The Democratic presidential candidate sidesteps a broader conversation about feminism and identity.
Hillary Clinton and her high profile supporters have a new strategy. To women who don’t favor her, the message is: It’s not me, it’s you. It has all the promise of that breakup line aimed at winning someone back.
In addition, Clinton described her presidential rival Bernie Sanders as using an “artful smear” for questioning the effect of her Wall Street funding, and Bill Clinton belittled Bernie about the use of the word “establishment.” It’s pretty delicious irony, served hot.
To recap, on February 6, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright introduced Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire saying, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.”
A day earlier, Gloria Steinem, reaching for an explanation as to why Hillary is doing so poorly with younger women, offered Bill Maher this: “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’” (This appears to be reversed given Clinton polls better with men, and it resulted in a quick apology.)
Bill Clinton tried to distract from this mess by questioning who is part of the establishment—even after I, Maureen Dowd and many people have said the Clintons are. And, he says, some Sanders’ supporters are mean.
Meanwhile, female senators and politicians rallied round Hillary Clinton after she eked out a tie in the first Democratic race in Iowa. She is now even with Sanders nationwide.
Sanders just won the New Hampshire primary, a state in which he was down by 50 points. His 22-point margin reflected higher support of almost every demographic, including women.
Is Clinton’s framing of gender and power embracing or alienating?
WHO GOES TO HELL?
Albright’s proclamation was a revelation. Personally, I had thought my support of women through my work on campus sexual assault, talks on issues affecting women, and my writing on a variety of progressive issues might stand me in good stead with a higher moral authority. But apparently my support for Bernie Sanders will make my gender hell evaluation, um, hellacious.
My head started spinning around like in The Exorcist, even as I pondered my special place in a place that I don’t believe in. But I quickly realized that I’d have company.
Albright told us that “we think the price is worth it” of Western sanctions on Iraq that killed an estimated 500,000 children in the 1990s, according to United Nations estimates; she also strongly advocated the NATO bombing of Serbia. For the incredible pain she caused to mothers who lost their babies and to other female victims, Albright will head straight to purgatory. While the former secretary of state has said she regretted the statement on Iraq, she did not disavow the sanctions regime that caused two oil-for-food coordinators to resign due to devastating humanitarian effects.
Clinton will presumably join us for her support of the 2003 invasion and destabilization of Iraq. About 1 million civilians (adjusted for time) died in Iraq. While we do not know exact numbers, it is likely that hundreds of thousands who died were women.
But the real question is: Will she go to an “extra special” place?
Let’s look at how women have been “supported” by her. Clinton did not support gay marriage till 2013 and “evolved” to backing it as a constitutional right in 2015.
After representing the US as secretary of state in Copenhagen where the 2 degree Celsius scientific limit was recognized, Clinton has since been hesitant to publicly champion this (or better a 1.5 degree) goal. So too has she been slow to recognize that the vast majority of fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Women suffer more from catastrophic climate change, yet the gender dimension has not been at the forefront of her efforts. Of course, women are part of all humanity that will experience climate change as overriding hardship or a death sentence.
Clinton has been very weak on inequality (per Vice President Joe Biden), even after decades of public service. Championing the rights of women and addressing global poverty effectively must entail recognizing wealth distribution is a major driver.
As head of one of the largest foundations of the world, she must have contended with a financial crash that exploited particular vulnerabilities of women and children. Where has she been publicly on this issue in the past, before announcing her presidential run? Has she spoken up when regulation has been undercut through bank lobbying and congressional action? One could go on.
A friend in the Obama administration said to me several weeks ago: “I guess she’ll be fine for white, upper-class women.”
MONEY AND THE MOMENT
Clinton evades a broader conversation about feminism and identity (beyond complaining about biased media coverage that often targets progressive politicians generally—see the Dean Scream or Sanders coverage).
She specifically highlights the unique aspect of a female presidency. True, many of us would vote for Jane Linn over Joe Linn. But is a female leader, inherently, a better one? Many Democrats didn’t vote for Sarah Palin because she was a poor candidate, so the answer is no. Could a female candidate be used to gin up more opposition, and is this a reason to vote against her? Maybe, and probably not. Does she have to be aggressive on foreign policy in order to win? If so, are we inherently buying into more deaths of people in Africa and the Middle East with another Clinton presidency? Sometimes we’re told that President Barack Obama couldn’t effectively champion revitalization of our inner cities (and he’s certainly had a mixed record when it comes, broadly, to the plight of African Americans), so would women achieve less under Clinton’s leadership?
But most Sanders supporters I know do not ask these questions. They believe the most revolutionary thing they can do is elect Bernie Sanders. That from corporate fraudulence to climate, true to his record, he’ll deliver.
Clinton supporters say focus on the issues. And people do: Her record on them and her conflicts with the public interest through corporate alliances. Instead of being asked where they were when the astronauts landed on the moon or other milestones, Democratic candidates are held to account for where they were when corporations ran amuck keeping billions abroad and in tax havens, when inequality soared in America, and when we faced environmental disasters from the hyperlocal to the global.
Was Clinton on the front lines of the People’s Climate March? How actively has she spoken of the need to keep two-thirds of identified fossil fuels in the ground? Is it impossible to solve social and economic problems in a system where one-tenth of 1% has almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%? Has she spoken explicitly as to how she will stop inequality from worsening, even as just 62 people have as much as the bottom half of the world?
Pick any of 30 issues where corporate or wealthy play a critical role in a hugely unjust, unsafe or unsustainable system. Hillary Clinton will not have spoken out against the wealthy and corporations in any meaningful, consistent way over decades.
Her frequent harking back to her days with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) makes it pretty obvious that the $100-plus million Clinton system pays off. Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and head of CDF, has called the Clintons “not friends in politics,” and her husband, Peter Edelman, resigned from the Clinton administration over welfare reform.
Even recently when most people considered a Clinton run likely, Wall Street gave her $2.9 million in speaking fees from 2013 to 2015. Presumably, she had either done something for them or they believed she could be influenced to do so. It doesn’t take an “artful smear” she referenced in the last Democratic debate as much as a simple observation. However, Senator Elizabeth Warren does provide direct evidence in the case of the bankruptcy bill that Clinton helped defeat as first lady, before voting for it as New York senator.
The year is 2016. The world is headed for catastrophic climate change, wars rage across the Middle East and the poor are being exploited. Public health is rapidly deteriorating. In a world where Bill Clinton had not strayed (because I agree with Nora Ephron that Bill is primarily to blame for President George W. Bush’s election), we might have a world in which a financial crisis was averted, as were several wars. A world in which people and the planet thrived. A world in which an “establishment” candidate looked great. A place in which I—and many of us—might vote for the very smart Hillary Clinton. And a world in which she made the choices to justify it.
But right now, I’d rather be in the heaven of a new progressive movement—one defined by big goals that will create a society of justice and sustainability through concerted action.
In fact, as Clinton and her champions lecture me about my gender, I increasingly think I should choose the special place they want to consign me to over voting for her.
But I’ll probably just ask my male friends what they’re doing.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.