Hillary Clinton for President in 2008

By By Kathleen Gurr

By Kathleen Gurr

Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens wants to run for Governor. Just Monday, after eyeing a run for months, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean formally announced his candidacy for President. Merrill Cook has hinted that he might like to run for mayor of Salt Lake City. People involved in politics aspire to other offices all the time-nothing radical, that’s just business as usual. Unless, of course, you’re Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Her new memoir, “Living History,” has spurred a flurry of wary speculation that she wants a shot at the White House in 2008. So what’s the big deal?

Hillary has been a polarizing figure in American public life for more than a decade-we seem to either adore her or despise her. As an unconventional woman in the public eye, she faces a constant barrage of criticism from all sides.

Many liberals criticized her for staying with her husband. Conservatives would have criticized her if she had left him. Though a longtime champion of important domestic issues like education and health care, she is perceived by many as a radical, self-serving feminist out to destroy traditional family values.

During her husband’s tenure as President, private details of her marriage were broadcast publicly and criticized to pieces. She not only survived, but she held her own and went on to become the junior senator from New York-winning the election by a comfortable margin. Love her or hate her, that’s impressive.

Hillary is well-educated, thoughtful, articulate and ambitious. She has a sophisticated understanding of important national issues and has wowed her colleagues in the Senate with her intelligence and hard work.

Though still a controversial figure, even her most zealous opponents admit that she knows her stuff. A man considering the Presidency with her qualities (enthusiasm, intelligence, experience in public service) would be applauded. So why do we view Hillary’s assumed ambitions with such suspicion?

It’s the classic paradox faced by powerful women: be tough but not harsh, assertive but not bossy, nice but not weak, smart but not intimidating. Expectations are subjective and ever-changing-keeping this precarious balance is impossible.

The public uproar over whether Hillary is eyeing the White House is partly because female go-getters make many in society uncomfortable. People often perceive motivated women as pushy, accomplished women as calculating, confident women as arrogant.

Unconventional women (particularly in politics) have to be discreet about their ambition or they appear self-seeking. Howard Dean (and seven other men seeking the Democratic nomination) can aspire to higher office without causing a stir. Instead of questioning their motives, the majority of society examines their qualifications.

Women like Hillary don’t have the luxury of merit-based evaluation because they have to get the public to let its guard down. A large segment of society is inherently skeptical of influential women seeking power. Hillary has to convince America that she isn’t a calculating feminist, but an experienced public servant with meaningful priorities.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is painfully familiar with the conflicting roles the public expects of women. During her time at the White House, long before the impeachment scandal, she was the target of endless criticism about her priorities, ideological beliefs, parental practices, personal habits and even her hair. Laura Bush doesn’t receive this same personal criticism because she better fits our expectations of a woman in public life: a sweet, quiet, supportive sidekick with no concrete agenda of her own.

The idea that a well-known United States Senator with increasing popularity and influence might want to be President is not bizarre; it’s standard procedure. Let’s set the expectations about women aside for a moment and examine Hillary’s qualifications as a person.

Her credentials are exceptional. After graduating from Yale Law School, she championed family issues by serving on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund. As a thoughtful, articulate citizen active in her community, she has a strong history of hard work and common sense on issues both regional and national.

As First Lady of Arkansas, she co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee with outstanding results. As the nation’s First Lady, she chaired the Task Force on National Health Care Reform and discovered first hand that success in Washington derives from patience, persistence and cooperation.

Her experience in the Senate is good preparation for anyone seeking the White House: thorough research, proposing and debating federal legislation and working across the aisle to achieve progress. As a first-term Senator, she has shown promising leadership as a principal advocate for homeland security, adequate health care coverage, education and the environment.

The speculation that Hillary might run for President should be considered with less suspicion and more legitimacy. She is bright, outspoken, ambitious, experienced and strong. Whether you agree with her ideologically or not, her qualifications should be enough to make her a suitable candidate.

Her situation represents able women everywhere. If she can find and keep the precarious balance between being ambitious and appearing conniving, strong but not threatening, flexible but not weak, she can prove herself qualified for whatever task she takes on, whatever office she aspires to. And that shouldn’t surprise us.

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