What kind of mother is Hillary Clinton? I don’t care, and neither should you. No man has ever made his mark as a great dad first . . . and, oh yeah, a world leader second.
How Hillary raised Chelsea is a topic that’s never concerned me. With two daughters of my own, I’ve spent too much time churning my own angsty stew of maternal self-doubt to worry about anyone else, let alone Hillary.
What matters to me is Hillary’s impact on the generation of girls and young women who witnessed her first run for president: the successes, the confidence, the backlash, the defeat. She showed the world that an earnest, hardworking, capable female could be taken seriously. That women have value beyond their looks.
The smart girl with glasses who went to a women’s college—that described Hillary and that described me. My affection for her stems from a common core of experience. But in the process of raising my girls, it hardened into love. Women of achievement are uncommon enough that each one serves as a role model.
Hillary stands above them all as proof that a woman can accomplish nearly anything. We’ve paid lip service to that pipe dream for years, but during the heady 17 months of her 2008 campaign, Hillary inspired little girls to switch their career aspirations from princess to president.
Hillary is the archetypal Powerful Female who lets no man subjugate her. Despite the humiliation of her husband’s infidelity, she carried on with courage, conviction, strength and fortitude, moving beyond scandal to build a life independent of Bill. She rose to power at a critical time in my girls’ lives, setting an example I could never hope to match.
I feel so indebted I’ve considered sending her a Mother’s Day card. If I had the nerve, I’d write:
Thanks for easing the burden on me. I didn’t need to try to be Superwoman to show my daughters that it could be done. In your pantsuit and pageboy, you already had that covered.
My daughters are in their 20s now, but in the summer of 2007 Jaye was 16, Em was 13, and the fair was coming to town. For 12 days straddling August and September, the New York State Fair becomes the epicenter of all activity in the state including political campaigns.
At the fair, small acts have big repercussions. It’s been said that Hillary sealed her Senate win by eating a big, greasy Gianelli sausage sandwich—a fair favorite. Presumably to keep his trim figure camera-ready, her opponent refused—and lost.
Although I have no plans to run for anything, I always eat a sausage sandwich every year. My daughters had their own rituals, starting with a candy apple and an all-day unlimited-ride wristband to the Midway. But that year, as rebellious teens they abandoned ritual for revolution.
In early July Em announced, “Projekt Revolution is going to play the Grandstand! My Chemical Romance is part of the lineup!”
Knowing that was her favorite band, I tried to head her off at the pass. “Forget it. You’re 13.”
“I’ll be turning 14 three weeks after that! This could be my birthday present. And Jaye can come, too.”
“I’m not letting you two go to the concert alone. It’s miles away. What would you do if something happened?”
“Mom, you’ll be within walking distance! It’s on the same day you’re working for Hillary at the fair!”
She had me at Hillary. I’d signed up to staff Sen. Clinton’s presidential campaign booth from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The all-day concert would start at noon, wrap up by 11, and I’d be less than an eighth of a mile away the whole time.
Hillary never knew she did them a solid, but my daughters never forgot. Already on their way to being feminists, they became staunch Hillary supporters. I’d sown the seeds years ago, and it was only a matter of time.
Our home held bookshelves lined with The Case for Hillary Clinton by Susan Estrich, Hillary’s Choice by Gail Sheehy, The Girls on the Van: Covering Hillary by Beth Harpaz. Our front lawn sprouted campaign signs proclaiming Hillary for Senate and Hillary for President. Our bank account had grown thanks to paychecks courtesy of Hillary, albeit indirectly; as a writer, radio/TV producer, and Internet blogger covering women’s issues, I made a living off of what she said and did during the 2008 election cycle. Our world revolved around Hillary, and the girls thought this was normal.
Outside our family, the Hillary haters set my daughters straight. Never shy about talking politics—a trait I proudly claim responsibility for—Jaye tried to debate the merits of the candidates with friends. As the tide of public opinion turned toward Barack Obama, Jaye reported she was often shouted down. Some even said, “Just shut up about Hillary. Nobody wants a woman for president.”
Almost nine years later, she’s a lot older, a lot wiser, and still a Hillary supporter. On a cross-country trip with friends, she texted me from New Orleans, where she watched the Democratic presidential debate on a widescreen TV in a restaurant bar. Every time Hillary made a key point that earned applause, my phone would chime and light up with Jaye’s comments.
Glad to hear from you. But aren’t you rooting for HRC w/your friends? I finally texted.
Long pause. Then Nobody likes Hillary. They’re all for Bernie Sanders.
I texted back a frowny face emoji and sighed. Haters gonna hate, and almost a decade later, Jaye and I are still both trying to shake it off.