Reflecting on Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign

Former President Bill Clinton helps his wife and US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton to the stage at her South Dakota and Montana presidential primary election night rally in New York June 3, 2008.


Former First Lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is arguably one of the strongest and most politically active American woman to ever grace our national capital and the steps of the White House. Though Clinton didn’t emerge from the primary season victorious, she waged an excellent campaign, coming close to winning the Democratic nomination, and going farther than any American woman has gone before. As a freshman in high school during the 2008 election, I never initially took into account the types of adversity a woman in the political sphere has to face, especially as a potential nominee for the Presidential candidacy. Nor did I ever possess an interest in Clinton’s rigorous campaigning, as she exhaustively fought against stereotypes and challenges that none of her male predecessors would ever get to experience, even as the established figurehead that she was and still is today. The fact was, Clinton would not be judged as an individual, but rather a woman. As a political science major, I now can reflect back on her campaign with a new set of eyes. Hillary Clinton so cleverly crafted her campaign in such a way that would counter the gender stereotype. She knew that as a politician, but more importantly as a female, she needed to convince voters that she was competent, intellectual, and up for the job.

German sociologist, Max Weber, wrote in great detail about the fundamental ways in which politics are ethically guided, stating that a politician will either use ethics of responsibility or ethics of conviction. In Weber’s essay, Politics as a Vocation, he strongly emphasizes the importance of having a political leader who possesses responsibility over conviction arguing that with responsibility a man will say, “My consequences are to be ascribed to my actions”. Weber continued on to counter the ethics of conviction by stating that, “Such a man believes that if an action performed out of pure conviction has evil consequences, then the responsibility must not lie with the agent, but the world, the stupidity of men – or the will of God who created them thus”. On Weber’s account, he’d most likely disagree with the way in which Hillary Clinton ran her campaign as she possessed a substantial amount of conviction, as her way of establishing competence.

Though Weber makes a valid argument, I don’t think it can be justly applied to Clinton and her individual political process, as Weber didn’t take into account the challenges a woman would have to face since he lived in very different country in a very different time period. By reflecting on Clinton’s campaign, it’s extremely crucial to realize that her gender played a significant role in the way that she ran for office, and utilizing a sense of conviction was her only chance at possibly winning the election. According to social psychology research, a female candidate is required to assert her dominance as a consequence of social constructionism. In addition to establishing dominance, a woman has to effectively counter her emotional tendencies by appearing to be assertive and self-promotive, lacking the idea of warmth and selflessness that society promotes women to have. On the other hand, a woman also cannot appear to be insufficiently feminine as she will be likely to critiqued as being “too bitchy” by the media and even other politicians.

One of the best examples of conviction as seen through the Clinton campaign was her counter to being viewed as weak regarding her stance defense and national security. Clinton immediately countered the gender stereotype by voting to authorize the war in Iraq, and then seconding herself by stating that this was not a mistake on her behalf. Her repeated refusal instilled the concept of agency that she confidently delivered as a matter of principle. Alternatively, she could’ve have chosen to initially oppose the war or renounce her vote as a mistake (Obama chose to do this), however, as a woman, she would’ve most likely suffer a greater cost than Obama, his ethics reflecting responsibility (or maybe catering to the popular vote?).

In the end, I truly believe that Clinton’s candidacy has paved the way for future female candidates that have made it their choice to run for a presidential seat, just the way that Obama has paved the way for future African American candidates. Optimistically speaking, I hope future voters can view the world in such a way that gender won’t be such a concern, but rather the woman’s potential and determination. And hopefully one day, the American public and media will value the strength and assertiveness in female leaders as much as they value those characteristics in men.

Clinton testifies before the House on political foreign affairs.

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4 thoughts on “Reflecting on Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign

  1. Your comments are very interesting. I too hope that one day we will reach a point where gender/race is irrelevant to the election process. I believe that the less we focus on obsessing over every candidate’s minority aspects, the farther we will progress in our mission to establish equal opportunity for all candidates. Another great and far more extreme example of the media hammering at a female candidate would be Governor Sarah Palin in that same election year. The media’s sexualization of Governor Palin was sick. Palin had participated in beauty pageants earlier in life and the media would never forget it. Comedians and other satirists leaped to poking fun at her good looks and assumed incompetence despite her proven political resume in the form of labeling her as a hot dummy. Her competence was continually mocked and her slip-ups were blown far more out of proportion than they would have been for any male candidate. When the media criticized Palin, there were undertones and insinuations of ineptitude. She clearly took a beating for being a woman’s woman seeking political office. She had no chance because she did not conform to the male characteristics of typical politicians.

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  2. Really great idea for an article. Also superbly timed! Hillary Clinton was just in Michigan last week campaigning to support fellow Democrats but as many claim also setting a foundation for her own aspirations towards the Presidency. I think the point you make regarding Weber’s ethics is really interesting. However what you say about Weber not being happy with Clinton may not be true. I feel as if if you use Weber’s formula and apply it to today’s situation Clinton, as with many politicians, probably used ethics of responsibility a lot. Political opinion aside, I dont think anyone can say that Clinton was entirely truthful to her morals, whatever they may be, for the sake of the election. As you mention above being a woman made it harder to do so, however.

    This leads to another point that I think we can look at it in the light of Mika’s book chapter which focuses on women and disabilities. If women really have a genetic “disadvantage” in political campaigns is there any meaningful competition for them? Unlike in athletics I highly doubt that the US could ever function with two different presidencies — male and female (novel thought though). So in that regard while Clinton meets all the eligibility criteria of the election “sport” she does, as you mention face difficulties in competing. Unlike many other arenas however, the one of the US Presidency is based mainly on public approval (even if you say its an elitist nation, the elites are still a segment of the public). So it’s not really the rules of the sport that can be changed it’s the gauging of success — public perception.

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  3. I think that Hilary Clinton made a noble effort in her quest for the presidency, and that you are one-hundred percent correct in asserting that she had some additional obstacles in her way as a female candidate. However; I struggle to get on board with the claim that her actions paved the way for the future. I think this is somewhat far-reaching, when we consider the fact that, as the previous commenter noted, she failed to make it out of the primary elections. It should also be noted that this is in spite of her name recognition, her previous political presence, and a vast amount of resources at her disposal, that other candidates in the future will not have. I am in no way criticizing her political views, or attempting to start that kind of a debate, I simply think her campaign failed to harness the power of everything she had at her disposal. As such, I doubt that she has a tremendous impact on future elections. Does anyone remember the names of the candidates that lost in the primaries of elections 10 years ago? 20? With some exceptions, these people are relegated to footnotes in our history.

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  4. This blog post is really well written; great job! I also agree with you that gender really shouldn’t have such a strong impact on the mindset of voters when they cast their votes. Also, the research you referred to about women having to assert their dominance is also interesting. However, I disagree that conviction should be held over responsibility, especially since Clinton was unsuccessful in the race to become president; in fact, she didn’t even make it past the primaries. Some may argue that conviction is really just talk, that what one says and what that person does end up being different entities. Much of what politicians claim they are going to do in office ends up being forgotten once they actually take up residency in the White House. It is wonderful to be full of conviction, and I agree that Clinton does a good job at that, but responsibility, in my mind, would take precedence. For women to show that they are competent in not only political office but the workplace in general, they need to show equal, if not more responsibility for their actions, since they are so highly scrutinized. This, in addition to a strong conviction, might make women more successful in different political and workforce environments. I believe that if Clinton took a little bit more responsibility in regards to her stance on foreign policy in the past, she may be more credible in the future.

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