Our “gleeful liberal takedown” of Hillary isn’t affirming institutional sexism

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It’s time for some Hillary supporters to acknowledge that just because some liberals don’t support your pro-fracking, pro-bombing, pro-corporate elite, pro-death penalty candidate doesn’t mean we’re sexist. 

Your Gleeful Liberal Takedown of Hillary Clinton Is Affirming Institutional Sexism” by kmassa made the Facebook rounds yesterday, castigating “the Progressive Left” for its “blitzkreig” against Hillary Clinton.

I’m tired of the lazy and broad-brushed conflation of disliking Hillary with sexism. Has sexism negatively impacted Hillary in her career? Yes. Definitely. Has it been unfair, nasty, and sometimes delusional? Sure has. Is it playing out in this election, even with some people who regularly identify as Democrats? Yep. Does it make the Hillary camp look confidant in her candidacy when they regularly conflate people on the Left who happen to disagree with many of Clinton’s policies with sexists instead of crafting arguments in favor of their pro-fracking, pro-bombing, pro-corporate elite, pro-death penalty centrist candidate? No. So here we go…

The essay starts with the charge that she’s been branded a “neocon” for her actions by people on the Left. The thing is, the only person I can find that’s called her that is Rand Paul. Bernie supporters calling her a neoliberal? Sure. Regularly calling her a neocon? Nope. That’s not a thing. But, moving on…

The author complains that,

She is singularly delineated as ‘bought by Wall Street’ — even with former Democratic nominees Al Gore and John Kerry receiving millions in campaign contributions from the so-called ‘big banks’ during their presidential runs, including hefty sums from both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

But here’s the thing–this is 2016, not 2000 or 2004. The public’s relationship to, and feelings about, Wall Street changed dramatically in light of 2008’s Great Recession. Comparing Hillary to pre-2008 candidates may be necessary to try and mitigate these concerns, but doing so ignores very important context that is the crux of why people are now so uncomfortable with politicians licking the boots of Wall Street. So rather than calling me sexist for asking the question, please make an argument about why her close relationship with Wall Street isn’t a bad thing or why her refusal to tell us what her $600,000 words were isn’t really a big deal. Hand me a solid argument for why I shouldn’t be bothered by her cozy relationship with Wall Street.

 

The author also brings up the email non-scandal. And it’s certainly true that it’s really not an issue and some on the Left may be using that issue to argue against her candidacy, but I can honestly say that only one person, a bonafide #BernieorBust fan, has repeated that scandal as part of the reason why she won’t vote for Hillary. In fact, most Bernie supporters have posted stories attempting to take the air out of the fake email scandal. So, don’t commit the fallacy of putting all Bernie supporters in one category. Instead, spend your time confronting the very real issue of Hillary’s credibility and honesty problem, a problem that started before she began either presidential campaign. And please, don’t insult us with the “right wing conspiracy” stuff. Sure, we know that the Republicans have attacked the Clintons since the 90s, in often utterly unsavory and unfair ways, but we’re also smart enough to realize the difference between the nonsense put forth by Republicans and very real concerns the public has about Hillary’s political position gymnastics. When you dump all questions about her honesty/integrity gap into the “you’ve fallen for the sexist Republican lies campaign” you fail to address, much less convince, the people you really need to convince and you do the Republicans’ work for them by giving extra attention to their delusional conspiracy theories.

 

Next, the author assures us that,

These educated and civic-minded men and women would never engage in the kind of blatant misogyny that chides on her inability to satisfy her husband, that bandies the word ‘bitch,’ that forwards Kentucky Fried Chicken-themed memes boasting an ‘HRC Special’ with ‘2 fat thighs’ — they instead use codified language that, when used in the context of a powerful female, serves as a tool of ‘soft sexism” that undermines and devalues women.

 

Um, no offense, but I don’t think I’ll take your word for it. Can you give me some examples? Document this tendency? Moving on, she continues this line of unsubstantiated critique.

The Left’s enthusiastic embrace of these tropes and rhetoric props up the narrative that, for a woman to have reached the upper echelons of power in her field, she could only have done so through depravity and deception. Her success is undeserved, and she is therefore unworthy — and dismissing Clinton’s campaign as a “coronation” only gives credence to a culture that has for so long cheered the brutal teardown of accomplished women.

 

I’d love to answer these arguments, but again the words “these tropes” and “rhetoric” have no referents because there are no examples. And of course, by and large, most people who have “reached the upper echelons of power in her field” have probably tinkered some with depravity and deception. But some haven’t tried to reach those levels of power. Some, like Bernie, have worked without much fanfare to simply make the lives of ordinary citizens a little better. Just like Hillary, Bernie isn’t perfect and neither are all of his policy preferences, but part of the reason why Hillary is fighting this narrative is because of who she’s running against and, frankly, how she’s running her campaign.

 

While Bernie refuses to address questions about the fake email scandal or even real scandals like the Clinton/Lewinsky affair (two places where he easily could score cheap and unethical points), Hillary has made a number of important gaffes that make her seem as if she’s not really lived mindfully in her own life, but rather, has lived to move from one position of power to the next highest position of power. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with the goal of increasing one’s power and political position, but when you praise the Reagans for beginning to conversation on AIDS or remark that Bernie wasn’t around for your healthcare battle in the 90s when he was literally standing right behind you on stage and you thanked him for being there, people do begin to wonder what how present you really are in your positions of power. We begin to wonder if the goal of being president has been more important over the decades than the goal of working to make the lives of citizens better.

 

Moreover, the “coronation” concerns have to do with the fact that, save Obama’s presidency, we’ve had a Bush or Clinton in the White House since 1989! Those concerns are also linked to the media’s assumption, in both 2008 and 2016, that Clinton would be the nominee before the race had even really begun. Given this history, why is the author surprised that word “coronation” is being used?  Many on the Left have legitimate concerns about the tendency for the media to set agendas and to frame news. Don’t discourage legitimate concerns about media power and our vanishing democracy by playing one side against the other. If the Right wants to castigate Hillary, they’re going to castigate Hillary. That’s what they do. To claim that people on the Left shouldn’t discuss such important issues because the wack-a-doodles in the Republican party might just use those discussions to fuel their hatred of Hillary is just disingenuous, and frankly, the kind of slippery politics so many are tired of seeing in Hillary’s campaigns.

 

The author also explains why Hillary rightfully wears the label of “Establishment” and I get that argument. It’s certainly much easier to rise to “lofty ambitions” when you play inside the parameters of the Establishment. But no one is suggesting that Hillary work “outside” of the system. Bernie most definitely works “inside” the system. The difference is about what each candidate has consistently worked for inside of that system. That’s what people in support of Bernie are responding to. And yes, Bernie has way more freedom in terms of his personal style, nonverbal communication, and other elements of candidate behavior, and women don’t yet have that freedom because of sexism. Hillary most definitely has to look and act more like part of the Establishment in order to be taken seriously. But how she must look and act in order to be taken seriously as a candidate has nothing to do with the extent to which she’s challenged (or not) the very sick and damaged political, economic, and social systems while in positions of power. Are some people who have a distaste for Hillary incapable of seeing how sexist assumptions about male vs. female candidates impact their perceptions? Of course. But pointing that out doesn’t answer the real concerns about whose interests Hillary is most concerned with protecting as president. Give me those arguments.

 

Perhaps more important, though, is this: As others have noted, when we settle for someone who has moved through the ranks to the upper echelons of power within the system and using the means that are part and parcel of that system, we’re not striking any huge blow against institutional sexism. We’re reifying it. Is this a necessary part of progress? Probably so. Is it wise to pretend that we’re not giving that system a pat on the back when we reward someone who climbed to the top of it? I don’t think so. So please, steer clear of the assumption that voting for Hillary is some massive “takedown” of institutional sexism and that critiquing Hillary is, by definition, the opposite. That’s simply not true. If only the nature of attempts to end institutional sexism were that easy.

 

Finally, she suggests that those of us who “hate Hillary” should ask ourselves why. First of all, as many of our parents used to say, hate is a very strong word. Again, I’ve only seen one Bernie (or Jill Stein) supporter say that they “hate” Hillary. I don’t hate Hillary. And yet, even friends of mine who know my feelings about Hillary’s policies and practices sometimes mindlessly say that I “hate” her. No, I really don’t. But hanging my disappointment with Hillary on the “hate hatrack” is a nice linguistic strategy that allows supporters to ignore the real problems with Hillary’s campaign in favor of attacking her detractors and pretending that their concerns aren’t legitimate but are, rather, just a symptom of their “hate” for Hillary. Calling our criticisms “gleeful” in your title performs the same function. These strategies also allow Hillary supporters to shift from having to make arguments about why she’d be a good president to challenging Bernie supporters to prove they’re not sexist or just plain hateful. It’s a nice, though problematic, rhetorical strategy, but it doesn’t help your candidate’s cause.

 

I will respond to the author’s suggested question with one of my own–why should I vote for your pro-fracking, pro-bombing, pro-corporate elite, pro-death penalty candidate? You should focus more of your time and energy on making those arguments for your candidate instead of making excuses for why your candidate is losing some of the primary contests. That’ll do your cause a world of good.

 

 

 

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