Seven days before the Iowa caucuses and 12 before the New Hampshire primary the polls are inscrutable. We can infer, however, that things are looking bad for Hillary Clinton when her supporters begin desperately availing themselves of the weakest possible arguments on her behalf.
Kay Steiger of the American Prospect has embraced one such argument. Yesterday the New York Times examined Sen. Clinton’s eight years as First Lady, leaving the impression that they could be construed as relevant experience by voters determined to support her, but hardly compel undecided voters to accept that after seven inconsequential years in the Senate she is ready to take on the presidency. As First Lady Mrs. Clinton “was more of a sounding board than a policy maker, who learned through osmosis rather than decision-making,” according to the Times.
That’s good enough for Ms. Steiger, who rushes to gender-norm the tests presidential candidates have to pass. “Hillary Clinton has great experience for a woman. There are few women as qualified as Hillary Clinton for a candidacy.” If, like Jackie Robinson, you’re kept out of the big leagues, it’s only fair to judge you on the basis of how well you hit minor-league pitching. “There’s a smattering of female governors, a mere 16 female senators (two of whom were elected in 2006 midterm elections), and a handful of high-ranking and high-profile secretaries,” says Steiger. Clinton’s years as First Lady may not qualify her to be president, but the daunting odds against women in politics leave Steiger asking rhetorically, “If women are barely represented in high-level offices, how are they supposed to ‘qualify’ themselves for a presidential run?”
Maybe, however, the question is not so rhetorical. How are women supposed to qualify for a presidential run? The way men do – winning offices and holding them impressively. Steiger laments that “most women tend to sail into office on the coattails of their deceased or retired husbands.” She writes as if unaware that this group includes Hillary Clinton and excludes growing numbers of female politicians. Six of Hillary Clinton’s female Senate colleagues are Democrats who have served there longer than she has: Barbara Mikulski, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln. All of them held elective offices before they won Senate seats. Marie Cantwell and Debbie Stabenow, two other Democratic senators elected in 2000, the same year Hillary Clinton won her race in New York, previously served in the House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi has been a member of the House for 20 years.
Thus, even if you accept Steiger’s dubious premise that it’s imperative, this year, to elect a female president, there’s no need to accept her even more dubious conclusion that Democrats have no choice but to overlook the meagerness of Hillary Clinton’s qualifications for the office.