Hillary’s Victory, but Bill’s Spotlight

After an entire primary cycle in which we’ve been forced to consider whether America is ready for a woman to be nominated for President, the front page stories about that nomination… focus on her husband.

Former President Bill Clinton delivered a powerhouse speech this week, no doubt about it. He reminded us once again of the qualities that put him into the White House in the first place: his charm, his wit, his power over the spoken word. He related a touching history of his wife’s rise to power as his partner–not his subordinate, or his lesser.

It seems many American newspapers failed to understand the message, though, because they decided to put Bill on the front page, rather than Hillary.

“YOU HAD ONE JOB,” tweeted Eric Haywood, with an image of the Chicago Tribune’s headline: “Clinton claims nomination” with a large photo of Bill instead of Hillary.

“Simple proof of enduring sexism: no Hillary, or even a woman, on the front page after 1st woman nominated president,” tweeted Anne Helen Petersen over the Wall Street Journal’s choice to print a large picture of Sanders below the headline “Clinton Wins Historic Nomination”.

(A later edition of the Wall Street Journal swapped out the photo of Sanders for one of Secretary Clinton.)

Indeed, outside of the Newseum in Washington, the trend was on display in the glass cases which each morning contain the current day’s front page from newspapers from all 50 states.

Of the front pages on display the morning after Clinton’s historic nomination, her picture was only on 19 of them.

I’ve seen jokes made that some low-information voters might erroneously think Bill is running again, and vote for him by mistake. Indeed, that might be funny–but also sad. I’ve said before that we don’t need to keep proving Hillary Clinton’s humanity, because the problem isn’t her, it’s the rest of us. It’s everyone whose criticism of her begins and ends with a vague feeling of distrust, backed by flimsy evidence. It’s talking about emails, or Benghazi, or Vince Foster, or whatever absurd conspiracy theory one wants to attribute to her.

And in a historic moment in which we, for the first time, nominated a woman as the Presidential candidate of a major party, our media establishment somehow couldn’t find it within themselves to make sure the woman who matters–the woman who made this all possible, who may very well be our next President–got the spotlight she deserved for the occasion. Instead, on the front pages of too many papers, it was given to her husband.

I don’t begrudge Bill another moment in the sun. He didn’t ask for this, obviously. He’s trying to do the right thing for his wife, for his party, and for his country. Despite some initial setbacks and occasional disruptions, this week’s Democratic National Convention has shown that, whatever other faults it may have, the Democratic Party can unite. No matter the vast ideological differences between various elements of the party, almost everyone came together to celebrate this event.

But it seems that the staff of a lot of newspapers missed the memo and thought this was about Bill Clinton. There’s certainly some irony here: a media culture routinely derided as “liberal” (or worse) by fact-allergic right-wingers found the wrong visual focal point on which to announce Hillary Clinton’s nomination. From a quantitative standpoint, you could almost make a good case for it, too: Hillary’s been a cover story, complete with photo, numerous times during this election season; Bill, by contrast, hasn’t. Bill gets the front pages because him making such a public splash is rare. Papers want to report what’s novel, not what’s routine. I understand that.

Even so, it’s a shame so many papers came to that same conclusion, denying Hillary Clinton this one moment that will never come again. I don’t believe she’s particularly broken up about it, though. She may not even be aware, and if she is, probably doesn’t care too much. She’s used to the “Clinton rules,” and when I noted she’s been on front pages a lot lately, what I really mean is that she’s been dragged through the mud. Part of what I admire about her is her ability to slog through all this. What a thankless job it must be to wake up every day to yet another story that accuses you of being a criminal, of hating America, of being part of some plot to destroy it. She gets accused of everything, and all she wants to do is become President and try to solve some of our problems.

Other politicians who’ve pursued the office, I can see how well it works for them. Guys who’ve always had something to fall back on, who never faced this kind of scrutiny or resistance, and who pursued the office because, well, they’ve already done everything else. There is no politician in this country who has faced such intense scrutiny for so long as Hillary Clinton, and yet she’s never given up. She still wants this job, knowing the entire four to eight years of it will see her incessantly attacked as an enemy of the country and its people. Her every move will be slammed as nefarious, part of some scheme to undermine the values of “real Americans.” The accusations of criminality will never stop. Republicans chat, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Some of them add, “Shoot her!” Why would anyone want the job under those circumstances?

I feel compared to reiterate my reservations about Clinton once again, lest one think I’m some kind of wild-eyed, uncritical admirer: she considers war criminal Henry Kissinger a close personal friend and seems to be cut from the same neorealist cloth; she was a major proponent of mass incarceration policies, which are destructive and racist; as a long-time friend to Wall Street, her economic policy is neoliberal and favors the wealthy over everyone else. Her brand of feminism, while it may have been remarkably progressive decades ago, is now as bland and corporatized as the rest of our political establishment. I am deeply concerned about what shape her foreign policy will take. Specifically, I worry about how many people will be directly killed overseas by whatever interventions she decides to undertake. I have little doubt she will continue Obama’s NSA surveillance and drone programs, which continue to harm both our international credibility and the cause of peace around the world.

Never do I doubt that she cares, though. She takes a personal interest in the people she encounters that is unlike any politician I’ve ever studied. She may not be a great speaker, but she is an incredible doer. Ultimately, that’s what I want from a President: for problems not to be talked about endlessly, but solved. And I very much believe that even though her politics may not be as progressive as I’d like, her interest is in doing what’s best for this country and its people, and she will make the necessary decisions in an informed, cool-headed manner.

This also means that those to her left need not disperse into the wind, but to band together and apply pressure. Presidents are responsive to public opinion. That is what must be leveraged to curb whatever center-right excesses she might otherwise indulge in. There are some who call her a Republican to insult her, but this ignores that she has exhibited a mixed bag of policies, not because she is an ideologue but because she isn’t. She’s more concerned with addressing specific problems than having precisely the right politics. This also means she will make mistakes–and she has. But it also means she’s more likely to learn from them. These are desirable qualities in anyone, much less a President.

Within this post, I haven’t even begun to talk about the alternative, and wonder if it’s even necessary. Can anyone imagine Donald Trump seeking out and employing well-informed, reasonable advisors, and then heeding their expertise? Can anyone imagine Donald Trump learning from a mistake, or even admitting to one? This is a man who, in the face of burning criticism, lies and says he never did or said what was claimed. It doesn’t matter if it’s on video or anything. He will just lie. He lies to everyone, as his ghostwriter noted after spending a year around him. Forget Trump’s politics. His personal qualities alone make him an egregiously unqualified and dangerous candidate.

I don’t expect perfection from Hillary Clinton or anyone else, but I do expect reasonable, competent behavior in my public officials. I suspect, as the front page debacle shows, that no matter what she does, her successes will go unappreciated and her failures will be magnified into apocalyptic catastrophes. She is no doubt used to it by now.

In many ways, we are fortunate to have someone of her caliber seeking the highest office in the country. I imagine that, for much of the country, it will many years before she is fully appreciated, if ever.

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James
James runs this blog and likes to write about society, culture, politics, science, technology, social justice, and pretty much anything else. Rumor has it people read his posts sometimes.

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