I spent a lot of 2008 feeling crushed. It was exhilarating covering Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the presidency, but there was so much about the race that was backward and retro, more 1958 than 2008. It wasn’t just the media’s goggle-eyed questions about whether the country was “ready” for a female president or the inane things that spilled out of people’s mouths on cable television—though let’s remember that Christopher Hitchens called Clinton “soppy and bitchy,” Mike Barnicle compared her to “everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court,” and Keith Olbermann suggested that the Democratic Party needed “somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.” All of that was grim. But it was symptomatic of a far bigger problem: that in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the nation still had difficulty imagining a female president as anything other than an exception, a somewhat threatening anomaly.
Should she run, as she almost certainly will, people will be idiots about Clinton this election, too. They’ll call her a bitch and express their distaste for her through fantasies of misogynistic violence. But when I consider the distance we have traveled since 2008, I find myself strangely hopeful about what’s ahead. The degree to which our cultural attitudes about women in politics have matured is astonishing.