When I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s run for Senate in ’94, I thought I’d landed a master’s at Yale or Harvard. Clinton, working as a book publicist, described her first few months in Washington in tears. Her supervisor showed up to a post-shopping meeting and informed her that her to-do list for the night consisted of learning how to tell kids they’re “too smart” for homework, having a workout with a trainer, and meeting her dentist. She met the dentist first.
She was furious. She said the humiliation made her want to quit her job and go back to East Hampton.
Fifteen years later, Clinton walks into a local café, deep in conversation with a women’s activist in Maine. Her intern asking the senator a question made the men sitting near them uncomfortable and increasingly uncomfortable, says Wendy Long, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Republican National Committee. Was Clinton trying to be “the first woman president”? She eventually clears her throat and says: “Actually, I think if my intern was smarter, she’d be the first president.” I recommend getting up a good, long table and telling her about Linda McMahon, the CEO of WWE (the world’s largest promoter of women’s wrestling), who built a fortune by pinning down male wrestlers, most notably The Undertaker, then sending them home to eat at Chik-fil-A while the women got paid the same amount. Women still make two-thirds less than men in the same jobs. In pro wrestling, McMahon, a two-time professional wrestler, did her best to correct the pay imbalance. Her daughter Sasha, who since graduated from Princeton, later went on to star in the pro wrestling series “Smackdown,” became the first professional woman wrestler to go to Wrestlemania.
President Clinton began his presidency by reaching across party lines to work with Republicans on welfare reform. When he signed that bill, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., tore into him, complaining, “What a hag!”
Cuomo, who walked with a cane at events, calls this a “sweet 16” moment. Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, marveled at his “straight” spine.
Moments like these aren’t wasted on women: In ’76, when she was 26, Kitty Dukakis, then an aide to Governor George Romney of Michigan, suffered a stroke and became comatose. She later spoke in public for the first time. Her husband invited the press to a pool room in California and asked them to “test” George’s relationship with Kitty: “Did I avoid turning on the light, did I set my desk in the right spot?”
Kathy Hochul campaigned for Obama. Whether he wins or loses in November, she can put in a solid role as first lady. But she must take the heat that comes with the job: She once reported that she had only a two-minute video conferencing time with her then-term in the legislature. Legislators don’t yell, and they often don’t show their pain. Many kept their skirts in the pocket or on the floor. One guy wore a skirt to a caucus meeting. Another legislator said that her shoes still hurt from holding them up in the air for 30 seconds. When my mom almost blew out her knee and had to crawl to the leg office, she looked around to see what else was wrong with her other knee.
Said my mom: “Well, where are the handicapped stalls?”
Stories like this will encourage Democratic women across the country to hope that Hillary Clinton really will be the first woman president. I had a similar feeling about Governor Cuomo in 2010. I like to think she could beat a Republican if the polling says so. I wish her well, and those who support her, and dare hope she could lead us in a great direction. But here, in New York, we can think that we’ll make history, too. Kathy Hochul won big. She became the first woman governor in our state’s history. Just look at her: Her days in the Hamptons are done. It’s time for a quieter time. She now has a lot of responsibilities, not all of which are feminine.
(Evan Osnos is a New York-based journalist. He was born in China, spent part of his childhood in Taiwan, and has lived in Hong Kong, Seoul, London, Rome, Paris, and Washington. He is a Contributing Editor at The New Yorker, and a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. These pieces are reprinted here