A Woman President

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

I am fascinated by the spectacle of Hillary Clinton running for president.

A woman will lead the United States someday. Our strange backwardness is evinced by the fact that this is a topic of such nervousness here, when it has been so many years since a woman first led Israel, India, Britain. Of course those are all parliamentary democracies; a woman has to lead a party, and the party must have a majority or put together a governing coalition. The woman does not have to gain a majority of the electoral college, does not have to represent herself for the popular vote as a combination of movie star, faith healer, gangster. But the differences in political mechanism don't hide the fact that we are also strangely backward here.

There is one thing in particular I like very much about a woman running for president. We are still in that transitional phase where a woman, to succeed in certain jobs, must be much better than the men with whom she competes. A man can be a total fool and be elected to state or national office, as our president proves. A man can be elected because his father was, because he is a good ol' boy, because he knows everybody, because he has spent his whole life hanging in a network of mutual social support. He can be elected without an idea in his head, without any will to lead or the ability to make decisions. We have seen a very disturbing trend, since Ronald Reagan, of the handlers deliberately putting up this kind of candidate, presumably so they don't inconveniently get in the way of the "permanent government" operated by the handlers. George W. Bush is the epitome of this type of figurehead president.

Hillary Clinton is not and will not be a figurehead. She is smart, analytical, incisive, was arguably always better presidential material than her easy-going, self-destructive husband. More than any other candidate except perhaps John McCain, I trust her to understand the job, be able to act like a president, understand, communicate, lead, make decisions.

There is a mental kneejerk reaction I needed to get past to think about voting for Hillary Clinton. There are a number of variations but the thought process goes something like this. The U.S. is not ready for a woman president. It is more important for the Democrats to win after so many years of Republican misrule than it is for a woman to be elected. The Democrats always seem able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as they did with Al Gore and then John Kerry. This time, when they would otherwise have had the election in the bag, they will throw victory away by nominating a woman (or a black man, for whom the country is also not ready).

I am reminded that when the first Catholic won the presidency, there were people who thought it could never happen. The first woman president is going to have to overcome this prejudice whether she is elected today or twenty years from now. Nothing is ever likely or even possible until it has happened, and I don't believe we will ever have an election in which the idea that we are doing something new, breaking with history and prejudice, will not be frightening. To refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton on the sole grounds that a woman cannot be elected, is to carry out a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Unfortunately, there is a reason I may not vote for Hillary Clinton which has nothing to do with her gender. During the years of investigation and vilification of the Clintons, there was one story from her Arkansas years that, unlike most of the other allegations, had enough specificity to it that I can't forget it. This is the story of her $100,000 profit on a $1000 investment in commodities.

Hillary made the investment just weeks before Bill was elected Governor of Arkansas. Jim Blair, a friend who was in house counsel for the hugely influential Arkansas company Tyson Foods, made the trades. What bothers me about this is that there is no way to distinguish it from a bribe.

If you wanted to give $100,000 to a political candidate or a sitting governor, and have it completely fall outside of political contribution rules, there would be no better way to do it than the ruse of investing and managing money on their behalf. If Blair had simply shown up at the governor's mansion one day and handed Bill a check for $100,000, the impropriety would have been vividly clear. Morally, the dodge of asking the candidate's wife to take an apparent $1,000 risk does not fix the ethics of the transaction.

Although the Whitewater investigation was eye-glazingly complicated and inconclusive, the basic, uncontested underlying facts of a failed real estate purchase and the personal-political-practical measures taken to try to keep it afloat, raise several disturbing questions about Hillary. And she wasn't just carried along in Bill's wake (it would be an insult to her even to suggest this possibility). As an employee of the Rose law firm, she represented the Whitewater investment before state regulators appointed by her husband.

The clear implication is that Hillary, who has worked so hard in recent times to be a model of probity, had trouble making the distinction between public office and private gain in a state which had no tradition of barriers between public and private. In other words, she actively shared and endorsed Bill's loose moral standards at the time. I hold this against her in exactly the same way it would disturb me if it were a factor in John Mccain or Barack Obama's background. No double standards.

Which is why I may not be able to vote for Hillary Clinton.