Eleanor and Hillary


Querying friends and acquaintances about the 2016 presidential contest confirmed my conclusion that people are more interested in momentary circumstances than in historic context.  My path to this notion went from John Galbraith's recollection about Eleanor Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson's wife, who essentially ran the United States during Wilson's incapacitation  after his disastrous stroke, and ended at Anne Firor Scott's scholarly observations.

Anne Scott was Duke University's W. K. Boyd professor of history and was awarded the Medal of Freedom during the Obama Administration. She knows women and history. She is herself a remarkable woman. I am familiar with people who know her but I cannot say if she has a favorite in the current race.

Disinterest in context is common in months just prior to a national election. Maybe it's especially so during the current cat and dog fight. Indeed when I mentioned the comparison or contrast between prominent women such as Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt I was mostly met with blank looks as if their experiences weren't important considerations.

Surprised by this I looked at some related literature such as the memoirs of John Galbraith and David Halberstam to see if I was mistaken in my recollections. I'm convinced that both women were similarly loved or hated because of their political leanings, their personalities and their relationships with powerful men. Obviously their separation by nearly three-fourths of a century complicates the pairing.

Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton were powerful men who were inordinately influenced by capable women whose spouses had independent power.  Neither of those Presidents were sexually faithful. The women put up with their ways.

Now the electorate brings to the ultimate choice in November a judgment it has never  before faced.  And I'm realizing anew how shallow we are. Larry Tye's  recent book about Bobby Kennedy makes it clear that that clan kept women sidelined when family business was being conducted. Of course the Kennedy family business was politics. That may account for some of Hillary's disparagement in her own party and hateful treatment by the competition. Being first at anything is often fraught with difficulty. It's usually more fun and easier to be well coifed or stylishly dressed than to be actively engaged in business. Jackie Kennedy is the ultimate example.

British sailors have this parting good wish for their friends: "May no new thing happen." Well, something historically new might happen in the fall.

It is said by pundits still with us, and others who are gone like John Galbraith, that wry old immigrant, that Eleanor herself would have made a fine president. I can't help but wonder what the humane Eleanor Roosevelt would have made of Hillary's political travails. As the American electorate makes its way to the 2016 election I intend to continue this refrain: What would Anna Eleanor Roosevelt say?

Jim McDiarmid grew up in Storm Lake and lives in retirement in Pittsboro, N.C.