I am excited to host this Q. and a. with Joanne Cronrath Bamberger. Below is the interview:
A Conversation with Joanne Cronrath Bamberger,
Author / Editor of LOVE HER, LOVE HER NOT: THE HILLARY PARADOX
Why did you decide to curate, contribute to, and edit LOVE HER, LOVE HER NOT: The Hillary Paradox (LHLHN)? I wanted to get to the bottom of this question – “Why?” Why do we have such conflicting feelings about Hillary Clinton and can we reconcile them to ever elect any woman to the White House? We call Hillary controlling but fearless. She’s described as conniving but loyal. How can that be? She’s been voted the most admired woman in the world 17 times, but has also been described as our most hated First Lady.
How is that possible?
So much is written about whether we like Hillary or not, whether she’s trustworthy or not, whether it’s OK to change one’s policy positions or not. Few, if any, other political candidates, man or woman, get the level of scrutiny Hillary Clinton has since she became a national figure during her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign. We can’t really get to the point of truly considering her as a possible president until we examine why we hold her to a different standard. And the bigger question I wanted to explore was this – will this kind of paradox impact women who plan to run for the White House in the future? It doesn’t seem to impact how voters and the media view GOP candidate Carly Fiorina, so why Hillary?
Did we think she was too big for her britches? Or do we, as women, see too much of ourselves in her? Did we recognize that many of us were treated the same way and we didn’t like that she could rise above our country’s sexist treatment of accomplished women in a way many of us could not?
There is little research on the question of why Hillary Clinton is, and has been, treated as she is and I thought that essays exploring that question would help us get to the bottom of that conundrum. While there is an emerging academic area of study I like to call “Hillary Studies,” those analyses don’t really explore the personal feelings that voters have toward candidates that, for better or worse, sway our decisions, especially whether we are ready for a woman president. Without really reflecting on how much we’ve judged Hillary Clinton, and why we judge in a way that’s unique to her, it will be virtually impossible for any woman candidate to make it to the White House as POTUS rather than FLOTUS.
Does this book reveal anything new about Hillary Clinton?
LHLHN’s revelation is one that shouldn’t be a revelation at all – that Hillary Clinton is a three-dimensional person with contradictions and accomplishments and inconsistencies and ambitions, just like every other person on the planet.
Much of the critique surrounding Hillary Clinton and her campaign focuses on the fact that her positions on certain issues have evolved over time For example, she faces a good amount of criticism over the fact that even though she voted to approve the Iraq War resolution when she was a U.S. senator, she says today that if she knew then what she knows now about the purported evidence presented, she would have voted against that. I wonder why we are harsher on her for that changed position than we are with other politicians, and why we expect her to remain constant in all things while the rest of us evolve. Whether people change their minds on whether they “love her or love her not,” I hope that this book will help people see Clinton as the real woman and candidate that she is, rather than the idealized one so many of us want her to be.
What did you uncover about politics in America today as a result of editing this book?
I discovered so much more than I thought I would! As someone who has her finger on the pulse of women and politics, especially in the online world, I didn’t think I would be surprised at any of the essays or the views expressed in them. Boy, was I wrong! I uncovered a number of surprising things:
- Women voters, especially baby boomers and Gen X-ers, hold Hillary Clinton to a different standard than men when it comes to presidential “qualifications.” In addition to expecting her to have certain positions on various policies, they seem to expect that Hillary would have or should have made the same kind of personal, life decisions that they believe they would have made, in order to support her as a candidate.
- Some of the women writers in LHLHN who are Millennials favor Hillary much more than news stories suggest. News reports lead us to believe that Bernie Sanders is the magical favorite among the Gen Y crowd. And while there are many who do, the Millennial writers in LHLHN seem to view Hillary less in black and white, and more in gray tones. They are less focused on Hillary Clinton’s so-called “baggage” – why she didn’t leave her husband after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, whether she has too much political ambition for a woman, whether she is “likable” – and are more focused on her policy positions and the realities of life as a wife, mother, daughter, etc.
Women of Hillary’s generation seem harder on her, especially when it comes to whether they can forgive her for being a politically ambitious woman in her own right, and whether that influenced her decision not to leave her marriage, which some consider inauthentic.
These essays led me to learn that women voters are much more concerned with a female candidate’s authenticity, but only in terms of how each person views what they think is authentic. This kind of thinking among women voters works at odds with women who want to be elected to national office. Anecdotally, voters, especially women, seem to demand that in order for them to support a woman candidate in general – and Hillary in particular – she must be like a modern day Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way.
Also surprising to me was this – I worked very hard to make sure that the voices represented in LHLHN were as diverse as possible. I made sure essays were written by women of varying political persuasions, ages, backgrounds, religions, etc. So, I was surprised when, even in light of this diversity, many had similar opinions about Hillary Clinton and that, ultimately, none of them saw her as two-dimensional caricature the media often portray her as. Whether they agreed with her politics or not, they saw her as an important figure who represents our evolving views of women in all professions.
When Hillary announced her run for president, the book catapulted to #1 on Amazon — before the book was even published! Clearly it captured the attention of readers who pre-ordered it. Do you think readers, reviewers, and the media will categorize LOVE HER, LOVE HER NOT as non-partisan?
Love Her Love Her Not is really an omni-partisan book in terms of who the writers are, but it is non-partisan in how each essayist approached her respective topic. I had anticipated that the conservative writers would not have had anything good to say about Hillary; and, on the flip side, I thought those who believe they will support Hillary would be firmly in her camp. Neither of those things turned out to be true and I think that’s reflective of how much of the country views Hillary, notwithstanding what we often see on cable news. LHLHN is truly a thoughtful and nuanced collection of essays that really explore, rather than trying to opine or persuade, all the lenses through which we view Clinton.
Tell us about the 28 contributors and how you selected both the topics and the diverse voices collected here. This was an amazing collaborative process! I knew that in order for a book like this to resonate with voters, it would have to contain as many diverse voices as possible. I reached out to many, many writers I knew would have something powerful and unique to say about Hillary Clinton and worked with them on what topics would resonate. These are women who are well known in both the world of traditional media, as well as our newer online world; women who have unique and varied followings but who are recognized in their spheres as women who bring new perspectives to thinking and writing about women, politics and current events. While I initially had a list of possible topics, the contributors had so many other ideas about what they wanted to write that addressed their own powerful thoughts and feelings about Hillary. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to write something completely original on topics like Clinton’s pantsuits, how so many women see themselves reflected in Hillary’s choices, and more; yet, each contributor brought their own unique life experiences to the task of analyzing Hillary in a fresh way that I hope will catch the attention of people who are truly on the fence about Hillary and, whether they support her in her 2016 candidacy or not, that it will prompt readers to truly think about why they feel certain things about Hillary and whether those are legitimate reasons to reflect on when choosing a president.
What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
One of the biggest influences on my writing and political life was All the President’s Men. Like many people in college at the time, my desire to be a journalist was inspired by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Like many writers, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird helped me get past some of the common obstacles many writers face. I’m a big fan of Leah Hager Cohen’s book Glass Paper Beans, as well as Sloane Crosley’s essay collections. For fiction, I draw great inspiration from Jane Smiley, Barbara Kingsolver, and Ann Patchett, especially how they craft their women characters. But I’ve also been inspired by many women opinion columnists, like Connie Schultz, the late Molly Ivins, and Anna Quindlen. And, of course, I truly admire all the wonderful women writers at The Broad Side, who think in new ways about everyday topics.
Do you have any goals for this collection? My goal is for LHLHN to start a more nuanced conversation about Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, but that it will also help us look at all women candidates in more objective and less sexist ways. For example, of all the candidates in the running for the White House in 2016, only Hillary seems to be judged on a media driven “likability” scale. Even her sole female competition on the Republican side, Carly Fiorina, doesn’t face the same scrutiny as Hillary does. I would love it if LHLHN could help all voters take a small step back and examine their inner thoughts and feelings about someone who is inarguably one of the most accomplished political women of our time, and ask themselves ‘why’ am I really for her or against her. Because as we think of this question, ultimately it’s not just about the former FLOTUS, former U. S. senator, former secretary of state – it’s also about how these feelings about the first viable woman presidential candidate will spill over to the woman, Democratic or Republican, who becomes the next viable woman presidential candidate.
If you could meet with her and give her a copy, what would you tell Hillary Clinton about this book?
I would tell her that because the essays really reveal the nuanced way in which women view her, in a way that polling doesn’t necessarily reflect, that there could be some clues to how to convince voters this time around that she should be our first woman president. And, if I and my political science degree could be so bold, I would suggest that she (or maybe her campaign managers) reflect not only on what the essays say about her, but also what they say about how women see themselves, because I think one of the big takeaways from this collection is that what women voters think about Hillary is filtered through a lens of how they see their own lives, experiences and relationships. That may not be fair, especially since women voters don’t seem to do that with men candidates, but that realization could help set a different tone that will help Clinton put the last crack in that highest glass ceiling, the one that will make it come crashing down to let other women through in the future.