Bill Clinton once labelled himself ‘the first black President’; if this kind of logic was applied last month Hillary Clinton would be ending her career in politics as the first female President of the United States. No, I am not oblivious to the outcome of the 2008 Democratic primaries. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, the nearest thing to a number one spot is her second place position on the Forbes list of One Hundred Most Powerful Women. The worst part is not the fact that the woman who has shaped American policy for the last four years is not President, it’s that the number one on that list is Angela Merkel.
Hillary Clinton has perhaps had the most fascinating and influential career in politics of any woman of the last fifty years. Her mark dates right back to the 1960s at Wesley College where she organised student strikes following the assassination of Martin Luther King and worked with black students to recruit more African-American faulty members and students. It could be argued that here, Hillary Clinton really moulded her political beliefs as a Democrat, despite the fact she has persistently argued that the Republican Party had left her behind rather than vice versa. The Republican Party lost many members in this time of re-alignment but none as valuable as Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Rodham, as she was then known, later became a member of the impeachment inquiry staff in the famous Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon. Although at the bottom of the ladder she researched historical grounds and standards for impeachment. One characteristic of Hillary’s involvement in politics which has been noted upon, particularly in her days as first lady, is that as long as progress was being made she didn’t care who took credit. It could be said that this was still evident in her willingness to take the blame for the events in Benghazi, arguably taking the fall for Barack Obama. Whilst her popularity has increased dramatically in her term as Secretary of State, one of the greatest things to admire about Hillary Clinton is that she went into politics to make a difference. Hillary showed this in the early days of her career taking an interest in children and families by publishing articles on abandonment and neglect as well as children’s rights.
However naive it sounds it’s something many politicians today lack, with the ‘career politician’ becoming increasingly common.
When aiding her husband in his bid for Governor of Arkansas, one campaign staff joked ‘we’ve voted for the wrong Clinton’. Hillary was central to Bill’s election and although she has consistently been slandered for acting beyond her powers, as ‘co president’ or even America’s Lady Macbeth it cannot be denied that, when it came to Arkansas, Hillary was the mastermind behind the man. When Bill was up for re-election Hillary even took time away from her own career as a lawyer to help her husband. Although she never got to be the President, and is not currently Forbes’ Most Influential Woman, Hillary is the first First Lady to hold a university degree and have a career, as well as being the first First Lady to run for public office when she assumed a Senate seat for New York in 2000.
Although central to her career, the years of being First Lady or the ‘first First Lady of something’ are not why Hillary will be remembered. As first lady, and even throughout the Democratic primaries, she was often thought to be too cold and tough. However, in the last four years as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton as truly made her mark on American politics not as a President’s wife but as the most popular Secretary of State since 1948 – excluding Colin Powell. As put by Kim Ghattas of the BBC, Hillary Clinton has spent the last four years trying to ‘repair her own country’s image’. After years of poor diplomacy Hillary has, according to John McCain, ‘established relationships with leaders of well over 100 nations’. It has certainly been a rough four years for Hillary on the diplomatic front. She maintained good relations with China when negotiating the return of Chen Guangcheng who sought refuge in the US embassy in Beijing. Hillary was criticised for her handling of the Arab Spring, with a slow reaction concerning Libya and a lack of concerted effort in Syria being some examples of this. However it must be remembered that Hillary Clinton is one woman. There were several comments following the end of her time as Secretary of State that she didn’t lead the Middle East towards progress. One commentator even picked up on the fact that the situation on Israel and Palestine was still somewhat unresolved. Now at the end of her career, it is time to start reflecting on her accomplishments- the improved diplomatic relations across the globe and the watershed in American diplomacy- not the continued issues of foreign relations which will take much more than one term as Secretary of State, and much more than one woman to resolve.
Personally I am very doubtful that Hillary will make a bid for the presidency in 2016. After over twenty years in the public eye and several intrusions into her life, from how the American public frowned upon her frequent hairstyles changes to the dynamics of her marriage, it is understandable that she would want to retire from public life. I am also doubtful she will still maintain the support she has now; with a new group of young people entering the electorate it begs the question, will her career be remembered by these new voters as the polls? As noted by Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian, away from the isolation that is the position of Secretary of State if she were to launch back into domestic policy she would make herself the new target of conservative attacks. Aside from the 2016 possibilities, Hillary Clinton once said ‘Children today will grow up taking for granted that an African-American or a woman can, yes, become the president of the United States’. Although she may not have been elected to the office herself, Hillary Clinton has certainly left a path in politics for women throughout the world.
Lisa Rumbold, A2 Politics Student