A Woman Leading America – If Not Now, When?

By Peter Daou and Tom Watson

On the eve of Hillary Clinton's official entry into the 2016 presidential race, we published the Dawn of The Hillary Man, making the case that #HillaryMen—fathers, sons, husbands and brothers dedicated to breaking the gender barrier in U.S. politics—will play an important role in the effort to elect Hillary as America's first woman president:

Just as there were Roosevelt Men and Kennedy Men, we believe there will be Hillary Men – men who answer history’s call to help elect a woman to the highest office.

Our premise is that Hillary's inclusive vision, unwavering commitment to public service, progressive policies and unparalleled experience make her one of the best (and best qualified) candidates ever to seek the presidency.

If Hillary cannot become the first woman in history to cross the presidential finish line, who can? If not now, when? When will we show our daughters that a woman can be president?

Viewing the 2016 election through an explicit gender lens, the ferocious attacks against Hillary are not just about her, but underscore the deeply ingrained resistance to any woman with a viable path to the White House. Does anyone believe that another female candidate could get within reach of the presidency without running headlong into the same double standard and institutional resistance confronting Hillary?

Spotlighting the gender aspect of the 2016 race does not mean we discount the centrality of issues and competing ideologies or the complex information processing that leads voters to choose a candidate. Nor is it our intention to make specific accusations of gender bias. We are simply acknowledging the political, social and cultural barriers that have resulted in a complete shut out in national U.S. politics, at 44-0. In nearly a quarter millennium, not a single woman has occupied our nation's highest office. As Katha Pollitt observes:

At this point in world history, it is embarrassing how backward the United States is. More than 70 women have been chosen to lead their nations, including in gender-conservative countries like Pakistan, Ireland, and the Philippines—and 22 nations have female leaders right now. What is the matter with us? Indeed, we score poorly on every measure of women in politics: not quite 20 percent in Congress (which places us 72nd internationally, between Kenya and Panama); 24 percent in state legislatures; only 17 mayors in the top 100 most populous cities; and only six governors out of 50.

We each have a role to play and a responsibility to correct this shameful imbalance. With #HillaryMen, our goal is to provide actionable campaign analysis in support of that cause. In the weeks since Hillary's announcement, we have published several pieces that reflect our mission as #HillaryMen.

Our Hillary Decoder sorts through various anti-Clinton narratives injected into the public discourse not just by partisan detractors but by the ostensibly neutral mainstream media:

These narratives and frames (“calculating,” “secretive,” “polarizing,” "will do anything to win," "defiant," etc.) paint Hillary Clinton’s actions in the most negative possible light. They are carefully crafted and patently false scripts, many of which were concocted in GOP oppo shops to demean and dehumanize her.

We have analyzed the swiftboating of Hillary and the coordinated assault on the Clinton Foundation, drawing on Peter's experience in John Kerry's war room when "swiftboating" first entered the political lexicon:

The Kerry swiftboating involved planting seeds of doubt about his service. The media’s role was one of legitimation and magnification. Under the rubric of what they believed was justifiable news reporting, the major outlets gave the swiftboat attacks the legitimacy they lacked on Free Republic. Similarly, the full-scale barrage hitting the Clinton Foundation is the result of a complicated interplay among conservative opposition researchers, rightwing authors, Republican politicians and the mainstream media, with the latter acting, once again, as a legitimating force.

The Clinton Foundation and CGI have saved millions of lives. The Clintons are rightfully proud of the immense good they’ve done in the world through their foundation. Despite mountains of digital ink, not a shred of wrongdoing has been demonstrated on the part of the Clintons or their staff. As it was with John Kerry, this is all about the so-called “appearance of impropriety,” not any actual impropriety. It is a partisan political attack designed to hobble Hillary’s election prospects.

This is just the beginning. The incoming fire will only become more intense and more personal. There is no easy road to the White House. For a woman, that road is astronomically harder.

To dispense with one of the central arguments against a gender-focused approach to Hillary's candidacy, we are not contending that Hillary should be president just because she is a woman. We are motivated first by her experience and her vision of progress and inclusion. We believe she is the best candidate for president, announced or unannounced. Having long fought for the rights of the disenfranchised and battled to extend the American social contract, Hillary can lay claim to the mantle of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson. She is also, in the words of a Chicago Tribune op-ed, "probably the best qualified presidential candidate ever."

We are equally motivated by our passion to combat the rampant sexism and misogyny plaguing our world, the pervasive oppression of women and girls that stains every corner of this planet. The statistics are staggering:

  • One out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • In some parts of the world, a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • In addition to sex-selective abortions, millions of girls and women are killed after birth through starvation and violence, forced abortions, ‘honor’ killings, dowry murders, and witch lynchings.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14.
  • Femicide is the leading cause of on-the-job death for women.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

As fathers of daughters, and as men with public voices who have been allies of the growing and powerful network of organizers, social activists, and policy-makers that comprises the modern push for civil and economic equality for women, we are committed to altering the power structure that has excluded or limited half the population for far too long.

The significance of a Hillary Clinton White House in that endeavor cannot be overstated. Hillary has consistently placed the interests of women and girls atop the global development agenda. She has used every facet of every office and position she has held to pursue this effort—from First Lady to U.S. Senator to the State Department—and her name is synonymous in the global movement for equal rights for women and girls with that ongoing fight for justice.

The fight is difficult and the obstacles formidable. Hillary could have opted out of a second White House run, resting on her many accomplishments and avoiding the onslaught she now faces, not to mention the reputational risk of two unsuccessful campaigns for the presidency. But that is not who she is. And it is not who we are as #HillaryMen. We have been in the activist trenches for over two decades and we value action over apathy, commitment over complacency.

The stakes are not small: the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth. The future we aspire to for our daughters, sisters, spouses, colleagues and friends.

As we have said in other venues, social and economic equality for women is one of the great civil rights movements of our time. That is why the wisdom of America's civil rights champions applies to this fight, particularly the words of Dr. King:

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction.

What some pundits bemoan as "Clinton fatigue" we consider preparation for history. To reach the presidential starting gate with credibility and a legitimate chance of success, Hillary has had to spend decades in the public eye, withstanding withering character assaults and racking up major achievements: Secretary of State, Senator from New York, First Lady of the United States, First Lady of Arkansas, a practicing lawyer and law professor. Crossing the finish line will take even greater discipline, motivation and perseverance.

Those qualities in Hillary, qualities we prize in a leader, are framed as liabilities by her opponents. Hillary's resilience and inner fortitude, her devotion to public service in the face of an endless torrent of invective, is spun as nefarious scheming and "over-ambition."

The relentless personal criticism, the visceral aversion to Hillary in some quarters of the elite commentariat (the "innerati"), reflects more on her detractors than on her. In a single month after her campaign launched, a series of mainstream news articles described Hillary as Machiavellian, musty-smelling, stale, secretive, regal, calculating, imperious, paranoid, petulant, defiant, and devious. Does that strike anyone as neutral and impersonal coverage? Editorials that characterize one of the most accomplished women of our lifetime as "magically animated from a wax museum," someone who "scrambles in the dirt," and an "annoyed queen radiating irritation" do not belong in respectable publications.

There are practical steps #HillaryMen can take to combat this double standard. We can have a positive impact on the public debate by expressing unified support for Hillary through social channels, using the #HillaryMen or #HillaryMan hashtag, and by respectfully but firmly calling out gender bias, sexism, and gratuitous personal attacks against Hillary. Standing up and speaking out never goes unnoticed.

We intend to do just that. We ask you to join us. Signing up is simple and confidential. You will receive action alerts and election analysis. You can choose whether or not to take specific actions, such as amplifying Hillary's policy positions, sharing positive media stories, or responding to attacks.

Take these four simple steps with us:

  1. Publicly announce that you are a #HillaryMan.
  2. Sign up to receive our alerts and analysis.
  3. Invite other #HillaryMen – and #HillaryWomen – to do the same.
  4. Join us in respectful advocacy on behalf of Hillary.

We are proud to be #HillaryMen, proud to do our small part in advancing the cause of fairness and equality for all women and girls. And what could be a more inspiring outcome than for two back to back presidents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, to have shattered barriers that stood for generations?


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.