Our country has a very complicated relationship with Hillary Clinton.
Some people love her for her fearless advocacy work around the world with women and girls. Some people hate her because they think she's a wicked political opportunist. Some are confused, teetering on the fence for wanting a woman elected president during their lifetimes, but they're just not sure Hillary is "the one." She's been voted the most admired woman in the world seventeen times in Gallup's annual poll, and has been called the "most hated" first lady by The New York Times. Progressives who should be active in her campaign yearn for another Democrat -- any other Democrat -- and GOP women are looking for a way to support her without feeling like Republican Benedict Arnolds.
She's "nagging," "conniving" and "controlling." And don't forget "polarizing." She's "fearless," "loyal" and "intelligent." She's a powerful advocate and a thoughtful friend. She's obsessed with power and she's a selfless champion for others. When it comes to Hillary Clinton, we just can't seem make up our minds about whether we admire her for all the things she's accomplished or whether we detest her because she's a woman not afraid to admit her own ambitions for political power.
Our endless fascination with all things Hillary gives her a national profile most other politicians can only dream of -- the Wellesley graduate, the law firm partner, the first lady, the senator, the presidential candidate, the global diplomat. And, of course, there are the Hillary distractions -- the pantsuits, the nutcracker, the hairstyles, the vanishing emails -- that most White House hopefuls are glad they'll never have to worry about. There is no doubt that when it comes to the range of emotions Americans feel about Hillary, she is in a category all her own; she is on the receiving end of a visceral level of love and hate that transcends that of almost all her potential opponents.
But why? How have we become so conflicted over one woman with the kind of goals and ambitions that most of us would encourage in our own mothers or daughters?
To paraphrase Yoda, the force is strong in those who are both for and against Hillary.
Having mixed feelings about a presidential candidate is nothing new. Many voters are often torn about their potential leaders and that's exactly where Hillary's political foes want voters to be -- straddling that fence between love and hate. In that regard, fomenting mistrust about one's opposition isn't just "a Clinton thing." Many Democrats, who were likely Hillary supporters, fell in love with Barack Obama and his "Yes We Can" theme of 2008.
But it's safe to say that no American politician who has run for president has survived the media and voter hostility that Hillary Rodham Clinton has. She is clearly in a category all her own. But as voters, there are four Hillary groups Americans fall into -- lovers, haters, those who hate to love her and those who love to hate her.
Hillary Clinton is the most politically accomplished woman in America, so much so that she is often referred to and known by one name -- Hillary; like Madonna or Bono, that's how much of a rock star she is. Yet, because she is a fearless woman who earned her political stripes during the "I Am Woman" 1970s, she has been on the receiving end of gendered vitriol more times than not.
Anytime Hillary does anything -- good or bad -- she becomes, unfairly, a joke. She was skewered by jabs claiming that she faked a concussion to avoid congressional testimont -- "Help, I've fallen and I can't testify about Benghazi!" And just at a time when she thought it was safe to start dipping her toe in pre-White House run public appearances, she was hit with a "scandal" about her private e-mail server during Secretary of State days, bringing cries that she had "possibly" acted illegally.
But she's also worshipped in pop culture memes like her "BFF selfies" with Meryl Streep at the Kennedy Center Honors gala and the humorous "Texts from Hillary," the now famous Tumblr site highlighting then-Secretary of State Clinton with her badass shades and Blackberry, looking as if she were running the world from her Secretary of State plane while others, including President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, vied haplessly for her attention.
And, of course, one of the most famous media tributes to Hillary flipped the hate on its head. "Bitch is the New Black," coined by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on Saturday Night Live, turned one of the most used slurs against Hillary into a stunning positive:
"People say Hillary is a bitch. Yeah. She is. And so am I. ... You know what. Bitches get stuff done!"
As we zoom into the 2016 presidential election it should be no surprise that that the media and voters once again are off to the races with the familiar "love Hillary, love Hillary not" game. So the question of "why" is a legitimate one to explore about the person who could well become to become the first woman president of the United States.
I believe it's because Hillary Clinton brazenly dared to step out, in the most public of ways, from our expectations of women in general and first ladies in particular. In 1992, she was the kind of first lady we had never seen on the national stage -- someone who was a professional in her own right with a life separate from that of her husband that she dared to cultivate. But for many, even decades after "women's lib," she was viewed more as a wife who didn't know her place rather than someone representing the majority of woman at the time -- those working outside the home in their own careers.
Because she was one of first women in the public spotlight to embrace the ideas of the women's movement by being a full-time working mother, successful in her own right and, for a time, under her own name, women found things to dislike about her. They, in essence, turned on the very thing they longed to see in the public arena. So it's not surprising that Hillary still gives us pause for other reasons, none of which seemingly have anything to do with her readiness to finally elect a woman president.
Put all these things together, and what we have is a Hillary paradox. It's one that's sure to stay with us all the way to Election Day 2016 and beyond if Hillary does finally take the White House in her own right, and one voters should try to resolve as we hurdle toward the possibility of finally joining the ranks of so many other countries who don't seem to have a problem with a woman in the highest elective office.
Excerpted from the just-released anthology Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox (She Writes Press)
Joanne Bamberger is an independent journalist and journalism entrepreneur who is also the author/editor of the just-released, Amazon bestseller Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, an anthology of 28 women-written essays about our longtime conflicted relationship with one of the most politically accomplished women of our time. She is the founder and publisher of the The Broad Side and the principal of Broad Side Strategies, a media/strategic communications firm. You can find Joanne on Twitter at @jlcbamberger and on Facebook.