinizing Bill’s potential impact. There seems to be a difference of opinion on if and how a husband can express support for his wife, especially when it comes to the Clintons. Some have criticized Hillary for using Bill and his “support” to get to the White House. Bill Clinton is known as a talented public speaker, while Hillary has been described in a less flattering manner. If Bill has developed certain skills after many years of public speaking, should he make use of them in helping his wife? Voters have paid thousands of dollars to listen to Bill speak at election fundraisers. Coverage of these events, which often quote dollar figures instead of the platforms discussed, contribute to the appearance of the “unfair advantage” Hillary has because of her husband.

Some believe that Hillary’s marriage to a former president clouds her accomplishments as the first female candidate.

A 2005 article in New York magazine, described the complexity behind a woman running for president. Writer Jennifer Senior mentions that “Sure, her candidacy would be the ultimate suffragette triumph, but it’d also send a complicated message: So this is how we get to the White House? On a flagstone path laid by our husbands?”

Others in the media foresaw that Bill could hurt Hillary’s campaign by distracting voters from her platform. This point was mentioned by political blogger Jaana Goodrich of echidne-of-the-snakes.com. In an entry titled “Concern Trolls and Hillary Clinton,” she predicted that the media would work to bring the negative aspects of Bill’s presidential past front and center (mainly his sexual misconduct), pushing Hillary off to the side, again.

In a 2005 article from Time Magazine addressing just why Mrs. Clinton might have difficulties in an election, an entire paragraph was dedicated to Bill. After a newspaper speculated on another marital scandal, there was apprehension from the Democratic world about Bill stepping into the public eye. “Do we really want to go through all that again?” the article asked. The nation could end up reflecting on the former president’s political past and lose sight of Hillary in the election.

When there aren’t reports of recurring marital problems, the media speculates about what Bill’s role would be in a new Clinton administration. Could the nation accept that a man who once held the highest position in the United States would sit on the sidelines? Hillary and the campaign staff have said that if elected she would “continue the tradition of using former presidents” as diplomats around the world.

It is unclear how a married woman candidate should appear to the public. For Hillary, it’s even more complicated. It’s not just the fact that she’s a married woman, but that she is married to a former president. Women voters, Hillary’s biggest audience, could, as Senior poses, see Hillary Clinton’s election as a result of her husband’s status and therefore a step backward for women. In response, many of her fundraisers and events have become specifically geared toward bringing the focus back on her and off of her husband.

In the long run, it is only Hillary running for President. There isn’t a two-for-one deal with this election. Bill Clinton, as her husband, should be able to support her, just as countless wives have supported their candidate husbands. It doesn’t make her less of a woman if he is by her side. Nor does it automatically mean that she’ll win the election because of the man she is married to. The question in this campaign isn’t whether America can forget about Bill and his history; it’s whether or not they’re willing to learn about Hillary and her future.

Christina Bryant is a freshman cinema and photography major who did NOT have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Email her at cbryant1[at]ithaca.edu.

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