Why Hillary Lost – Thoughts on the 2008 American Presidential Primary Elections

Why did Hillary lose? Waseda's Prof. Toyonaga reflects on how the long US presidential election process made her initial desire and expectation of Hillary's candidacy turn to disappointment.


Only this time I would like to speak not as a political scientist but as a woman. Why did Hillary lose? When she announced her candidacy in January of last year, she seemed almost sure to capture the nomination for the Democratic Party. I also felt increasing expectations for her over the past two to three years. With the realization of her own career as Senator, wasn't she prepared enough for her goal? Didn't she overcome all those character issues often pointed out? Weren't we able to see her already as president? There is already proof of superior leadership demonstrated by women such as Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Angela Merkel in German and women could be considered the more suitable gender to lead a country for all the challenges and issues they face at home and at work, although it would be too much to raise the question of biological suitability. Even here in Japan, a country lagging in gender participation, it goes without saying that a woman US president would have a tremendous effect. The desire for Hillary to be suitable as president, and to become president, was an earnest wish that grew deep in my heart subconsciously. However, the US presidential election is long. The Democratic primaries lasted some 6 months this time around from the first ballot up to now. A stark contrast from any quickly decided contest, they are not over just by a show of affiliation, such as to a gender, race, creed or stock, or by name recognition. Every single of the candidates' utterings and actions are paraded day after day before the watchful eyes of the general public. This process is what made my underlying expectations towards Hillary turn to disappointment. Not only that, but my deep subconscious was murmuring to me that Hillary should not become president at all.


What was decisive for me was the sight of Hillary's attempts at opening the Pandora's Box of American politics on more than one occasion. First, immediately after black voters, who had always been a strong base for the Clintons, rushed to Senator Obama, Hillary made an about face and began espousing a strategy that spurred the racist leanings of low-income white voters. At the Pennsylvania Primary, where this strategy seemed to bear fruit, Hillary's victory rally took on a peculiarly strange air that seemed quite, well, un-American. Chanters with deep voices rocked the venue with an intensity and speed that seemed to be controlled. A truly shocking sight more akin to a neo-Nazi gathering far from the bright spontaneity one would expect at a rally of supporters for a democratic, liberal, female candidate.

There's also her words and actions that seemingly betrayed (or could be, and actually were, taken as betraying) a certain expectation for Senator Obama's assassination. As her defeat became fact, the continuation of her campaign in itself made some suspect that assassination is what she was really waiting for. However, Hillary, as absurd an idea as it seems, did virtually utter the word "assassination" in her example about Senator Robert Kennedy's fate during the Democratic Primaries in the 1960s. Hillary! We all know that such things as race and assassination constantly cast a dark shadow on American politics. But politicians should at the very least show some ethical decency and strongly express their indifference to them (as if to pretend they don't exist, although they constitute the very reality of politics sometimes). Without such protest in the guise of indifference, politics would be swallowed up whole in that dark shadow. With regard to the handling of the Florida and Michigan votes cast in violation of Democratic Party rules, Senator Clinton initially agreed not to count them, However, she flip-flopped as soon as they took on a pivotal role for her. Her insistence on postponing a decision on withdrawal, even in the face of overwhelming pressure to step down, along with many voices calling for an "honourable end" conjured images of the Vietnam quagmire. These things showed on the one side her strong character, however, on the other, cast doubts as to her respect for procedural justice and judgement.


It is customary in American politics to show admiration towards the loser of a contest. From Japan, on the other side of the globe, however, it may be tolerated to voice one's slight depression and frustration lingering after Hillary's downfall. I just wish "Hillary" had been an only by a little bit different "Hillary"! Then we would have finally had the first woman president as the outcome of this election. However, a close look reveals that Hillary was doomed from the get-go. The image as a very experienced career woman that she portrayed to us could not be kept intact up to the end by Hillary herself. More than a few women most likely have felt as I did: Uncertainty about the image she pressed forward as to herself. In retrospect, her career as a career woman neatly overlapped her career as First Lady. The young Bill Clinton, whom she met in law school and who would eventually become the 42nd President of the United States of America, skyrocketed up the political ladder. Quickly after graduating law school, he jumped to the post of Attorney General of the State of Arkansas. For Hillary, who kick-started her own career in law as the wife of top legal officer of the state, her luck couldn't be better…or worse. Bill became Governor of Arkansas in 1979 and Hillary has ever since then been First Lady, excluding the 2-year hiatus in her husband’s governorship. It becomes understandable then if her condescending demeanor reminds us of that of the wife of a highly placed official operating by the grace of his authority. She has no experience as a foot soldier sent out to the front lines with no support, dogging bullets flying overhead from every which way and crawling through the mud. Even while always having to look over one's shoulder in a world surrounded by enemies, one must never forget to be receptive towards those whose kindness at times serves as a beam of light that shows us the way forward. That kindness should be used to keep us going through the trenches day after gruesome day. It seems almost peculiar that Hillary lacks as she has shown the realistic political awareness that many other women have obtained automatically through ardent struggles in society and the thoughtfulness and generosity that emanates also automatically from these women who have had such an experience through life. Even if this would seem strange at first sight, considering her length of years as First Lady, one would come to see no contradiction.


Contrastingly, Senator Barack Obama, who won the Democratic nomination over Hillary, showed himself fit to be "America's Favorite Son" with his purity, frivolity and princely demeanor as well as a fresh, well though-out articulation. He impressed all of us by overturning America's negative past towards African-Americans (oh, see just how far you've come, Barack!). At the Democratic Convention 4 years ago, he touched the hearts of those who "discovered" him (I was also among those awestruck by his national debut). It goes without saying that this historical impression had much to do with Obama's distinct "character". Hillary lost this time around, however, with the first presidential candidate for one of the two main parties coming from the fateful black minority, America may be able to take a giant leap towards eradicating its racial trauma and we may have started a new chapter in the story of America's moral rebirth. The exciting conclusion to the Primaries more than compensated for my personal disappointment towards Hillary and provided me with quite a happy ending after all.

Obama's opponent is Republican Senator John McCain, who as a soldier directly experienced that dishonorable Vietnam War, breaking every bone in his body in fights and tortures, deprived of freedom for five and a half long years as a POW. What kind of story of rebirth could he bring to American history? Could America's Vietnam War past be turned into a positive future? I expect that an American moral rebirth will be an underlying issue of this presidential election. In those difficult, even inhumane, circumstances the candidates had to go through, which exactly mirrored the moral predicaments (or blemishes) of America herself, they preserved the best part of humanity within them and learned much from their respective experiences: They are being asked to show it. All these things will spar against each other in the political arena and make for a spectacular election…at least that's what I would like to see.

Ikuko Toyonaga
Professor, School of International Liberal Studies

Brief profile of the author:
Graduated from the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Law in 1989 and held research associate and lecturer positions there and associate professorship at Kyushu University, Faculty of Law, before assuming her present post. Her specialization is Political Science and Comparative Politics.

"The Scope of Neoconservatism: Transformation of Politics under Nakasone, Blair and G.W.Bush" (2008, Keisoshobo), "The Paradigm of Thatcherism: Analyzing the Operating" (1998, Sobunsha; Winner of the Suntory Academic Prize in Philosophy and History), ‘Possibilities for American Style Regional Governments Under the Current Constitution‘ ("Local Government" Issue No. 692, July 2005), ’A Look at the 2007 House of Counselors Election‘ ("Opinion", August 6, 2007; Waseda.com), ’Expressions in Manifesto Politics‘ ("Opinion", October 3, 2005; Waseda.com).

Published: 18 Jul 2008


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