Nichola D. Gutgold | Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and Schreyer Honors College Associate Dean for Academics
Recently, Frank Bruni of The New York Times noted that Hillary Clinton is “preternaturally determined, resourceful and patient.” It was a relatively positive column in a primary season of so much vitriol that the bright side can be difficult to see.
“Hillary Haters” are pointing to the ongoing Clinton drama. “Hillary Lovers” are rejoicing that she will be recognized for her historic presidential bid. I believe that it is good for all Americans to note that Hillary Clinton’s bid — whether it is a winning or losing one — is tremendous progress, simply because she is a front runner who has significant foreign affairs experience and most importantly for a female candidate, one who no one doubts would be tough enough to be president.
A quick review of two other notable female presidential candidates who made it to their political conventions reminds us that this particular moment in history has been a long time coming.
Margaret Chase Smith
At the Cow Palace in San Francisco on July 15, 1964, Margaret Chase Smith, the reserved Republican senator from Maine who made a bid for the presidency, was greeted with cheers from a reception of supporters who declared: “She is still in the race!”
Vermont Senator George Aiken nominated her at the convention, and one admirer noted, “Every woman, Republican and Democrat, owes a debt of gratitude to Margaret Chase Smith because she has opened the door for a woman to serve in the presidency.” By the end of the convention, Margaret Chase Smith came in second with 27 delegates. She offered advice to future candidates when she said, “If I were to run again, I would organize every state and go for the delegates at least two years in advance.”
Eight years later, a New York congresswoman — the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm — received 151 of the delegates’ votes at the convention in Miami. She wanted to effect political change with the power of her delegates.
At a speech she said: “I’m just so thankful that in spite of the differences of opinions, the differences of ideology, and even sometimes within the women’s movement the differences of approaches, that here we are today at a glorious gathering of women in Miami.”
Fast-forward to 2008. Hillary Clinton had her name placed in nomination at the Democratic National Convention. By doing so, Barack Obama honored her remarkable achievement, recognizing precedence for this, and paying a proper tribute. In addition, the 18 million voters who chose Clinton deserved the recognition.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton almost won the nomination. That is something no other woman in American political history has come close to accomplishing.
A woman could be president
In a poll I conducted of college-age women in 2009, more than 65 percent of the students believed that the 2008 presidential bid of Hillary Clinton made them think that a woman would be president in her lifetime. Whether a person is for or against a candidate, the presence of an outsider encouraged members of the same group to believe that it is possible for that person to become elected.
After eight years in the White House as first lady and nearly eight years as senator from New York, she served as secretary of state. Whether you are a “Hillary Lover” or a “Hillary Hater,” it is undeniable that her bid for the presidency has given presidential politics a major shove forward, something that’s easy to forget amid the rancor. After her impressive Super Tuesday win, she is likely to be the democratic nominee at the convention in Philadelphia.
Whether you are for her or against her, it is difficult to deny the historical magnitude of her successful strides. It’s good for all Americans to revel in the undeniable progress.
Nichola D. Gutgold, professor of communication arts and sciences, researches the rhetoric of women in non-traditional fields and is currently revising and updating her 2006 book, “Paving the Way for Madam President” to include the 2008 and 2016 election years.