Hillary’s Legacy

I’ve got to agree with Ezra Klein:

Insofar as Clinton’s campaign was a trailblazing, historic candidacy, it’s because it consciously sought to ease the way for those who would come after Clinton. By proving a woman could be commander-in-chief, by proving a woman could win primary states, by proving a women could out-campaign the guys, the idea was that the barrier would not be so high for future women who wished to run. Clinton’s example would normalize women in national politics. That is the precise opposite of preserving the idea that it’s a rare and unique thing for women to compete in national politics, and only one woman has the capability or credibility to do so.

I don’t pretend to know who from Hillary’s circle is spreading this idea, but it’s vicious. In closing the trail to those who would come after Clinton, it makes a mockery of what truly was trailblazing in her campaign. There are reasons to pick Sebelius and Napolitano and Clinton and all the other women in competition for the vice presidency, and reasons not to do so, but nothing could be worse than trying to retroactively trash the legacy of Clinton’s campaign by robbing it of its contribution to the cause of women in national politics.

I think that is largely right. Hillary did open a lot of doors for women candidates. I think we are likely on the verge of a generation of women running for public office in a way we haven’t really seen before. Perhaps Hillary’s biggest accomplishment is that she didn’t run as a woman. Much like Obama, she ran as a politician. She ran on experience, judgement and health care. She ran as though there was nothing historic about her running for the presidency.

Klein’s point from earlier in his post is important.

Plus, for reasons of simple social justice, it’s important that women are routine candidates for highest office. In an electorate that’s majority female, there should be nothing exceptional about women seeking the presidency.

We’re clearly not there yet. That was, for me, the most disappointing aspect of Hillary’s candidacy. I didn’t really see it until the end, after she dropped out, but this video brought it home for me.

Now, I don’t think that all of the statements that are in there are necessarily sexist. In particular and I don’t think Obama was attempting to be sexist in his comment or that Olbermann was. But the sad fact remains. In 2008 a woman ran for president, yet it was still perfectly acceptable to call her a bitch and a cunt. That stems in part from Hillary’s preexisting public image, but a lot of it was clearly just from the fact that she’s running.

To quote an insightful post at Daily Kos:

I first noticed the nutcracker in late December, next to a rack of doomed “Rudy for President” shirts at a National Airport kiosk specializing in ephemeral topical kitsch. At the time, I was taken aback at the sheer misogynist chutzpah of the product, but I figured that it was a niche political product being sold at a niche political store in a niche political city — Washington — and that it would disappear from the shelves in a couple weeks, relegated to fringe online backwaters like the Newsmax store. Yet the nutcracker spread from DCA through the airports of the nation like a tacky virus, and soon one couldn’t clear security anywhere without being confronted with its stainless steel thighs. Eventually, the nutcracker escaped from the sterile zones and its TSA protection into mainstream American retail, and became minor fodder for late night comics and “wacky news” types like CNN’s Jeannie Moos. But the nutcracker never became a serious news or commentary item — there was very little discussion, at least in the mainstream media, of what the novelty, and its apparent popularity, said about the 2008 campaign or about the nation itself.

And that was the most remarkable aspect of the nutcracker blight: the manner it which it was just accepted. Here we had a blatantly sexist product which traded on one of the most misogynistic archetypes of the last 50 years — the castrating, pantsuit-wearing, hyper-ambitious professional woman — being sold in otherwise anodyne, apolitical stores throughout the country, and no one with a serious microphone was saying anything about it. Anyone with a hint of consciousness about gender politics had to be asking themselves what the hell the deafening silence meant.  Is America irredeemably sexist? Does the fact that a similarly racist Obama doll couldn’t be sold without massive public outrage mean that casual sexism is more tolerated than casual racism?  Would any woman running for president be subject to the same mockery, or is Hillary somehow more susceptible than other female politicians?

Hillary’s not the only one who faced this, Obama does too, and I’m sure that if Bill Richardson caught fire he would have too. In fact, you could make the exact same video about Obama. But with Hillary it went mainstream, with utterly sexist comments being made on national television and in major newspapers, as though it were OK. I think that when people look back on Clinton’s run she will clearly be a pathbreaker, she almost won after all and she would have been a strong favorite in the general election, but they will also be shocked at the amount of sexism that was considered OK in 2008. We may be getting close, but it isn’t normal for a woman to run for president yet.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Hillary’s Legacy

  1. The DNC threw Hillary Clinton under the bus to keep from having to face the music for disenfranchising the Florida and Michigan voters. In the process they went way to far in support of Obama and in essence disenfranchised all 18 million Clinton sponsors. Between the media and the DNC, Clinton was wronged and I for one will not forget or forgive. The DNC will never get another penny from me and I may never vote the Democratic ticket again. Unless something is done at the National Democratic Covention to rectify what happened to Clinton during the primary, I will not be voting for Obama and will instead write in Hillary Clinton as my choice for president.

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