The Likability Project: The Perfection & Likability Conundrum Isn’t Going Away for 2020

Joanne Bamberger
5 min readFeb 8, 2019
Image by Joanne Bamberger/All rights reserved

I spent much of my time during 2016 speaking with the media, women’s groups and bookstore audiences about how the Hillary Clinton “likability” issue that we had been obsessing over since her 2008 campaign was our problem, not hers. In my book, Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, I, along with 25 other women writers of diverse backgrounds, explored why we had so many different issues about whether we could elect Hillary Clinton as the first woman president of the United States, and why those concerns — which were not related to her experience or political views — might keep us from voting for her even if we believed she was the more qualified candidate.

As I talked with various audiences, many people were skeptical and couldn’t be swayed that this conundrum of likabilty wasn’t just a “Hillary thing.”

Many people protested that HRC just had too much “baggage” — the Whitewater “scandal”, her imperfect marriage, her tea & cookies gaffe from her husband’s first presidential campaign, and her ambition, among other things. Their inability to like her and see her in the White House certainly wouldn’t apply to women in the future, they said. Innumerable women, including some of my book’s contributors, came to the conclusion that they could not vote for Clinton in 2016 because of the decisions she’d made about staying in her marriage.

Interviewers with media outlets around the world refused to believe my take that the likability issue would be one that all women presidential candidates in the near future would have to battle, as well as a bigger problem —one of perfection. Even pro-Hillary Facebook groups in 2016 faced questioning — if their support was being expressed privately in closed groups, did that mean they were also concerned about her “likability”?

Fast forward to 2019, when we now have several highly qualified women presidential contenders for 2020 — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California. Congresswan Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is still noodling with the idea of jumping into the race, but observers feel that’s likely. Maybe one of the few women governors will…

Joanne Bamberger

Author, opinion journalist, attorney, photographer. Entreprenurial Journalism Fellow, Newmark J School/CUNY