Archive for October 10th, 2007

…To see ourselves as others see us

October 10, 2007

Having just spent a little time in Ireland, I found it very interesting to come across an article in last Sunday’s Washington Post about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign written by a British journalist. Unlike most of the pundits here, on both sides, who analyze every nuance of the current primary candidates’ campaigns in terms of everything from policy positions to campaign style to finances, and who knows what else, this British guy suggests that many in what he terms “other advanced democracies” see her candidacy more in terms of qualifications (or lack of them) nepotism, and dynasty building. He also wonders out loud why the American public seems to have little or no concern about these things. I’m not a Hillary fan, but this isn’t really intended as a political post. I just thought it was interesting to get a view from somebody outside the current American political madhouse.

Hillary is certainly singled out for this guy’s scrutiny because of her unique situation – the 1st First Lady to run for president as well as the first serious female candidate – and he does discuss several female politicians who have had impressive careers like Margret Thacher and Goldia Meir, probably to show that he’s not just a male chauvinist pig. I Just wondered what the group might think about this Brit’s view of our election process.

Since I’m not sure I can link to the article, I’ve included some selected bits below. There is at least a page more. If you can get to the Washington Post web site, it was in last Sunday’s (October 7th) edition. Sorry in advance that it made for such a long post.

Who Made Hillary Queen?By Geoffrey Wheatcroft Sunday, October 7, 2007; Page B01

Among so much about American politics that can impress or depress a friendly transatlantic observer, there’s nothing more astonishing than this: Why on Earth should Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton be the front-runner for the presidency?

She has now pulled well ahead of Sen. Barack Obama, both in polls and in fundraising. If the Democrats can’t win next year, they should give up for good, so she must be considered the clear favorite for the White House. But in all seriousness: What has she ever done to deserve this eminence? How could a country that prides itself on its spirit of equality and opportunity possibly be led by someone whose ascent owes more to her marriage than to her merits?

We all, nations as well as individuals, have difficulty seeing ourselves as others see us. In this case, I doubt that Americans realize how extraordinary their country appears from the outside. In Europe, the supposed home of class privilege and heritable status, we have abandoned the hereditary principle (apart from the rather useful institution of constitutional monarchy), and the days are gone when Pitt the Elder was prime minister and then Pitt the Younger. But Americans find nothing untoward in Bush the Elder being followed by Bush the Younger.

At a time when Americans seem to contemplate with equanimity up to 28 solid years of uninterrupted Bush-Clinton rule, please note that there are almost no political dynasties left in British politics, at least on the Tory side. Admittedly, Hilary Benn, the environmental secretary, is the fourth generation of his family to sit in Parliament and the third to serve in a Labor party cabinet. But England otherwise has nothing now to match the noble houses of Kennedy, Gore and Bush.

… And in no other advanced democracy today could someone with Clinton’s resume even be considered a candidate for national leadership.

What a contrast Hillary Clinton presents! Everyone recognizes the nepotism or favoritism she has enjoyed: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has written that without her marriage, Clinton might be a candidate for president of Vassar, but not of the United States. And yet the truly astonishing nature of her career still doesn’t seem to have impinged on Americans.

All in all, “Democracy in America,” not to mention equality or feminism in America, can sometimes look very odd from the outside. We’ve seen Jean Kennedy Smith made ambassador to to Dublin (and a disastrous one) because she was famous for being a sister, then Pamela Digby Harriman made ambassador to Paris (and rather a good one) because she was famous for being a socialite. Now Hillary Rodham Clinton has become a potential president because she is famous for being a wife (and a wronged wife at that). Europe has long since accepted the great 19th-century liberal principle of “the career open to the talents.” In the 21st century, isn’t it time that the republic founded on the proposition that all men are created equal — and women, too, one hopes — also caught up with it?


And finally, a trivia question:

If Hillary wins the nomination and the 2008 election, she will, of course, be the first woman and the first former First Lady to do so, but she will also be only the third sitting Senator to be elected president. Who were the other two?