Much of the discourse during and after this election regarding Hillary Clinton’s credentials have said pretty much the same thing – that she is the most qualified person (regardless of gender) to have run for the presidency. And yes, she still lost. This led me to wonder – what kind of woman can conceivably win the White House? Looking at where Hillary Clinton lost supporters, it was mostly white people and from there on it was mostly men, and people of lower education who she lost. Is it possible to formulate some kind of candidate who can successfully access these voters in ways that Hillary couldn’t – and do so without losing voters Hillary did win?
In order to try and “piece together” this candidate I looked back at all the women who have played relevant roles in our past presidential races. This includes Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Dole, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Jill Stein, and Melania Trump. They each have their own unique aspects that make them relevant in the political arena, and a conglomeration of those most positive aspects should be able to create the best possible female candidate. Yet, is the perfection of a candidate conducive to or unprepared to address other problems? For instance, can a perfect candidate withstand the sexism of society? Does being “perfect” present a possible criticism like Hillary Clinton’s “roboticism” or others too?
Shirley Chisholm: She’s Unbought and Unbossed – and Not Nominated
Shirley Chisholm was ineffective in achieving her goal of becoming the Democratic presidential nominee. Given the fact that she was running as a black woman in the early 70’s, this shouldn’t be shocking. Her visual rhetoric was a bit too nonplussed for a woman – her hair is done and she’s in a dress but her large glasses and proclivity for hand movement show she is not concerned with necessarily looking “pretty”. In her Unbought and Unbossed speech for the nomination, Chisholm employs a rhetoric of inclusion to pull in a wide array of voters. She believes if she can pull in diverse groups (like herself) there will be enough of them for her to win. She detaches somewhat from her own gender and race – maybe to because theyre threatening to voters, or maybe because she doesn’t want to pigeonhole herself. She was too radical in her views and this was her ultimate downfall.
Elizabeth Dole: Right women, Right party – Wrong Time
Once again, a woman coming into a nomination fight at a time that is not quite sympathetic to women (but have we even gotten there yet now??). Elizabeth Dole was the first woman to run for the nomination who had been married to a member of the executive, and she is one of the first to highlight the political aspect of the First Ladyship through her nomination. Through her husband, Elizabeth had an opportunity to boost her own credibility by invoking his achievements. She played the role of traditional woman, despite the fact that a woman candidate is completely opposed to that perception. Her visual rhetoric also conveyed traditional femininity in this non traditionally feminine space. This was her ultimate downfall, as she did not have enough of her own accomplishments to stand on and her candidacy seemed to out of place, especially considering the direction in which the Republican party was starting to go.
Michele Bachmann: Evangelical Has Her Head Lost In The Clouds
Michele Bachmann is one of a few Republican women who has provided… interesting campaigns. As a representative for Minnesota she was supposed to be standing for one of the nicest states in the country. Michele’s rhetoric was very isolationist and very religious but what it ultimately was overall was unintelligent. Bachmann had many gaffes during debates and TV appearances, so much so that she pretty much was a joke candidate by the end of her run. Yet, some would say that the media was overly critical simply because she was a woman – while this is an issue, Bachmann’s criticisms were deserved. Without any good arguments to make or much of a resume to fall back on, she typically relied on ethos to make her appeals to audiences, invoking her most favorite topic of religion. Yet just like any woman running in the Republican party, she has been commended for her courage and strength.
Carly Fiorina: Former HP head can’t Handle Politics
Carly Fiorina is our most recent presentation of a woman running for the Republican nomination. While not as unintelligent as Michele Bachmann (or Sarah Palin, who I’ll be getting to) she was fairly misinformed about the intricacies of government and the strategies that needed to be employed in order to win the presidency. She was commended for running HP well, even though how well it was run is debatable. She was also heralded for her debate performance where she was able to get more screen time than many of the other male candidates (but of course not Trump) and had to face demeaning attacks that endeared women to her.
She was very stern in her rhetoric, and much of it revolved around her hopes to block Planned Parenthood (she was the one with the “videos” of PP personnel selling stem cells) and to carpet bomb ISIS (something she shared with Ted Cruz). Like the others she failed, but even before Trump was the nominee Ted Cruz picked her as VP which attests to her abilities.
Sarah Palin: The Northerner No One Saw Coming
More of a ploy than a genuine attempt to bolster his prospects at becoming president, John McCain plucked Sarah Palin from obscurity and gave the American people something truly entertaining. Not only were many happy to look at her – a lot of articles were written on Sarah Palin’s relative good looks and her adherence to traditionally female styles of dress – but many on the Republican side were happy to believe that they were progressive by having a woman on the ticket. This was not the case, as it soon became clear that Palin too was woefully unintelligent. But she had some experience in politics, she had a good backstory, and she was always willing to attack the other side on McCain’s behalf. She often used logos in her appeals, making arguments about Obama’s lack of experience and the lefts proclivity for raising taxes/asking for too much in general. She also related to her audience well. She had a child in the military, a child with special needs, and she was from a poor rural background. She successfully utilized pathos to excite people about the presidential race. Palin had a proclivity for patriotism and traditional American values. When criticism against her became harsher and more pervasive, more women could relate to her and there was still a sizable number who sympathized with her. Ultimately, she adhered to gender roles while inhabiting masculinity and making strong appeals, but her lack of intelligence and full masculinity hindered her aspirations – and she wasn’t even leading the ticket!
Michelle Obama: The First Lady with Flair
In terms of First Ladies Michelle Obama is one of the most well-liked of all time. For some she is also one of the most despised, but in my studies I would suggest that the general air about her is that she at least commands respect if not your love. Michelle Obama, not a politician herself, has received so much scrutiny and criticism as First Lady. The fact that she is our first black one obviously exacerbates this, but there is still something fascinating about Michelle Obama that you can’t put your finger on.
She can wield rhetoric beautifully – using ethos with her husbands achievements and her own laudable ones, like her partnership in a law firm. She uses pathos (at times even for people who cant do it themselves – like Barack or Hillary) and does it genuinely and relatably. And as a lawyer, she knows how to use logos to formulate a logical argument against her opponent.
Michelle Obama has been very strongly feminine in her visual rhetoric. Her place as a First Lady almost requires it, but she has been known for both fabulous gowns and affordable dresses – and sometimes even outfits that aren’t dresses. She successfully embodies womanhood and deviates from it as well. Why do people like her? Because she is a successful woman on her own, who is accomplished but can still “act like a woman”, and has been able to be secure in that while standing on the way side for her husband. In this regard she’s endearing to many women who can relate and many men who desire a woman like that.
Jill Stein: The Lean, Mean, Queen of Green
Jill Stein is interesting because while it is a feat to have a woman leading a prominent political party, the Green Party is outside of the two main parties and receives less note. Stein is thus overlooked because the Green Party itself is overlooked, and one can easily believe that it’d be easier to secure their nomination. Criticized by many on the left as a spoiler for Hillary Clinton and many on the right as a yahoo for pursuing vote recounts, she does not receive much love from a wide array of the polity. Her views are more akin to the radical left, partially because third party candidates have a more niche base and because they get less attention, which means there words won’t be reviewed as much. Stein doesn’t have much political experience, so her ethos appeals rely on her time as an organizer/protester. She relies mostly on logos and makes the argument that she should be respected and that third parties need a chance because the two major parties have coordinated to oppress any smaller parties. While some (a growing number perhaps?) agree with this assessment, the majority of the feelings (at least during this election) is that third parties are spoilers and it is too risky to vote for them. Jill Stein is definitely too risky, due to her lack of experience in politics, the fact that she is a woman – a radical woman who does not “know her place” – and the work that is necessary to achieve her goals, something it is not easy to get people to do.
Melania Trump: First Foreign First Lady of The Modern Era
A woman who is much newer to the political arena than all the other ones. Melania, albeit not free from criticism, has seen less of it than her predecessors Hillary and Michelle. She is well liked on the right, and as for the left I’m under the impression that many feel bad for her moreso than they feel disdain for her. Some view Melania as a victim of her husbands megalomaniacal race for the position of President. Yet she does play the role of First Lady very well – standing beside her husband no matter what, and enacting a hyper femininity that a public wife figurehead is meant to. She has a past as a model and has always cared about her appearance and how she dresses.
She can make rhetorical appeals with ethos, as she is an immigrant with multiple degrees and fluency in multiple languages (she is probably even smarter than her husband). However, she doesn’t act as a rhetor much at all since she plagiarized Michelle Obama’s speech. She is relatable to many women who have had to put themselves to the side for their husband (much like Michelle Obama) and she is seen as courageous by many who commend her “legal” immigration path and support her husband. She is also a bit underestimated, because she’s foreign/has a notable accent and made money as a model so she is now seen as vapid. In examining Melania Trump we can see many of our own various misogynies that still exist, and how they influence how we view women.
Hillary Clinton: Too Big to Fail
Much like the banks that were too big to fail – yet still did – Hillary Clinton was too perfect for the presidency to lose. Especially stacked next to Donald Trump, what seemed like popular opinion was that Hillary would become president. She had already experienced one loss – why would that happen again? Hillary Clinton, who had tons of political experience, spent her entire career trying to figure out how to attract supporters to her side. Her visual rhetoric constantly changed, at first to inhabit traditional womanhood, then to seem more masculine which made her seem more qualified. People have always had a general disdain for Hillary Clinton, and it has never been fully described before. Much like the unnameable feelings people have for Michelle Obama, the dislike for Hillary Clinton is often intangible and enigmatic. She is able to have supporters, even rabid ones like Bernie and Trump, but where those who don’t support them aren’t necessarily vehemently opposed Hillary opponents actively dislike the candidate.
Yet there are many real reasons to dislike Hillary. She has flip-flopped in both her rhetoric and her political views. Many of these have been with new information and we can’t necessarily hate her for it, but a sizeable amount are not the products of new information or are not genuine and so there is serious concern in this regard. She has problems with making pathos appeals – she often has used Michelle Obama or her husband Bill to do it for her. Her logos and ethos is on point, but even then the delivery is still not always well received. Hillary Clinton didn’t do enough to attract white men and white poor people, and sadly lost because of it. She was not successful in gauging what important voting blocs value , and felt too comfortable resting on her achievements in order to get people to come to her.
Taking all the good qualities of these people, what can we do to create someone who can win? She can:
- Make genuine emotional appeals
- Has a resume that boosts her credibility
- Is willing to share anecdotes with her consituents
- Makes policy clear
- Embodies feminine styles while she
- Presents masculine ideals
- Relates to a wide array of people without singling out certain groups
Who have I come up with? Well, her name is Sandy Swanson. Alliteration makes it fun to say her name. The fact that she uses Sandy – a nickname – makes her seem less intense like Bernie Sanders. Yet, she will employ Sandra more often than he would Bernard. This is her first time running (unlike Hillary’s second) so there is less to attack her on. She is a Democrat, albeit more moderate and even Republican on certain issues. These are issues that Democrats are willing to fold on (like gun rights – they did it for Hill in 08 and Bernie in 16) and they show that she is willing to work across the aisle to bring an end to partisanship.
Her resume includes time as mayor, as state legislator, as a soldier, and as a Congresswoman. She’s from Minnesota (like Bachmann – the nicest state in America) and she’s from a more rural background (like Palin). She became patriotic and decided to fight for her country in the Persian Gulf War – which boosts security credibility without the political dangers of the SOS that Clinton faced. She supports farmers while also looking towards green energy reform (like Jill Stein). She supports diversity initiatives, and people see diversity in her as a first generation American who is married to a non-white man. In addition to all that, she has already been considered for a position in the executive (like a Fiorina, Palin, or Clinton). She also has three children, two boys and girl, and doesn’t shy away from talking about things like family, religion, and more.
Visually she is known to wear simple dresses on formal occasions, and stick to cool tones in the realm of blue for her usual outfits. The colors are typically saturated – she likes to catch peoples eyes with vibrant colors (something Palin did). She doesn’t use a lot of makeup and does not wear overbearing jewelry – her ears aren’t even pierced! She is only in her early 50’s, so she still has youth to her and still cuts it as “traditionally attractive” for men.
But is she possible?
This candidate obviously doesn’t exist – I just found a stock photo of a woman and created a platform on which she can run. I’ve tried to make her palatable to all different groups – she’s a vet, supporting equal rights, with an ethnic husband and biracial children, from the Midwest, with experience in government, with Republican support, who is still traditionally attractive and female acting despite her masculine proclivities.
Will the media still look at her through a sexist lens? Probably. Yet if she has support from people in both parties and she can appeal to rural conservatives as well as more liberal urbanites, she should do well. However, as the campaign website shows she is a bit vague in her positions. Is this another issue that can kill her despite her perfection?
Visit http://swansonforpres.vpweb.com/ to check out the website and consider voting for this candidate. Would you do it?
In the future we surely will have more and more women successfully getting their party’s nomination and running for the president. By doing this study we can see if there is something wrong with these candidates – if the problems lie within themselves and if these are their own to cure – or if there is moreso something wrong with the way politics (and society) is ordered and executed. From there we will all have a better understanding of the voters role in either holding candidates accountable or creating change in institutions.