Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Groundbreaking Expectations

I have a four year old daughter, so through all the vitriol and muck of this Presidential election cycle, I've been trying to keep her in mind - specifically what it would mean for her to grow up with the first President she remembers being a woman. That's important.

My nascent Presidential campaign got a boost this week when I made it onto the list of official write-in candidates for my home state of Delaware. Now my neighbors and local friends can vote for me for President, which is cool. I asked my wife if she was going to vote for me and I got a hesitant state. After a split second, I responded that I didn't really want her to; I know what voting for a woman for President means to her, plus, she's a Democrat anyway, so it's win-win.

We all know Hillary Clinton is far from a perfect candidate. She's the favorite in this election and likely to win, probably comfortably, only because the GOP put up the worst possible opponent. As Uncle Joe said today, "He's not a bad man, but his ignorance is so profound." Clinton is a terrible politician. Everyone hates her on the campaign trail, but she consistently surprises people, even her opponents, while in office. Republican Senators praised how hard she worked during her time representing New York and they only began to attack her time as Secretary of State when it became clear she was definitely running for President.

I would say she under-promises and over-delivers, but that doesn't quite sum up Hillary Clinton. It's more than she over-promises, but no one believes a word she says in the promising. People just find her entirely untrustworthy and there's a whole lot of reason for that (some justified and others, not so much), but I'm not going to get into it here.

What I'm more interested in is her tendency to over-deliver. Now, admittedly, that's not hard when expectations are near zero. Of course, her supporters love her and can see nothing, but good things. I'm guessing, though, most people are pretty well aware of Clinton's shortcomings. She's intensely political (well defined as "basing your words and actions on the expected or desired response of others) and terrible at hiding it.

I think this is a really good thing for her, for us, and for women.

Barack Obama came into office on a messianic air. His hope and change slogan energized people into genuinely believing he could change government and the country at large. The guy is a different, for sure, but not in any way that could move the behemoth of US political culture. It's not something that can be moved or changed in the ways people want - not even Donald Trump, with all his can-do bravado and unconventional, politically-incorrect tendencies can really do much of anything to make things work differently. Those are just facts.

The problem for Obama was, though, that people expected this kind of change in ways they hadn't for a very long time. We had to accept, pretty quickly, that the hopes and expectations had to be grounded not just a little, but a lot. As much as some might love and respect the guy, Obama's Presidency, when measured against his campaign rhetoric and aura, our first black President is going to feel generally disappointing.

That's not the sum total of our understanding of his Presidency; it wouldn't be fair. But for anyone who lived through that election, the disparity between expectations and reality will be strong and deep - at least in some part of our memory. It's sure going to make some people who may have reservations about race to say, "we tried that, not doing it again." Those are just the facts; they shouldn't be intertwined, but they are, at least in some measure.

Now we're close to electing the first woman President and no one expects anything from her. She'll be entering office as one of the least liked Presidents in history. She's going to be able to set her own mark. Whatever she accomplishes will be judged against low expectations, which can only be good for her and for women in politics. She'll be writing her own story rather than trying to live up to unrealistic expectations.

Yes, Republicans will likely hate her, although she has tended to be more centrist than her party on some things, especially war and foreign policy - so there's a chance she'll be pulling her own party towards the middle and earning some grudging respect, at least from people who are opinionated, but not partisan.

I'm not saying Hillary Clinton will be a great President; I'm not voting for her. I do think, though, that she's representing women well, and serving in the near impossible task of ground breaker. In US history, when women have advanced their own rights and standing in society, they've needed someone at least one generation ahead of her time to put the final cracks in the glass ceiling - a woman seemingly impervious to criticism and determined to do things her own way in a man's world.

I don't necessarily think our expectations of these Presidents is or has been because of the respective ground they're breaking, but they are intimately connected. Hillary Clinton, if elected, is going to be in a far, far better spot than Obama. No one expects her to do anything - except maybe the 51% of the population that see something in her more than just a politician; and they're going to have quite a bit of grace.

In the end, I'm still just holding to the reality that 1) my daughter will see a woman in the white house, and 2) she's only going to remember about this President what I tell her about this President (at least until she's old enough to want to read history for herself). Those are two really important things for me to remember going forward.

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