Underestimating Hillary

How Clinton went from controversial runner-up to feminist superhero

By Sarah Hepola
June 8, 2009 5:09PM (UTC)
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An early and ardent Obama supporter, I bristled at the notion that women had some obligation to support Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy. I had conflicted feelings about the then-senator -- from her role in a divisive dynasty to those pesky "likability" issues -- and it wasn't until I witnessed her fly in the face of so much (what's the word?) bullshit, witnessed her eloquent final speech, that it really sank in just how profoundly I had come to admire her. There was something terribly poignant in that -- how so many of us saw the brilliance of Hillary Clinton at the moment her dreams slipped away.

In The Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg writes about coming around, quite dramatically, on Clinton, too. She admits to irritation, even fury, at Clinton's hardball tactics and her shifting personality. "As first lady and later as the first serious female presidential candidate, she put on and discarded so many personas that it was hard to figure out who she really was," she writes. But in the past year, as Obama rises to his own role, Clinton has become the champion her supporters ached so badly for her to be. Her role now is undeniable. As Goldberg puts it: "As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has been the feminist hero of this administration."


From the firing of Bush's well-liked but compromised global AIDS coordinator, Mark Dybul, to challenging Hamid Karzhai on an odious Afghanistan law severely restricting women's rights, Clinton has been every inch the leader who once proclaimed, in 1995, that "women's rights are human rights." Those who missed her passionate defense of abortion at a Washington, DC, hearing back in April owe it to themselves to watch.

Goldberg, a former Salon contributor, is not easily swayed on this topic. She has written extensively here and elsewhere about the Bush regime's devastating effects on sexual and reproductive freedom, and her new book "The Means of Reproduction" is the authoritative tome on the global fight for reproductive justice. So it is encouraging to hear her enthusiasm and endorsement, even if it must be tempered by realism:

There are plenty of forces working against the creation of a feminist foreign policy. It may be beyond the scope of any American government to significantly improve the lives of women in anti-American countries on the other side of the world. But Clinton’s commitment has proven fierce and enduring.

In related reassessments: Yesterday, Hillary made her first appearance in some time on the Sunday shows, talking with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" and admitting, as headlines have already been trumpeting, that she also has changed her mind -- about our current president and his ability to answer that damn 3 a.m. phone call. 

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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