The blatantly sexist cookie bake-off that has haunted Hillary Clinton for two decades is back

Image: Reuters/Jim Bourg
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This all started because, nearly a quarter-century ago, Hillary Clinton chose to be frank about her ambitions.

Now it’s time (again) for the Family Circle Magazine Presidential Cookie Poll, a head-to-head cookie-baking challenge that has become a fixture of US presidential campaigns, even as some rail against it, characterizing it as a calcified indicator of lingering sexism in American politics.

The competition—in which the contender for Republican first lady pits her cookie recipe against one submitted to the magazine by the potential Democratic first lady, for readers to bake, taste, and vote upon—began as a response to an off-the-cuff remark Clinton made in 1992.

That’s the year that her husband, Bill Clinton, was running for his first term as president. In response to accusations that Bill Clinton steered favorable contracts to Hillary Clinton’s law firm as governor of Arkansas, Clinton explained (video) to a hounding press that she had ambitions outside the traditional role of first lady and wife:

I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.

The comment provoked a firestorm of backlash, as expressed in letters to Time Magazine in 1992:

“If I ever entertained the idea of voting for Bill Clinton, the smug bitchiness of his wife’s comment has nipped that notion in the bud.” Then add the annoyance of homemakers like Cindy Berg of La Crosse, Wis.: “I resent the implication that those of us who stay at home just bake cookies. We hardly have the time!”

And with that, a new contest was born. Family Circle, a magazine devoted to domestic skills, started the bake-off, and Hillary Clinton played along, submitting her recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (made with shortening!). Barbara Bush, the wife of incumbent George H.W. Bush, submitted her more traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe (no oatmeal, and with butter). Clinton’s cookie carried the vote.

Meaningless an exercise as it may seem, editors at the magazine are able to claim the contest has led to correctly calling election winners all but once in the last 24 years. (In 2008, Cindy McCain bested Michelle Obama’s shortbread cookies with her butterscotch cookies.)

This go around, that oatmeal chocolate-chip cookie recipe is back again (labeled the “the Clinton family’s”), and it’s up against Melania Trump’s star cookies. And even though it’s beyond this writer’s imagination that a basic butter cookie would ever stand a chance against a chocolate chip, perhaps the best course of action would be to abandon cookies altogether and follow first lady Michelle Obama’s lead by opting for something healthier.