In late May of this year, the journalist Rebecca Traister published a long profile of Hillary Clinton in New York magazine. The piece, “Hillary Clinton vs. Herself,” was premised on one of the key paradoxes that has defined Clinton as a politician, as a persona, and as a person: Among the people who have known her in private, she is often regarded as genuine and caring and warm and wonderful. Among the American public, though, she is often regarded as the opposite, in almost every way. Traister concluded the profile with this observation:
It’s worth asking to what degree charisma, as we have defined it, is a masculine trait. Can a woman appeal to the country in the same way we are used to men doing it? Though those on both the right and the left moan about “woman cards,” it would be impossible, and dishonest, to not recognize gender as a central, defining, complicated, and often invisible force in this election. It is one of the factors that shaped Hillary Clinton, and it is one of the factors that shapes how we respond to her. Whatever your feelings about Clinton herself, this election raises important questions about how we define leadership in this country, how we feel about women who try to claim it, flawed though they may be.
It was an argument that reached a kind of pop-cultural fruition on Monday night, on the eve of the election that will result either in the first woman president-elect of the United States, or in a situation that will be ... the opposite, in almost every way. Samantha Bee, the comedian who has herself been the subject of a Traister profile, made the case for Clinton. And with it, she argued that the politician who may shatter the highest and strongest glass ceiling in the land may also demand a widespread reckoning with what it means to be both a woman and a leader in the United States of 2016.
It was the show that Full Frontal had been building toward, in some sense, during the long course of its highly influential inaugural season. It took all the things that have made Bee’s show remarkable—her feminism, her political savvy, her righteous anger, her status as, with little exception, the only female voice in late-night comedy—and distilled it all down to one historic event. Bee’s “Let Hillary Be Hillary”—the segment’s title is borrowed from the West Wing episode premised on the idea that politics works best when politicians are allowed to be true to their own strengths and weaknesses—argued on the one hand for Clinton qua Clinton: that she is not, in fact, the lesser of two evils, or the Democratic answer to #NeverTrump, but instead an exceptional candidate who is qualified for the presidency, via her dedicated and indeed her nerdy wonkery, in her own right.