Hillary Clinton, and the case for second

Amidst celebration of the first woman nominee for president, hope for all that comes next

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a speech during a campaign stop in Lynwood, California, United States June 6, 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Hillary Clinton in Lynwood, California, June 6, 2016. (Mike Blake, Reuters)

The idea of being first is everywhere at the moment, and why not? First is fun, first is the best, first is a long time coming, first is first. But here’s a case for second.

Dr. Ursula Franklin, the first female university professor at the University of Toronto, died just recently at 94. A revered scientist, educator and activist, she quite liked the idea of being “first.” In an interview with CBC Radio, Dr. Roberta Bondar (whose own firsts include being Canada’s first female astronaut) said Franklin liked the idea of “first” because it implied there would be a second. “She never minded being the first,” said Bondar, a Franklin admirer. “She didn’t want to be the only.”

To be first, according to a common dictionary definition, is to come “before all others in time or order; earliest.” First base means you might get to second. First aid, the help you get before you reach the doctor. First floor, upon which the others rise.

To be first assumes next, it assumes others.

When Michelle Obama soaringly said Hillary Clinton paved the way for her daughters to take for granted the idea of a woman president, she meant young women everywhere will imagine a second woman president will follow, and a third, a fourth. The path will have been paved, right?

Maybe not.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s first edition of his podcast Revisionist History, he explores the life story of Elizabeth Thompson, almost the first woman to be named to the Royal Academy for her much-vaunted painting The Roll Call.

“I’ve been fascinated by the story of Elizabeth Thompson for years,” Gladwell tells his listeners. “By Roll Call, and more particularly by what happened to Elizabeth Thompson after the stunning success of her painting. What fascinates me is how her story is repeated, over and over again. Once you know about Elizabeth Thompson, you see Elizabeth Thompsons everywhere.”

By which he means: things didn’t go well for other 19th-century women artists after Thompson’s breakout hit. “A woman gets accepted into a man’s world. She thinks that somehow something has changed but nothing has changed,” Gladwell says. “The men pat themselves on the back, and then they slam the door shut again.”

To Elizabeth Thompson, Gladwell adds a long list of women — including Julia Gillard in Australia and, of course, Kim Campbell in Canada — whose countries vaulted a female leader to power once, but never again.

Firsts, with no seconds.

Today, Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman nominee for president of the United States. After that, maybe the first woman U.S. president.

We can say “about time,” but enduring change lies not in the first. It rests in the power of the second.


Hillary Clinton, and the case for second

  1. While this may have been a reality in the case of Elizabeth Thompson, the fact that the author is attempting to draw parallels to Hillary Clinton and future potential female presidents is absurd. First, let’s consider the fact that women make up the majority of the US population and that women are statistically more likely to vote than men. Got that? It isn’t men “slamming the door shut” on female presidential hopefuls, it is the electorate, of which the majority happens to be comprised of women. If every woman in America voted for Hillary Clinton, she would win in a landslide. The fact that this won’t happen tells you that there is more objectionable about Clinton than the fact that she has a vagina.

    Second, if your aim is to have a second, third, fourth, etc. female president, why choose the absolute worst woman in American politics to be your first? Young girls are going to see this corrupt, morally bankrupt woman ascend to the presidency and are supposed to be inspired by this? How can anyone watch Clinton collude with the DNC to rig the primaries, cut secret deals with the FBI to avoid indictment, use her charitable organization as a slush fund to enrich herself personally, and lie virtually every single time she steps in front of a camera, and decide that they would like to follow in those footsteps?

    As a man, I have absolutely no issue with a female president or prime minister. I think a woman can do the job just as well as a man can. I also think you will find that most men in Western society feel the same, and if there are those who disagree, it would not be nearly enough to prevent female candidates from taking office. So here’s my challenge: stop blaming men for the lack of women in politics. Find a good candidate that you believe in and vote for her. Can’t find a candidate? Step-up and run yourself. Put together some sound policies and back it up with solid principles and I’ll vote for you.

    • Clinton is a bad choice – but Trump is a terrible one. As Michelle Obama said last night, “When you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions.
      You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well-informed.”

      And that about sums it up. The way Trump acts, giving him the codes is an invitation to use them. The House and Senate can perhaps keep him in check as President, but as Commander in Chief…

    • When you make accusations or statements of fact, please back them up with some verifiable data. Just because you say it is, does make it fact! Some critical thinking, please.

      • My accusations are well documented. The latest DNC email leak shows the DNC conspiring against Sanders to help Hillary win the nomination is a fact. That Bill Clinton met with Lorreta Lynch in a secret meeting days before James Comey gave the baffling recommendation not to indict Hillary is a fact. The way that the Clinton foundation has been used to exchange cash for political access to the Clintons has been well documented. In 2013, the foundation took in $140 million in grants and pledges, while only contributing $9 million in aid. In 2015, Charity Navigator, one of America’s most influential charity watchdog put the Clinton foundation on its watch list. These are facts. By all means, bury your head in the sand, but do not purport that I am the one lacking in critical thinking.

  2. Amazing how no woman has gotten even this far before.

    And now that they finally have one……why she in particular is ‘terrible. LOL

    Face it…it wouldn’t matter who it was….being female would disqualify even the Virgin Mary

    • Even you yourself, in a very rare moment of honesty (perhaps you were suffering from a stroke at the time?) admitted that you do not like Clinton as a candidate. Hillary Clinton is an awful candidate and you know it. The only question that remains is whether or not she is worse than Trump, and full disclaimer: I haven’t figured that one out myself. Your deflections are pretty weak Em.

      • ??? I’m not fond of any candidate, hon. Ain’t nobody perfect.

        There are, in fact, things I don’t like about Justin

        Why do you guys think and talk in absolutes?

        PS Except for my identity, I’m always honest. Perhaps you just don’t understand it.

  3. It is btw, the power of the first that matters….not the second.

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