Will Clinton's Agenda Survive?

By Parker, Kathleen | Newsweek, March 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Will Clinton's Agenda Survive?


Parker, Kathleen, Newsweek


Byline: Kathleen Parker

The Hillary Effect has spread across the globe. But how well will it last without Hillary at the helm?

Let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all."

With those 19 words in 1995, then-first lady Hillary Clinton launched a global women's movement and institutionalized what nearly two decades later is known as the Hillary Effect, essentially the pebble-in-a-pond metaphor.

Ripples.

In retrospect, her statement before the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women was perfectly obvious, but it was also revolutionary. Among other reasons, Hillary dared to trespass beyond the perimeter of her defined role as first lady and speak about the unspeakable, even challenging the Chinese about their one-child policy and forced abortion. But sometimes even the obvious needs articulation--and great movements sometimes are formulated in the simplest of terms: all men are created equal. The Founding Fathers surely meant women, too, even if they didn't realize it at the time.

Today the ripples of Hillary's statement have spread: global women's rights have taken the spotlight, not only in the popular zeitgeist, but on the world stage, from the highest buildings in Hong Kong to the squattest huts in sub-Saharan Africa.

The question as she leaves the State Department to enter a new chapter in her own life is, what happens to women and girls now? Can the Hillary Effect sustain itself without the Hillary?

"It's a totally open question," says Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton and the author of Why Women Should Rule the World. "Under Hillary, everyone knew that the global women's issue was a strategic priority, an organizing principle. She was completely committed. How do you re-create that?"

Despite some positive signs and assurances from Hillary's successor, John Kerry, the broader understanding is that there is only one Hillary. Although Kerry said all the right things during his confirmation hearings, women's issues aren't in his bones in the same way. A recent visit to Afghanistan notwithstanding, his focus clearly is on the Middle East and the imperative of thwarting nuclear proliferation. No small plate, that.

Then there is President Obama's decision to make permanent the Office of Global Women's Issues and the women's-ambassador-at-large position, which Hillary created. That portends well for the future of women-focused policies: when Melanne Verveer, the first ambassador-at-large, left her position to run the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, she says it wasn't clear that the position would survive at all. But even now, some wonder whether the same level of commitment can be expected from the administration, the State Department, and Verveer's successor. By all accounts, the newly appointed ambassador, Cathy Russell, is well liked and respected, but Jill Biden's former chief of staff was an unexpected choice to some veterans in the field. As one close observer put it, "She's no Melanne Verveer."

Former secretary of State Madeleine Albright blows off any skepticism. "There's no replica of Melanne, but Cathy's a terrific person to do this, someone who has been committed to women's issues and is very well positioned."

And, to be fair, Russell, who was appointed in mid-March, has hardly had time to put on her lipstick yet.

Russell nevertheless has a tough act to follow. The combination of Hillary and Verveer has been something like a duet between a bunker buster and a daisy cutter in the war for women's rights. Call them Mesdames Shock and Awe: powerful, focused, and devastatingly effective.

When Obama appointed Hillary to be his secretary of State, no one figured he was projecting how best to empower women in Somalia or the Congo. Whatever the president's calculation (think team of rivals), Hillary had her own agenda and was in a strong negotiating position: she was bringing her programs and her people, or Obama could find someone else. …

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