Hillary Rodham Clinton: A tale of thwarted ambition

Democratic Hillary Clinton on her way to a campaign concert with Katy Perry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 5, 2016. Clinton lost her second bid for the US presidency on November 8. (Reuters)

She lost to Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries in 2008. Now she has been humiliated in her second bid for the presidency by political novice and former TV reality show host Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton will go down in history as a woman of frustrated ambitions.

In February, a journalist asked Clinton if she has always told the truth to the American people.

“I’ve always tried to. Always. Always,” the failed Democratic candidate answered.

Other, less cautious politicians would have responded with an unequivocal ‘yes’.

But Clinton, a lawyer by training, weighs her words carefully so as not to be caught out. Critics say she is dishonest.

And this apparent duplicity, despite her efforts for redemption and the support of US Democrats led by a spirited Obama, cost the party the White House in a historic repudiation that has the world on edge as it waits to see what the future now holds with a Trump presidency.

Looking back, it is clear that Clinton’s defiant streak grew over the course of three decades in public life.


Back in the 1970s, when her husband Bill was governor of Arkansas, Clinton still used her maiden name, Rodham, and kept her job as a lawyer.

Local people found this odd, and questioned her love for her husband and asked what the woman was up to.

Ultimately she took Clinton as her last name. But she had already come across as too hip and too ambitious for conservative southern US society.

“I think that’s another one of the dangers about being in public life. One cannot live one’s life based on what somebody else’s image of you might be,” she told Arkansas public TV in an interview in 1979.

First Lady

When her husband ran for the White House, Clinton showed herself to be both an asset and a liability.

She was the former when she defended her husband against allegations of adultery in 1992.

And she hurt herself when she seemed to criticize stay-at-home mothers by saying she would rather work than stay home and bake cookies.

When the couple came to Washington, Mrs Clinton raised eyebrows again. She was a key adviser to her husband, and set up an office in the West Wing of the White House, reserved for the president himself and his closest aides. Previous first ladies always worked out of the East Wing.

Hillary Clinton during the victory celebration of her husband, president-elect Bill Clinton, at the Old Statehouse in Little Rock on November 3, 1992. (Reuters File)

Mrs Clinton dazzled official Washington when she undertook a reform of the US health care system. She knew the material well, worked hard and impressed Republican members of Congress.

But as the months wore on, the reform deadlocked, and critics of Clinton dismissed her as inflexible and abrupt. It was her first major political defeat.

She was fiercely defensive of her private life, and journalists found this behaviour to be suspicious.

Americans considered Clinton to be smart and tough but the media asked ‘who is the real Hillary?’

Clinton’s popularity peaked in late 1998 when she was humiliated with the disclosure of her husband’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

It would be the last time that the American people sympathized with her.

On her own

Clinton long wanted to get into politics on her own merits. In 1990, she commissioned polls to explore the idea of succeeding her husband. The results were negative, and this hurt her.

She sought redemption in 2000 when Bill Clinton left the White House: she won a seat in the Senate representing the state of New York. Clinton worked hard and impressed people as diligent and well prepared.

But her unpopularity returned.

In 2002, Clinton voted in favour of the United States invading Iraq.

A young Senate colleague named Barack Obama saw his chance, running in the Democratic primaries of 2008 with a message of change and relegating his powerful rival to the ranks of establishment politicians.

So a woman who was too modern in the Arkansas of the 1980s became a vestige of another time, a symbol of insider Washington.

In naming her secretary of state in 2009, Obama resurrected Clinton and consolidated her image as a stateswoman. This completed the longest resume in the recent history of American politics.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, a senator at the time, listens to fellow senator Barack Obama during a debate in New Hampshire, in June 2007, in the run-up to the 2008 US presidential elections. Obama beat Clinton, and eventually became the US president for two terms. She worked as his secretary of state in his first term at the White House. (Reuters)

But Clinton made a fatal mistake when she set about working at the State Department: She avoided using the government email system and used her own private server, ignoring rules on the handling of sensitive communications.

This mushroomed into a scandal, and although the FBI ultimately decided that Clinton did not deserve to be charged, critics of Clinton insisted this disqualified her from serving as president.

“I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me,” Clinton said in July in accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. “So let me tell you.”

She proceeded to talk about her middle class upbringing, her commitments and her lifelong battle to advocate for women and children.

Friends have vouched for Clinton’s honesty, and her campaign team produced videos about her that were moving and funny.

But it was in vain as American voters on Tuesday closed the book on Clinton.


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