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.)
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.”
Update: Roger Cohen, “The Obama Connection.”