Today's NY Times Week In Review asks a question sure to anger Hillary Clinton's most stalwart supporters--who will be her successor as the next viable woman candidate for the Presidency? It will anger some because it assumes that Clinton's run this year is over, others because it assumes she won't have another shot at it, but the real problem with the article is that it works off the belief that a woman can't break the same trail to the presidency that Barack Obama seems to be blazing. In short, it's buying into the conventional wisdom, when the evidence of this campaign cycle shows that conventional wisdom means little now.
The overwhelming tone of the piece seems to be that no woman could replicate the Obama move--coming out of nowhere, rock-star charisma, inspirational attitude, and an incredible money raising apparatus (which Joshua Green details in this month's The Atlantic), that the first woman President will have to prove herself unquestionably competent first, will have to rise through the ranks the traditional way, and by the time she's amassed the résumé to run, will be too old, not telegenic enough, not inspiring enough.
Look, four years ago, few people actually gave Barack Obama a chance at being the nominee in 2008. On the ticket? Sure. VP for Gore? Ooh, lots of people were dreaming about that ticket. Many of my friends said, after his speech at the Democratic Convention, "that's the first African-American president," and for a long time, a quote from that speech was the tag for this blog--"Passive indifference is as bad as active malice." But in 2008? Most of us (my friends and I) figured him for a run in 2012, after Kerry's second term (Ha!), not this soon. But circumstances worked out for him--he is on the right side of the defining issue of this generation (the war) and is a dynamic speaker full of hope and change when the sitting President and the Republican nominee are pushing fear and promise more of the same. No wonder he caught the excitement of a generation. Circumstances, as much as the candidate, have caused this rush toward Obama.
And that's what has, in part, left Clinton out of this, at least among younger people. I don't want to dismiss what has probably been the single greatest factor in Hillary Clinton's losses--the misogyny in the media has been overwhelming, and that, combined with the kid gloves with which most television commentators not named Pat Buchanan deal with race, has made for a distinct difference in the way the candidates have been treated.
But that's not the only reason. Hillary Clinton represents the old way of doing things, and it's no surprise to me that her greatest support comes from people who are older, who look back with nostalgia to her husband's terms as President. The problem is that the mood of the country seems to be one that wants to look forward, to move away from the problems of the past 8 years, and doesn't want to go back farther to do that. Clinton, by nature of who she is as the former First Lady, represents that past. She counted on it, traded on it as part of her experience, and in another set of circumstances (say, if Kerry had had a successful two terms), that would have been a plus for her.
There's more. Had Clinton been the only historic candidate in the race, she would have likely swept to victory with the backing of older people and African-Americans. Once Obama proved he could win the votes of white people, African-Americans flocked to him and took a big chunk out of her base.
Those things didn't happen, and Clinton looks like she'll finish second in this race. And maybe the next woman to run will follow the traditional path--there's been a lot of buzz about Kathleen Sebelius or Janet Napolitano as the VP candidate for Obama, and a woman who served 8 years as VP would have a powerful story at the top of the ticket. Or maybe there will be a woman who catches the spirit of the next generation, gets a lot of people excited, and comes out of nowhere to win. It could happen, and I bet there's a woman right now who's thinking about it.