This 1996 Hillary Clinton Moment Was An Unforgettable Turning Point For The Then-First Lady
A Clinton campaign ad titled "Fighter" features a dated interview clip that showcases one of Hillary's most defining moments during the 1990s, when she explains what it means to go against the tide. When her husband was president from 1993 until 2001, Clinton's vehement activism as First Lady showed the nation that women in the White House can be their own leaders. In addition to supporting her husband, Clinton also pursued her own separate political agenda as an activist for children. Historically, First Ladies have shared similar inclinations towards speaking on behalf of children.
Clinton didn't go against the grain by focusing on the well-being of young Americans. She went against it by adopting an aggressive approach that appeared to be more intimidatingly strong-willed than it did soft and motherly.
In a Jan. 12, 1996 30-minute interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20, Clinton had to defend that approach. In the second half of the interview, Walters introduced a book written by Clinton and published that year called It Takes a Village, and explained its vision, "It's everyone's job, not just parents', to raise America's children." The book spent an impressive 18 weeks on The New York Times' best seller list and garnered so much attention that even conservatives felt threatened enough to become vocally critical of it in the public arena. For example, Bob Dole mentioned the book at the Aug. 15, 1996 Republican Convention.
And after the virtual devastation of the American family, the rock upon which this country was founded, we are told that it takes a village, that is collective, and thus the state, to raise a child...
The state is now more involved than it ever has been in the raising of children. And children are now more neglected, more abused and more mistreated than they have been in our time...
And with all due respect, I am here to tell you it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.
Clinton was becoming a political force of her own. Walters outlined some of the more controversial proposals mentioned in the book: universal health care for children, funded early education, funding daycare. To conservatives, Clinton's invocation of "village" in the title of her book indicated a divergence from the tenets of capitalism. In a village, everyone supports each other's designated role in society. Though Clinton and her husband were fairly moderate, the First Lady did believe that, when it comes to children, society must resemble a village. As Walters pointed out, the suggestion that America increases government involvement in the lives of their children was extremely controversial. It was also perceived as too "strong."
Your book takes a very strong stance. This is not what some people thought was going to be a nice, soft book to show that you had a softer image ... You seem to be swimming against the tide. You know, all we hear about is less government, less money. You're saying the opposite.
Clinton responded with a universal statement that could be applied to countless issues even today. In 1996, the tide flowed against funding children's programs through government subsidies. Clinton has since interrupted its flow in several political arenas.
Well that's because I think the tide is not going in the right direction. I think we are causing ourselves a lot of problems because we are not doing what it takes to support families. And I mean hold them accountable, hold them responsible ... So, for me, this is going in the right direction, because in the long run, it is cheaper than prisons, it is cheaper than violence, it is cheaper than tearing at the quality of our life together.
Retrospectively, it's clear that this interview was going in the wrong direction from the very beginning, thanks to the way Clinton's powerful stance was framed. Walters noted that her book wasn't "soft," implying that, in the public's view, Clinton was overstepping her boundaries as First Lady.
After her husband's two terms in office ended, rumors circulated that the White House had attempted to tone down her attitude for the sake of maintaining Bill's aura of power and masculinity. Susan Thomases, a close friend of Clinton who also worked on the campaign told The New York Times that during the 1990s, Bill's administration had to limit her involvement in the White House:
They pigeonholed her. She was so strong a personality that there were people who felt that when they were together her strong personality made him seem weaker.
Now, after winning all five states on March 15, Clinton has a good chance of becoming the next Democratic presidential nominee. Today, she remains equally as strong and increasingly sophisticated while delivering her visions for America's future. Twenty years ago, she went against the tide by suggesting America subsidizes child services, but also by trampling the "soft" image associated with the First Lady. Now, the woman who was once too strong for the White House might soon control it.