For the first time in American history, a woman is the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States. This might happen in 2008, but in my novel, Eleanor vs. Ike, it happens in 1952. And the woman is Eleanor Roosevelt. Welcome to my fantasy: a thinly disguised parable about Hillary Clinton and the challenges a woman would face running for President – then or now.
In Eleanor vs. Ike, Eleanor is drafted to run after Adlai Stevenson suffers a fatal heart attack as he’s about to give his acceptance speech. The party turns to her as a sacrificial lamb who can at least keep the New Deal flame alive during the campaign. Even Stevenson had seemed a poor bet against the hero of WWII, General Dwight David Eisenhower. Certainly a woman wouldn’t have a chance against this great military man.
But Eleanor is in it to win it, as a certain other woman presidential candidate today would say. She aims to transcend gender through emphasizing her experience. Sound familiar? As First Lady, Eleanor had traveled all over the world and met with many heads of state. As a United Nations delegate she chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Magna Carta of our time.
Eleanor had introduced programs, lobbied in Congress and federal agencies for her domestic agenda and pressured the President on issues like a federal anti-lynching law. Military leaders respected her, much as they do you know who. She helped wounded troops in WWI and visited troops all over the world in WWII. She supported President Truman’s decision to drop the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to fire General MacArthur during the Korean War despite the public outrage.
Eleanor was also politically savvy. She had been through four political campaigns with FDR before he ran for President, two statewide in New York and one national when he ran for Vice-President. FDR was the political master, like a certain other ex-Democratic President/candidate’s husband today. That’s why Eleanor pushes for the first nationally televised debate, knowing she can best Eisenhower, and hoping that he might make a fatal mistake. Eleanor learned from FDR that in politics anything can happen. You never give up or give in. In the book, she is the happy and indefatigable political warrior, yes, like Hillary Clinton.
Of course, in the book, an attempt is made on Eleanor’s life by the Ku Klux Klan. I wouldn’t suggest this as a way for Hillary Clinton to show courage or get sympathy, but she can still get in touch with her Eleanorean side. There are times when Clinton shows Eleanor’s innate ability to empathize with people, her deep humanity. When Clinton gets her eyes off her notes (Eleanor never used them) we see the candidate who is running for all the right reasons, and who would make Eleanor proud.
In truth, (and I’m not channeling her) I’m sure Eleanor would already be proud. Clinton had shown courage, restraint, toughness and resilience before this campaign, but in unfortunate and too well-known contexts that weren’t those of leadership. Now, as a candidate, she has shown all those traits and more. She can take charge, be dominant, set the agenda, take criticism and respond with strength– all leadership qualities we look for in a President. Whether she wins or not, no one will ever doubt a woman’s ability to be a credible candidate for President. More broadly, and more difficult to gauge, is the overall effect on women’s leadership, but I suspect it will be great. No matter how many of Clinton’s critics want to paint her as some strange, singular creature who doesn’t represent women, they won’t succeed. Women are responding so strongly to Clinton because they see themselves in her struggles, her determination and her ambition to lead.
READ MORE AT HILLBUZZ!
CHECK OUT “ELEANOR VS. IKE” HERE!