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Charting the Historic Significance of Hillary Rodham Clinton (April 2017): Cracking the Glass Ceiling: The 2008 Presidential Campaign

By Angela Fritz

Cracking the Glass Ceiling: The 2008 Presidential Campaign

The 2008 presidential campaign was historic, as it marked the first time an African American candidate and a woman competed for the Democratic nomination for the American presidency. As such, the election offers political scientists an intriguing case study to explore the intersecting narratives of race and gender in the history of American presidential campaigns. In addition, these books examine how these factors shaped voting behavior, perceptions of the presidency, media coverage, public opinion, and the American political process.

Focusing on news coverage and gendered language, Regina G. Lawrence and Melody Rose’s Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail offers an important case study within the Clinton bibliography. The authors discuss how identity politics and gender stereotyping shaped media coverage of the 2008 presidential election. This in-depth work addresses the role of gender in presidential politics, contemporary media norms, and Clinton’s personal and political history with the press and the public. In addition, Anne Kornblut analyzes the personal and political contexts for Clinton’s first run for the presidency in Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win. In this work, Kornblut argues that negative perceptions of Clinton in the 2008 election, especially excessive commentary on physical appearance, were the result of media norms and gender bias that have plagued high-profile women who have overstepped gender boundaries, tested culturally shared norms of femininity, and challenged entrenched cultural attitudes associating the presidency with masculinity. Offering a lighter commentary on the 2008 election, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime and Beth Harpaz’s The Girls in the Van: Covering Hillary give an entertaining but illuminating discussion on contemporary media norms and the role of gender in the 2008 presidential campaign. Rebecca Traister’s Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women depicts the intricacies of generational differences in gender politics by analyzing the mixed feelings that younger women have toward Hillary Clinton, a topic that has been a reoccurring theme as a majority of younger women voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries.

Clinton’s loss in 2008 underscored the fact that the US has lagged behind other nations in electing a woman leader. Rainbow Murray’s Cracking the Highest Glass Ceiling: A Global Comparison of Women’s Campaigns for Executive Office presents nine case studies that compare women’s campaigns around the world, identifying common challenges as well as differences in women’s bid for office. Case studies include Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid as well as chapters on the political ascendancy of the following world leaders: Angela Merkel (Germany), Segolene Royal (France), Helen Clark (New Zealand), Christina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina), Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Eilen Johnson Sireleaf (Liberia), and Irene Saez (Venezuela).