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November 18th, 2017

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In The Summer of 'Wonder Woman', Hillary Should End The Winter (And Spring) Of Her Discontent

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published June 13, 2017

In The Summer of 'Wonder Woman', Hillary Should End The Winter (And Spring) Of Her Discontent

If last November wasn't about cracking a glass ceiling, then this summer might be.

As of this weekend, the cinematic smash Wonder Woman has raked in a cool $435 million in worldwide box office, making it the hottest start for a film directed by a woman (that would be Patty Jenkins).

That's a welcome change in a Hollywood that preaches equality but doesn't practice it. Over the past decade, women have directed less than one in twenty of the annual top 100 films at the box office.

Now, what to do about the fortunes of women in politics?

Last week's (non-Comey) big news: a woman in high office committed a horrific blunder - British prime minister Theresa May thinking now was the time to hold a "snap election" to boost her Conservative numbers in Parliament.

May, of course, failed. She made arguably the worst tactical wager since a woman on the other side of the Atlantic decided to house a server in her private residence.

This isn't to suggest that the glass isn't half-empty for women. While May spectacularly crashed and burned and Hillary Clinton, at times, has been her own worst enemy during her two presidential campaigns, German chancellor Angela Merkel seems in position to hold on to her job (even if it includes some non-sisterly twisting the knife into her wounded British colleague).

I mention this because I reside in California, arguably America's bastion of schizophrenic gender politics.

Only 26 women serve in California's 120-member State Legislature. The last time California reached this nadir: 1998.

That doesn't speak to progress.

Nor does it suggest California exceptionalism.

One-fourth of the nearly 7,400 state legislators nationwide are women. California's 22% participation rate falls right in line.

Meanwhile, there's this contradiction: California has enjoyed two women as U.S. Senators for the past quarter of a century, yet three times since 1990 a woman has failed as her party's gubernatorial nominee.

For those motivated by the gender issue, this presents choices. Choice A: talk about politics and the two sexes in optimistic terms. Yes, there's a dark portion of the electorate that will punish a candidate due to gender - just as voters will also discriminate based on race, income or life experience.

Then again, women have career paths previous generations didn't enjoy (in 2016, for the first time, women made up a majority of the students in America's accredited law schools).

That's Choice A: take the high road.

Choice B: go to the dark side, where Hillary Clinton has established a base camp.

A recent New York magazine profile of Mrs. Clinton's life post-Trumpocalypse had the Democratic nominee in 2016 applying Sheryl Sandberg's best-seller to her political fortunes: "The takeaway from Lean In is that there is a stark difference between men and women when it comes to success and likability. So the more successful a man is, the more likeable he is. The more successful a woman is, the less likable she is. And it's across every sector of society."

Two thoughts:

Hillary's concept of likability is off base. Donald Trump's amassed a fortune, starred on television, has his byline on best-selling books and currently occupies the Oval Office. I'd say that qualifies him as "successful". Check his poll numbers and tell me that the American public likes him.

As for the women's success begets repulsion trope, Theresa May's comeuppance was a byproduct of her government's seemingly lack of competence, not her apparent lack of charm. Should Merkel be shown the door in September, the culprit will be Europe's political trade winds, not sexist voters wanting to trade in a woman for a man.

There is a role that Hillary Clinton to serve, but to do so requires her to stop with the self-pity and strained justifications.

Rather than leaning in on conspiracies and misogyny, she could talk about women in positions of strength.

Just as Europe's plot lines in 2017 have an Amazonian flavor (May in Britain, Merkel in Germany - and let's not forget Marine Le Pen in France), women in unprecedented roles played prominent roles in the previous year's election in the U.S.

Mrs. Clinton secured her party's nomination thanks in part to another woman - former Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz - doing her best to keep a male (Bernie Sanders) from gaining traction.

Come November, Hillary Clinton's problem wasn't limited to male voters (Mrs. Clinton ran a 12% deficit in 2016, versus a 8% deficit for Barack Obama in 2012). For Hillary, women didn't come on board as expected (her 12% advantage was roughly the same as Obama's).

By 2016, Hillary Clinton had amassed an impressive resume, a massive war chest, an army of acolytes and technicians, plus the benefit of having gone through the presidential meat-grinder three times previous (twice by her husband's side, once with him by her side). No candidate since Richard Nixon was better prepared for the journey. No woman had enjoyed such a commanding height.

That Hillary failed to shatter the ceiling once is for all is a complicated topic. But to chum the waters with talk of sexism does the nation a disservice.

Hillary's "likable enough", as Obama once observed (he meant it more as a slight than a compliment).

Should she expand the narrative and talk up women's progress and encourage the sisterhood to run rather than scare it away, maybe one day she'll be appreciated.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.

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