Not Equal

Clinton supporters worked double-overtime all weekend complaining about sexism and smearing coming from the Obama campaign. Andrew Stephen at New Statesman explains:

Hillary Clinton (along with her husband) is being universally depicted as a loathsome racist and negative campaigner, not so much because of anything she has said or done, but because the overwhelmingly pro-Obama media – consciously or unconsciously – are following the agenda of Senator Barack Obama and his chief strategist, David Axelrod, to tear to pieces the first serious female US presidential candidate in history.

You want an example? Stephen continues,

Obama himself prepared the ground by making the first gratuitous personal attack of the campaign during the televised Congressional Black Caucus Institute debate in South Carolina on 21 January, although virtually every follower of the media coverage now assumes that it was Clinton who started the negative attacks. Following routine political sniping from her about supposedly admiring comments Obama had made about Ronald Reagan, Obama suddenly turned on Clinton and stared intimidatingly at her. “While I was working in the streets,” he scolded her, “. . . you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart.” Then, cleverly linking her inextricably in the public consciousness with her husband, he added: “I can’t tell who I’m running against sometimes.”

Um, that’s the best you’ve got? I fail to see what’s “sexist” about pointing out Clinton’s ties to Wal-Mart. Why is this not “routine political sniping,” as was Clinton’s twisting of Obama’s “Reagan” remark?

Oh, wait; we’re defining “sexism” as “criticism of Hillary Clinton.” Gotcha.

Before you get all huffy and remind me of the Hillary nutcracker, let me say once again that there really is vile and ugly sexism being aimed at Hillary Clinton, and this is not OK with me. But Clinton undermines her own argument and the cause of feminism by conflating all criticism of her with sexism.

In the years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, a charge often leveled at feminists was that they wanted equality while still clinging to the protections and perks assigned to being female, such as the expectation that men would open doors for us and clean up their language in our presence. Personally, I was willing to open my own doors and put up with some blue language in exchange for equal pay — which I never got — and I think most feminists felt the same way.

But Senator Clinton embodies the old anti-feminist stereotype. She can sling mud all she likes, but be careful what language you use in front of her because, you know, she’s a lady.

There’s no question that our culture and news media are rank with sexism. However, the Obama campaign itself is not the source of it, and seems to me the Obama campaign has treated Senator Clinton with more care and deference than Clinton and her surrogates have shown him.

Case in point: Geraldine Ferraro — the same Geraldine Ferraro who complained awhile back that Obama wouldn’t be a serious contender if he were white — accused Obama of being “terribly sexist.” Here are her examples, as told to Phillip Sherwood of The Telegraph:

  • His response to Mrs Clinton’s reminiscences about learning to shoot as a girl at her grandfather’s summer cabin in Pennsylvania. Miss Ferraro said: “He walked up and down the stage with his microphone like a stand-up comic and ridiculed her as an Annie Oakley,” she said, quoting his reference to the legendary female sharpshooter. “Would he have ridiculed a man by comparing him to John Wayne? Of course not.”
  • His apparently dismissive description of Mrs Clinton as “likeable enough” during a televised debate before the New Hampshire primaries.
  • His role in an earlier debate in Philadelphia when several of the male candidates running at the time were said to have ganged up on her, prompting Mrs Clinton to complain about the “boy’s club” of US politics.
  • His “failure”, Miss Ferraro claims, to speak out against other sexist acts such as lewd T-shirts, the men who shouted “Iron my shirt!” at Mrs Clinton and jibes about her “cackle”. Mr Obama also apologised to a female reporter he called “sweetie” in an aside that received widespread coverage.
  • Mind you, one of Senator Clinton’s selling points is that she’s tough enough to take on whatever the Right throws at her. Yet she wilts over being called “likable enough”? (Although it was fine for her to say that Obama wasn’t a Muslim “as far as I know.”) And she wants Obama to play the gentleman and defend her from the nasty people who made fun of her laugh, but it’s not her place to defend him from racism?

    Oh, yes, racism. That’s the other charge the Clintons have been making — racism hasn’t been much of a factor (even though data suggest racism has been an “unusually salient” factor in some of Clinton’s wins). Certainly the Obama campaign hasn’t been complaining about it. Yet we might wonder why Senator Obama was assigned Secret Service protection before any of the other candidates? The campaign isn’t talking.

    (IMO Obama doesn’t talk much about racist factors in the race because he is taking great care not to run as The Black Candidate. He’s palatable as a candidate to many white Americans only as long as he seems to be transcending racial issues, I suspect. This tells us something about the racial factor in the campaign.)

    Eugene Robsinson writes about Clinton’s campaign,

    Clinton has always claimed to be the cold-eyed realist in the race, and at one point maybe she was. Increasingly, though, her words and actions reflect the kind of thinking that animates myths and fairy tales: Maybe a sudden and powerful storm will scatter my enemy’s ships. Maybe a strapping woodsman will come along and save the day.

    Clinton has poured more than $11 million of her own money into the campaign, with no guarantee of ever getting it back. She has changed slogans and themes the way Obama changes his ties. She has been the first major-party presidential candidate in memory to tout her appeal to white voters. She has abandoned any pretense of consistency, inventing new rationales for continuing her candidacy and new yardsticks for measuring its success whenever the old rationales and yardsticks begin to favor Obama.

    It could be that any presidential campaign requires a measure of blind faith. But there’s a difference between having faith in a dream and being lost in a delusion. The former suggests inner strength; the latter, an inner meltdown.

    Die-hard Clinton supporters do seem to be in meltdown mode. More and more they seem just like wingnuts, dismissing all critics of Senator Clinton as “Hillary haters,” just as those of us who criticized the Bush Administration were just “Bush haters” in the eyes of the Right. You can point out the serious documented blunders made by the Clinton campaign all day long, but that doesn’t register with the Clintonistas. She’s only losing because of sexism.

    Truth is, if Second Wave feminism weren’t already dead, Clinton’s campaign would have killed it. She would have proved to the women haters that women aren’t ready for equality.

    See also: Bob Herbert, “Roads, High and Low“; Gary Younge, “Clinton has run her campaign the same way Bush has run the country“; Michael Tomasky, “The Hardest Word“; John Harwood, “The White Working Class: Forgotten Voters No More.”

    Roger Cohen, “The Obama Connection.”

    8 thoughts on “Not Equal

    1. As I discovered when reading a comment thread on a very pro-Clinton blog, Obama is apparently an evil mastermind. Among his innumerable crimes is his failure to completely control all of his supporters, so that, in some way, he is responsible for all of my opinions and emotional reactions to anything that Clinton says or does. Who knew that I was merely Obama’s puppet, and everything I say or do is at his command?

      This, I think, is the flip-side of Clinton Exceptionalism, in which she can do no wrong and is being picked on in an extraordinary way. Asking her to leave the race! How dare they! That’s NEVER happened before! (Except of course, for all the times it has, including when the Bill Clinton campaign did it to his opponents in 92.)

      Perhaps ’92 was just “routine political sniping” because it was on behalf of a Clinton, whereas the same thing this year is ghastly, unprecedented behavior, because, well, um … that’s where they keep losing me. I think the answer is supposed to be “Obama is evil”. Though it might be, “Everybody’s picking on Hillary because they’re sexist.”

      Still, Ferraro was right in one way, about the Annie Oakley comment. No one would have compared a man to John Wayne. They would have compared him to Elmer Fudd.

    2. Annie Oakley isn’t analogous to John Wayne, anyway. You might ridicule a man by comparing him to Wyatt Earp. I’ll bet it’s been done.

    3. How sad it is that Hillary’s limelight is now our limelight. It may take us perhaps years to dispel the belief that character weaknesses, personality flaws, irrational thinking, poor management skills, irresponsibility, a carelessness with the truth define a female.

      It is sad but unfortunately true that although the same characteristics can be applied to the male, they seem never to define the male as the sum total of what he is. It’s unjust at the same time it exists.

      Hillary was not qualified to take on health-care reform. She did anyway and we continue to live with the disastrous consequences. I hope that should another woman run for the office of president she will not be burdened with the task of first undoing all the damage to womanhood that Hillary has engendered.

    4. Obama took on the topic of racism himself, and yeah, he’s supposed to give a similar speech denouncing sexism. Except, if he did, he’d be attacked for that, too, because what can he possibly know about how sexism feels? (And chivalry is sexist, too, per my Daly-Dworkin primer on why I suck).

      Clinton, btw, has the support of the largest demographic in the country: women, who make up 52%-54% of the voters nationally and in most states. Just as a percentage of the black population supports Obama because he’s black, a percentage of the women support Clinton for the like rationale. Only there’s way more women than blacks, so the raw numbers suggest she picks up a lot more votes on that basis than Obama does.

      While I agree there’s a ton of sexism existting – and many Obama supporters have attacked it, particularly where it’s emanated from the MSM – it’s likely she gains more votes than she loses because she’s a woman. It’s not convenient to mention that, however.

      Bottom line: if one is losing the pledged delegate count, one has to find a way to overcome that in superdelegate support. So anyone in a race this close would likely advance every conceivable argument to use as persuasion. So most of what I’ve heard is not stuff I’d call Hillary-centric. A lot of the charges that she’s ‘calculating and manipulative’ are leveled at statements I’d expect any male candidate to make if they were in her shoes.

      In my opinion, it’s legitimate to complain that there’s a double standard at work in such instances. However, because on rare occasions, she has taken the hyperbole to extremes, sometimes the complaints about her have merit, which helps feed that double standard. Additionally, because there is some Clinton-fatigue in the party, as well as the anti-royalist sentiment against more than 20 years of the Bush-Clinton White House, it’s really impossible to gauge how much of the sentiment is rooted in those things versus sexism.

      Sure, sexism exists. But has it really been the deciding factor in this campaign? I’ve yet to see the compelling case made, because of all those factors. It’s understandable that some of those who’ve personally experienced the sting of sexism will feel certain that’s the deciding factor. But in the polling done about voting for a woman for president, the percentage is small enough that I’d guess most of the knee-jerk sexists wouldn’t be voting for any Democratic nominee.

      So the inexact science of measuring sexism’s impact on this primary season isn’t likely to result in any hard conclusions except for the one the polls have already demonstrated. Women candidates face a 12% disadvantage while a black man has a 6% disadvantage. So yeah, that means a woman would enter a general election campaign against a black man with a net disadvantage of 6%. But how much of that 6% can be found in the Democratic party? That’s another great unknown.

      We already can see that a specific black man (Obama) can exceed what others (Jackson or Sharpton) could accomplish. And just as Jackson and Sharpton also drew opposition for being divisive or polarizing, that too remains a known element about Clinton.

      So a woman campaigning as a unifier quite likely could outperform what Hillary’s achieved. Within the progressive blogosphere, for just one example, her refusal to apologize for the AUMF vote likely cost her far more support than her gender.

    5. To clarify what was called, Obama taking the first shot.

      Not quite true.

      What Obama was referiing to in that quote about Hillary being tied up with Walmart, was a day or two before the Hillary camp said, Hillary was working for blacks while Obama was sitting on his front porch getting stoned.

      The quote was from former BET head honcho, Jonson, but Hillary was right next to him when he said it.

    6. Ken — Well, you know, it’s terribly sexist to point out that a Clinton surrogate said something racist.

      (Please, make it end soon …)

    7. One misconception from the Stephen article. In describing the SC debate, he writes:

      Then, cleverly linking her inextricably in the public consciousness with her husband, [Obama] added: “I can’t tell who I’m running against sometimes.”

      Apparently, this is supposed to be sexist. However, it completely neglects the context of the lead-up to the debate, in which Obama was attacked in the media by Bill Clinton so often and so strongly that questions were being asked about the former president’s role in Sen. Clinton’s campaign.

      Stephen is correct to say that Obama was seeking an advantage in linking the two. He’s wrong in implying that this was in any way sexist. The question Obama was raising was not whether Hillary was letting a man take over her campaign, but whether she was letting a former president take over the campaign.

    8. Hm. Re: the Annie Oakley bit, I can understand a lack of trust on that. That is, I can understand someone, in good faith, thinking it was a sexist attack, and I can understand why they might feel that way, and why they might never believe that it wasn’t.

      But I can believe that the same criticism would be leveled at a man who brought up guns to pander, as well. “Oh, so now he thinks he’s John Wayne? Come on, get serious folks!” Because Clinton never was a big gun-person before, and only brought it up to try to differentiate herself from Obama.

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