Of course, technically, if Hillary Clinton is elected in November 2016 she would of course be the first person of the female gender to hold the office of president of the United States of America. What is in question is the legitimacy of that precedent in respect of the path to having obtained the office.
There have been a number of women who have entered into the highest offices in their country via a parliamentary coup. Jenny Shipley in New Zealand and Julia Gillard in Australia are two examples where, in a parliamentary system they became Prime Minister.
In both cases their holding the office was most certainly a historic event, but the manner of achieving it, via bringing down the elected leader, via a general election, of their party, took away from the honor a degree of moral and precedent making prestige. In the case of New Zealand, Helen Clark later became Prime Minister via the ballot box and it can be fairly said that her achievement carried with it a greater sense of history than Shipley’s.
In America there was the example of Lurleen Wallace being elected Governor of Alabamaafter her husband George Wallace had served his allotted term and was ineligible to run for re-election.
It was obvious that Lurleen Wallace was a substitute for her husband, and the legitimacy of her place in political history is tempered by that fact. When then senator and former vice-president Hubert Humphrey died the remainder of his term was assigned to his widow Muriel Humphrey and again, as deserving as the tribute to Hubert was via that mechanism, she couldn’t be genuinely considered to have gained the office naturally.
If Hillary Clinton is elected president there can be no gainsaying the fact that no matter what the substance of her accomplishment, and her career accomplishments, the simple fact is that if she were not married to Bill Clinton it is doubtful that anybody would have heard of her. It is even fairer to say that the odds against Hillary Rodham being elected president, or to any major office, would be doubtful in the extreme.
To make this even more stark as a contrast if, for example, Sarah Palin runs for the presidency and wins, then there would be no doubt whatsoever that that historic achievement would carry with it a different prestige than if Clinton ran and won.
Palin’s achievement would have come entirely from her own endeavors. There would be, unlike Hillary, no multi-million dollar foundation behind her, no former president, and the elected offices she held previously would all have been won entirely on her own efforts and not as a carpetbagger with the support of a massive machine behind her.
The contrast between a Palin (or any woman with a similar bootstraps background) and Hillary Clinton
Being the first woman to be elected president is so striking that it would be a shame for the women’s movement if such an historic achievement was de-legitimized, to any extent, by Hillary gaining the office via the male assisted route.