Hillary makes history in US presidential race

Star spangled: Hillary Clinton has won more than 13.5m votes from Democrats so far. © PA

A triumphant Hillary Clinton has become the first woman in over 200 years to be presidential nominee for a major US political party. It is a historic moment. But how important is her gender?

Hillary Clinton is not the first woman to run for president. That honour goes to the Suffragette Victoria Woodhull, who ran in 1872 — a whole 48 years before women were granted permission to vote. But yesterday Clinton became the first woman to be nominated by one of America’s major political parties, defeating the socialist Bernie Sanders. Unlike the female candidates before her, she has a genuine shot at the most powerful job in the world.

Her supporters voted for her ‘for many reasons,’ she said. But among them was the belief that a woman president would make a ‘historic statement’ about the ‘kind of country we are.’

Countries as diverse as Britain, India and Haiti have all made that statement in the past, but the US is yet to join the club. And while the symbolism is important, her supporters have argued that having women in charge leads to real, concrete benefits: female legislators in the US are more likely to advocate ‘women’s issues’ like equal pay and childcare; their laws make it further through congress; they bring around 9% more government funding home to their states.

Clinton is also incredibly qualified for the role. She was a successful lawyer in the 1970s. She served as first lady while her husband Bill was president in the 1990s. She was a senator for New York. She lost the Democratic nomination for president to Barack Obama in 2008, but then spent four years in charge of his foreign affairs.

Throughout everything, her gender has always been significant. She has faced sexism from all sides of the political spectrum, and has been criticised both for being ‘too masculine’ and for playing the ‘woman card’. At times the media has been so focused on her looks that in 1995 she joked ‘if I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.’

She downplayed her gender when facing Obama in 2008. But this time around she has used it to convince vulnerable voters that she is on their side. Should she keep using it during the next stage of her campaign: taking on the Republican nominee Donald Trump?

Working woman

Yes, say some. A female president would be an enormous inspiration to women and girls around the world: it is proof that they can do anything, and their gender should never hold them back. As Clinton puts it, she is trying to break the ‘highest and hardest glass ceiling’ — she should remind people of how historic it will be if she succeeds.

No, say others. She does not need to keep bringing it up. The looming showdown against Trump is not about men and women, it is a choice between traditional politics and populist outsiders. Hillary should be talking about her experience and ideas, not the obvious fact of her gender.

You Decide

  1. If you could vote in the US election, would your decision be influenced by Clinton’s gender?
  2. What are the most important qualities in the leader of a country?

Activities

  1. List the four most important things the US president will have to do in the next four years. Compare your ideas with the rest of the class.
  2. You have been put in charge of the next stage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign: beating Donald Trump. In groups, decide on a strategy and create a campaign video.

Some People Say...

“Women make better leaders.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why am I not more excited?
Clinton may have secured her party’s nomination, but she has struggled to secure the hearts of young Democratic voters in the USA, including young women. They are far more likely to have backed Bernie Sanders, whose energetic left-wing campaign echoed that of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. The BBC presenter Kathy Kay has also theorised that, since she almost won back in 2008, it does not feel so exciting eight years later.
Will it definitely be Clinton v Trump?
It’s extremely likely, although Sanders has rightly pointed out that the ‘superdelegates’ who make up some of her total could change their minds before they officially vote at the Democratic convention in July. However, it probably won’t happen; Clinton still has a higher number of votes from ordinary Democrats.

Word Watch

Victoria Woodhull
The eccentric Suffragette leader ran for the ‘Equal Rights Party’ with the escaped slave and popular writer Frederick Douglass as her vice-presidential running mate. She received zero electoral votes.
Bernie Sanders
Although Clinton has secured the required number of delegates to become the Democratic nominee, Sanders has not dropped out of the race like Trump’s rivals. Instead, he hopes to change the minds of the ‘super delegates’ whose vote will not be confirmed until July.
Congress
The two houses where American laws are made: by congressmen in the House of Representatives and senators in the Senate.
Bill
Bill Clinton was president from 1993 to 2001. Hillary played a major role in his presidency, and stuck by him after his affair with a White House intern was made public.
Inspiration
Data shows that when recruitment agencies specifically try to get women into politics, the number rises by around 1%. But when a woman is elected senator in the US, this immediately shoots up to 3%.
Populist
Appealing to the concerns of ‘ordinary people’ rather than ‘elites’.

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