The Dilemma of Hillary Clinton

As the presidential nominating process is set to begin, it’s time to reflect on Hillary Clinton, once again the presumptive, but challenged, Democratic nominee. She is someone that a lot people love to hate, both on the right and the left. Is it possible to criticize her without lending oneself to this culture’s deep-seated misogyny? If she embodies the contradiction between policy and identity, what are we choosing if we choose her, and is there another choice? Here are some noteworthy perspectives:

Mark Shields: Hillary is a liar, Bernie is authentic.

“The Clinton campaign this week, in perhaps the stupidest act of the entire year, took the one person who’s a character witness, who is a privileged observer of Hillary Clinton, who can testify about Hillary Clinton as a human being, as a mother, as a grandmother, as somebody who’s always been there, who’s been a force for decency in her life, who’s taught her and loved her, Chelsea Clinton, and turned her into a political hack. I mean, it was just absolutely reckless and stupid. They neutralized the advantage and the value of Chelsea Clinton by turning her into an attack dog on a phony charge that Bernie Sanders, a supporter of single-payer national health insurance, is somehow going to dismantle children’s health and Medicare. Bernie Sanders, whatever else, you look at him, he’s not pretty. He’s not a backslapper. […] He’s not a storyteller. He’s not somebody you say, oh, gee, I want a cuddly Bernie, or, boy, he’s a well-polished guy. He’s authentic.”



Allyson Hobbs: Hillary, unlike Bernie, is subject to a double, and vicious, cultural standard.

“Perhaps the sexism—in both overtly hostile and less visible but still insidious ways—has helped stoke the fires of animosity towards Clinton while, at the same time, creating an almost impossible standard for her. Unlike her male opponents, Clinton has to be far more careful and measured in what she says and does. To be free from a strict choreography of words and actions is a form of male privilege that Hillary Clinton cannot access. Authenticity has been a keyword during this election season. And our culture, suffused with sexism, plays the role of the arbiter of a candidate’s authenticity. Clinton must tread lightly: she cannot appear too strong without risking her likability ratings; she cannot appear too vulnerable without her credibility suffering.”

“The conservative political blog RedState maligned Clinton as proof that “even a homely woman can sleep her way into power.” […] Degrading comments about Clinton’s age represent the most unadulterated form of sexism levelled against her. In a culture obsessed with youth, fresh-faced femininity is valued while “older” women (who may be as young as fifty) are made to feel invisible. […] Some of the concerns about Clinton are very personal, but even these have an element of sexism in them. Many Americans, for example, feel a pointed disaffection for her. She faces what pundits call a likability problem. Voters perceive her as competent and hardworking, but not warm. A recent series of psychology studies by Princeton professor Susan Fiske showed that women who present traditionally feminine traits (stay-at-home moms, for example) are viewed as warm, but not competent, and are treated dismissively. Women considered less traditionally feminine (including lesbians, athletes, feminists, and working women) are not thought of as warm, but are perceived to be competent, and face a more antagonistic form of sexism. Women, unlike men, are rarely perceived as warm and competent, which, as Fiske explains, puts them in a “catch-22 situation.””



David Remnick: Hillary is attacked because of her gender; in the same vein, she exploits it.

“The U.N. Secretary-General’s report [published in 2015] is a progress report on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which grew out of the 1995 World Conference on Women. At that conference, Clinton, as First Lady, gave an unsparing assessment of so many of the grimmer aspects of the female condition: political exclusion, discrimination, rape as a weapon of war, genital cutting, forced illiteracy, forced abortion and sterilization. She performed in a way that suggested both conviction and political talent independent of her role as the President’s wife and counsellor. The speech was as eloquent in its way as Barack Obama’s “race speech,” in the 2008 campaign, not because of its radical originality––like Obama’s, it was rooted in decades of progressive thought––but because of its potential to affect policy and mainstream opinion. “It is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights” was a message she delivered with clarity, particulars, and force.

This was one reason that the press conference last week—given, presumably, as Clinton was preparing to announce a run for the Presidency, in 2016—was so dispiriting. At that moment at the U.N., she should have been returning to those feminist themes, but she used the opportunity to claim that she was only trying to protect the sanctity of her communications about her “yoga routines,” her daughter’s wedding, and her mother’s funeral. This was a notably transparent exploitation of gender. It’s one thing for a politician to be stupid; it is quite another for her to assume that we are. And what to make of a politician who protested the war in Vietnam and investigated the Watergate scandals but now writes a valentine to Henry Kissinger in the Washington Post—a book review in which Clinton calls Kissinger “surprisingly idealistic”? The peoples of Chile, Cambodia, Argentina, Bangladesh, and East Timor surely want to know more.”



Katha Pollit: The attacks on Hillary are often than not motivated by misogyny, conscious or unconscious, malicious or ostensibly well meaning. In any case, Bernie can’t win. His function is to push Hillary to the left, but Hillary is the inevitable Democratic nominee.

“[She is criticized for being] dishonest, corrupt, venal, nasty, and equivocating […], from high school to the present moment. [… There’s her] marriage and its compromises, the double binds placed on ambitious women, the extraordinary virulence of the misogyny directed at her. […] Negative rumors and remarks by unfriendly witnesses are given credence […], while positive ones are dismissed as the dutiful murmurs of flunkies. […] [… Well-meaning criticisms] avoid dealing with the gendered nature of the attacks on Hillary, but [they don’t] entirely escape the pit […]. After all, the sins [found] so damning in Hillary are those of a multitude of successful male Democratic politicians, who similarly cozy up to the rich, accept huge speaking fees, have books ghost-written for them, and worse. […] As for it being “her turn,” what does that even mean, except to imply unearned entitlement—while also, contradictorily, finding something suspicious in how hard Clinton has worked to attain the prize? An ambitious woman just can’t win.”



Liza Featherstone: Given policies she supported or was directly involved in, the only thing that makes Hillary a feminist is her identity.



Suzanna Danuta Walters: Well-meaning critiques of Hillary get her wrong. She’s not a rightwing female personality. She’s a Democrat, i.e. a centrist, not unlike Obama. And symbolism is, in the end, more powerful than impracticable, even if radical, policies.

“The idea that Hillary’s victory would be “merely” symbolic underestimates the profound import of symbolism and obscures her explicit alliance with (some version of) feminism and her clear qualifications for the job. […] It’s unlikely that Bernie’s redistributive economic policies, admirable as they are, would ever make their way through Congress. How is a leftist agenda that remains little more than a vision better for women than actually having a woman (who has, don’t forget, an agenda that shares much in common with this vision)—after all these years—in the Oval Office?”



[Update on 2/4/2016]

A conjecture:

Attacks against Hillary Clinton, even among some Sanders supporters, are so vitriolic that it’s hard to be convinced they are just a matter of policy disagreements. The vitriol is so deep, it must be libidinal. At the same time, not all of it can be accounted for by misogyny, although that is certainly underestimated, and hardly ever admitted, if even recognized. What else can it be then? Maybe it has to do with feelings of betrayal, perhaps not unlike what members of the Resistance felt about the French who collaborated under Nazi occupation, or what on the eve of flag independence Filipinos and Americans felt about Filipinos who, in WWII, collaborated with the Japanese. Maybe that’s what accounts for deep-seated ill feeling toward her, that she sold out and collaborated with powers she previously combatted and now claims to be ready to fight again.


[Update on 2/12/2016]

Jeffrey Sachs: Hillary Clinton is campaigning on the status quo, and it does matter where your money comes from.

“When Hillary Clinton, for example, said that she negotiated the 2012 ceasefire. There was no ceasefire in Syria. She was the reason why the ceasefire never took place then, because she has backed a CIA-led attempt at regime change that has led to a bloodbath there. […] And also, on the domestic side, she basically said, “I will change nothing.” And that, I think, is really sobering for those of us who believe in a progressive agenda. She said, “Don’t dream. We can’t do it. Don’t go with this guy. He can’t make these changes.” And that’s very sad, actually, to just be campaigning on the grounds, “No, we can’t.” I think the fact of the matter is, we could accomplish a great deal. And she’s basically saying that the status quo is just fine. When she said that the bankers were still—had no influence in the Obama administration, it’s an amazing statement, because after all this big campaign support from Wall Street, President Obama put in bankers and strong Wall Street supporters into the White House. And I remember in 2009—and I could go chapter and verse—that they absolutely treated the banks with kid gloves. And that’s why not one executive not only didn’t go to jail, didn’t even resign, after their banks paid tens, even up to $200 billion of fines. This was an administration that did not go after Wall Street. And this has been the problem of the Democratic Party for 20 years, since President [Bill] Clinton brought Wall Street into the Democratic Party.”



[Update on 4/15/2016]

Robert Scheer: Electing Hillary Clinton would leave the establishment intact, the status quo unchanged, leading to the further rise of the right in the US, already manifest in Europe.

“I think this is how we got into this mess. Jerry Brown, when he was running against Bill Clinton, said we’re always faced with the—by these people with the—not the lesser of two evils, but the evil of two lessers. […] They helped get us into this mess. Let’s not miss what this election is all about on the Republican and Democratic side. On the Republican side, you have a neofascist person in Trump, in the form of Trump, and something of a religious fanatic in Ted Cruz. But they are addressing real discontent across the board. The economy is not working for most Americans. OK? And so, there’s a right-wing populist appeal that is wiping away the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, much to the amazement of everyone, Bernie Sanders has been able to register a populist progressive dissent. OK? He is a uniter. He doesn’t bait immigrants. You know, he understands the need for unity in the country. But the fact of the matter is, if you go for Hillary Clinton, you go for more of the same. I’ll tell you my takeaway from the debate—[… Hillary Clinton] winning gets us into a war in Iraq. […] The fact is, sellout politics have made the situation much more treacherous. […] You keep telling me Hillary Clinton has evolved. The Clintons have been in power in the Democratic Party for so long. Why didn’t they move on the minimum wage? Why didn’t they move in a more peaceful area? […] No, they’re not pushable. They are sellouts. They are co-opted. […] If you go down the road with Hillary Clinton, the right wing will be stronger. That’s what happened in Europe—historically. It’s what’s happening in Europe now. The fact of the matter is—if you do not address the problems from a progressive side, which Bernie Sanders is proposing, you’re going to leave people hurting [and empower the rightwing].”

She cannot be trusted, and in the era of Bernie Sanders’ integrity (if naïve) and Ted Cruz’s fanatical appropriation of “trusTed,” saying that all politicians cannot be trusted anyway is just not enough.



[Update on 4/24/2016]

The Nation debate on whether Bernie Sanders supporters should vote for Hillary Clinton



Rania Khalek: Hillary Clinton may be worse than Donald Trump.

“Sure, Trump has demonized Mexicans, Muslims, and women. But Clinton called black children “superpredators” and referred to welfare recipients as “deadbeats.” She routinely accuses Palestinians of teaching their children to hate while closely aligning herself with Israel’s right-wing, Holocaust-revising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man whose demagoguery rivals Trump’s. She also likened Russian president Vladimir Putin to Hitler and expressed pride in making an enemy of “the Iranians” whose country she once threatened to “obliterate.” […] Trump wants to ban Muslims from the United States, which is atrocious. But Clinton has a record of supporting the bombing of them to achieve hazily defined geopolitical goals. […] Despite reinventing herself as a social-justice warrior in recent months, Clinton more closely resembles a neoconservative hawk. Her fingerprints are all over the regime-change disasters that fueled the rise of ISIS in Libya and state-sanctioned death squads in Honduras. Yet she remains confident in the righteousness of foreign intervention. During her tenure as secretary of state, she acted as a weapons dealer to her tyrant donors, thereby strengthening the military prowess of despots with abysmal human-rights records. Clinton’s nefarious dealings aren’t limited to foreign policy. She played an active role in dismantling welfare, expanding mass incarceration, and selling out American workers to the disastrous corporate trade deals that Trump rails against, not to mention her ongoing pattern of trashing Arabs and Muslims to woo pro-Israel voters and donors.”


Joshua Holland: Voting for the President is voting for a party.

“In November, we’ll vote for more than just a president. We’ll decide which party fills over 2,000 policy-making positions in the Executive Branch; which party will name the heads of the government’s regulatory, enforcement, and social-services agencies; and which party will nominate at least one—and perhaps as many as three—justices to the Supreme Court. Both parties are too beholden to the donor class for the tastes of most progressives. Neither will advance a foreign-policy agenda sufficiently like Norway’s to win our applause. But when we go to the polls, we’ll face a choice between a party that believes in expanding the social safety net, albeit incrementally, and one that thinks poor people are moochers and that any effort to help them creates a form of dependency worse than poverty. We’ll choose between a party that believes a woman should have the right to control her own body, and one that believes that abortion amounts to infanticide. We’ll decide whether a party that accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming should set environmental policy, or we’ll leave that task to one that largely believes it’s all a big hoax.”


Kathleen Geier: Hillary Clinton is cynical, but she is a Democrat.

“ As a candidate, she offers an incrementalist agenda of tinkering around the edges of our nation’s problems, rather than the far-reaching reforms they so urgently require. The product of a corrupt and broken system, she is the most cynical Democratic presidential nominee of my lifetime. […] Though Clinton is guilty of a multitude of political sins, she possesses one overwhelmingly positive attribute: she is a Democrat. In the political context of 2016, any Democrat is preferable to any Republican. […] If the Republicans take control of all three branches of government, be prepared for the most radical austerity measures the federal government has ever experienced. […] Because of Republicans’ hatred of government, they actively seek to undermine it by appointing manifestly unqualified people. […] Beyond preventing the worst GOP excesses, a Democratic president would surely achieve at least some meaningful good. […] Over the long term, the left’s most promising path to victory lies in radically remaking Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders clearly understands this—why else would he be running as a Democrat?”


[Update on 4/25/2016]

Tom Hayden: There are two sides to Hillary; in contrast, it’s hard to see how Bernie’s idealism would work out, especially since he himself doesn’t articulate it, not to mention his too narrow focus on economic socialism that neglects, e.g., race.

“Hillary is, well, Hillary. I remember seeing her on Yale’s green in 1969, wearing a black armband for peace while a kind of Armageddon shaped up during the Panther 21 trial and Cambodia invasion. Even then, she stood for working within the system rather than taking to the barricades. Similarly, in Chicago 1968, she observed the confrontations at a distance. If she had some sort of revolution in mind, it was evolutionary, step-by-step. In her earlier Wellesley commencement speech, she stated that the “prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.” But from there it was a determined decades-long uphill climb through those same institutions that had disenchanted the young Hillary. There are two Hillary Clintons. First, the early feminist, champion of children’s rights, and chair of the Children’s Defense Fund; and second, the Hillary who has grown more hawkish and prone to seeking “win-win” solutions with corporate America. When she seems to tack back towards her roots, it is usually in response to Bernie and new social movements. She hasn’t changed as much as the Democratic Party has, responding to new and resurgent movements demanding Wall Street reform, police and prison reform, immigrant rights and a $15-an-hour minimum wage, fair trade, action on climate change, LGBT rights, and more.

[…] Bernie’s position reinforces the voter impression that his idealism will be blocked in practice. Hillary and Obama’s approach, following on her children’s-health-insurance law, is much easier for voters to understand and support. […] The Democratic primary may deepen this antagonism [between fractivists and mainstream Democrats] and result in defections among Hillary supporters. Hillary wants limits on fracking: a ban where individual states have blocked it, like in New York; safeguards against children’s and family exposures; a ban where releases of methane or contamination of ground water are proven; and full disclosure of the chemicals used in the process. Bernie’s position is that he’s simply against all fracking. But Hillary’s position goes beyond what virtually any state has done. […] Meanwhile, Bernie’s total fracking ban leaves the question of how to do so unaddressed. […] My second worry about Bernie’s candidacy is that he has not really faced an all-out Republican-financed media assault in this entire campaign. If he’s the nominee, that will be merciless. And my third concern: Bernie is leading an incredible movement and sowing seeds for the future, but lacks a concrete plan for turning his legacy into a permanent progressive force. We don’t know what will happen to the army of supporters he has assembled, but we already know the pattern of many similar projects—which end up going into decline or divisions.

[…] I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in the California primary for one fundamental reason. It has to do with race. My life since 1960 has been committed to the causes of African Americans, the Chicano movement, the labor movement, and freedom struggles in Vietnam, Cuba and Latin America. In the environmental movement I start from the premise of environmental justice for the poor and communities of color. My wife is a descendant of the Oglala Sioux, and my whole family is inter-racial. […] When I understood that the overwhelming consensus from those communities was for Hillary—for instance the Congressional Black Caucus and Sacramento’s Latino caucus—that was the decisive factor for me. I am gratified with Bernie’s increasing support from these communities of color, though it has appeared to be too little and too late. Bernie’s campaign has had all the money in the world to invest in inner city organizing, starting 18 months ago. He chose to invest resources instead in white-majority regions at the expense of the Deep South and urban North. […] Bernie comes from a place that is familiar to me, the New York culture of democratic socialism. […] With the coming of the 2008 Wall Street crash and Bernie’s campaign, our political culture has changed profoundly in its tolerance of socialist ideas. But is it enough after this truly divisive primary season?”



[Update on 6/6/2016]

Doug Henwood: Hillary Clinton exemplifies neither principles nor performance but, rather, the politics of appearance (because always running, always polling) maintained under great secrecy; “rather than running for office in order to make policy, making policy in order to run for office.”



[Update on 7/27/2016]

Robert Reich v Chris Hedges: It’s not an opposition; it’s a consequential relation. Neoliberalism causes neofascism. But they are not the same either.



[Update on 7/29/2016]

In the set of debates hosted by Democracy Now, it seems to me that those who are arguing for not voting for Hillary Clinton can’t really address the practical implications of that action. Representative of this is Kshama Sawant, who’s doing great work as a Socialist city councilmember in Seattle, but tends to be evasive when asked about the practicalities of the election (highlighting structural issues instead, which are important, but …). Perhaps that is part of the move: to reject practicality. But what if that, because it doesn’t pay enough attention to the subject, leads to troubling propositions, e.g. Sawant’s denial of the claim that the support for Donald Trump has anything to do with racism? As she says, “I don’t agree [… with] the narrative […] that millions of Americans have suddenly become racists and misogynists and hateful.” This sounds like a hurried and problematic conceptualization of #racism, as if racism is either there or not, implying that it’s fixed and that one is always conscious of it, and that it’s mutually exclusive with economic discontent and political betrayal.




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