Just days before he was assassinated 53 years ago this month, John F. Kennedy was asked in a White House news conference what he thought about the possibility of a presidential bid by Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican from Maine and one of just two women then serving in the U.S. Senate.
Amid chuckles from the press corps, Kennedy replied, with barely disguised condescension, “I would think if I were a Republican candidate, I would not look forward to campaigning against Margaret Chase Smith ... I think she is very formidable, if that is the appropriate word to use about a very fine lady.”
Smith did, in fact, run for president a few months later, and was decisively relegated to footnote status by GOP heavy hitters of the day like Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Scranton and eventual 1964 nominee Barry Goldwater. A half-century has passed since, and close to 100 years have gone by since women were granted the right to vote in the United States. Britain has had two female leaders, Germany has had one, and many other countries have put women at the helm – Australia, India, Israel, Pakistan, Norway, Canada, Denmark, Iceland – but the United States has not had a female president.
That could well change on Tuesday.
Amid all the sound and fury surrounding the candidacy of Donald Trump, the fact that Hillary Clinton would shatter “the highest glass ceiling” and become our first female president has almost been lost in the shuffle. And it stands to reason that at least a portion of the fervent opposition to Clinton is based on misogyny, whether her detractors like to admit it or not. She is not an inspiring campaigner and Clinton has been an undeniably controversial figure throughout her 25 years on the national stage. But she is also exceptionally well-qualified to be the nation’s commander in chief after having been first lady, a U.S. senator and secretary of state. A pragmatist with an acute understanding of both foreign and domestic policy, she is well-positioned to safeguard and build on the successes of the Obama years, and move the country forward.
And since American presidential elections are almost inevitably a binary choice, Clinton stands head and shoulders above her Republican rival. Donald Trump is almost certainly the worst candidate either major party has put forward in 100 years. Maybe ever. His character defects, from his volitale temper to his behavior toward women, are well-chronicled. But what makes the prospect of a Trump presidency particularly frightening are his authoritarian impulses and his disregard for constitutional norms. This is the candidate who proclaimed “I alone can fix it” when accepting his party’s nomination. He pledged to implement a “complete and total shutdown” on Muslims entering the United States, applying an unconstitutional and discriminatory religious test when determining who can enter the country. He wants to loosen libel laws and has threatened to throw Clinton in jail. He has encouraged violence at his rallies and hinted that supporters should intimidate voters in “certain areas.” Trump is not only inexperienced and incurious, but would be a threat to our country’s system of governance.
It’s true that Clinton and her husband have made their share of mistakes and stumbled into their share of mishaps. Whether out of a lack of discipline or arrogance, they have handed their critics rope, whether it was his affair with Monica Lewinsky or her email server. But they have been pursued with the same tenacity that Inspector Javert went after Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” and many of the “crimes” they have been accused of have either been misdemeanors or the products of far-right fever dreams.
In most of our recent presidential elections, voters could be confident that, no matter who the winner was, America would be in safe, trustworthy hands. Not this time.
“I’m the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse,” Clinton recently told a New York Times reporter. That’s why voters should support her on Tuesday.