Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Nancy, Hillary And The Year Of The Woman

According to the media, this is “the year of the woman.”

More women are running for public office than ever before. The dramatic increase in political activism following the election began with Women’s Marches that turned out truly astonishing numbers of people, and political scientists who have studied the ongoing Resistance report that middle-aged suburban women are providing its backbone.

Many of these reports make it seem as if the dearth of female presence in Congress and Statehouses around the country is due to women’s previous lack of interest in running for office. Then America elected a male chauvinist pig as President, that election roused the sleeping maiden(s), and the surge in their political participation is the result.

If you accept that explanation, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you…

I’m not a fan of people who whine about victimization, but really, it takes a certain kind of obtuseness not to recognize the differences in the way political men and women are perceived and treated– the extra hurdles women candidates face, and the vicious demonization of those few who rise to positions of power.

Paul Krugman recently considered the case of Nancy Pelosi. He began by looking at the issues being raised by Republican Congressional candidates, noting that they weren’t running on the unpopular tax bill or even more unpopular trade war.

Instead, Republicans’ attack ads have increasingly focused on one of their usual boogeymen — or, rather, a boogeywoman: Nancy Pelosi, the former and possibly future speaker of the House.

So this seems like a good time to remind everyone that Pelosi is by far the greatest speaker of modern times and surely ranks among the most impressive people ever to hold that position. And it’s interesting to ask why she gets so little credit with the news media, and hence with the general public, for her accomplishments.

Krugman goes through a list of those accomplishments, which compare favorably to past Speakers we consider great (and which absolutely tower over the performance of Paul Ryan). Krugman notes that, compared with more modern House speakers–Gingrich, Hastert, Boehner, Ryan– Pelosi is a giant among dwarfs. But you’d never know that from her media coverage.

It’s quite a record. Oh, and whenever you hear Republicans claim that Pelosi is some kind of wild-eyed leftist, ask yourself, what’s so radical about protecting retirement income, expanding health care and reining in runaway bankers?

It’s probably also worth noting that Pelosi has been untouched by allegations of personal scandal, which is amazing given the right’s ability to manufacture such allegations out of thin air.

So why is Pelosi always portrayed as “divisive.” Why is she the preferred target of GOP attacks?

I mean, it’s true that she’s a political partisan — but no more so than any of the Republicans who preceded and followed her. Her policy stances are far less at odds with public opinion than, say, Ryan’s attempts to privatize Medicare and slash its funding. So what makes her “divisive”? The fact that Republicans keep attacking her? That would happen to any Democrat.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that she’s a woman — a woman who happens to have been far better at her job than any man in recent memory.

Ya’ think?

Hillary Clinton has been demonized for thirty years. It is certainly fair game to fault her campaign for miscalculations, or to recognize that she isn’t as charismatic as her husband. It’s fair to disagree with policy stances she’s taken. But she has performed admirably in every government position she’s held, and despite being constantly investigated, has never been found to have broken any law. Male officeholders routinely exhibit the behaviors for which she is excoriated, and almost never excite the same animosity.

Evidently, “uppity” women like Nancy and Hillary offend a lot of people’s notions of “proper womanhood.”

America has a lot at stake in November’s midterms. If–as I hope–there is a Democratic “wave,” a lot of Democratic women will be swept in with it. Along with all the other tasks facing them, they will need to join Elizabeth Warren, and persist— continuing the maddeningly slow process of culture change, normalizing the participation of women in government, and refusing to be stereotyped, demeaned and dismissed.

I hope it will prove to be the year of the woman. But we’re not there yet.

 

 

The Election Was, Actually, Rigged

Among the many ironies of the 2016 election was Trump’s insistence that if he were to lose (and evidently only then), it would be evidence that the election was rigged.

The truth, as numerous election officials pointed out, is that tampering with the vote at polling sites–the only sort of “rigging” Trump would understand– is virtually impossible. Vote suppression is far more common.

That said, the actual “rigging” of American elections is quite legal; in fact, it’s baked into the system. I’ve written extensively about some of the more egregious examples, especially gerrymandering. But partisan redistricting isn’t the only structural element frustrating expression of the popular will.

Almost lost in the coverage of the election’s stunning result was the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. She lost in the Electoral College, a structural throwback to a different time that has increasingly distorted national elections and failed to reflect the will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box. This is the second time in 16 years that a candidate has won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College and the Presidency.

Many of the problems with the Electoral College are widely recognized: the outsized influence it gives swing states, the lack of an incentive to vote if you favor the minority party in a winner-take-all state dominated by the other party, and the over-representation of rural and less populated states.

Whatever the original merits of the Electoral College, it operates today to disadvantage urban voters in favor of rural ones. Hillary Clinton’s voters were women, minorities, and educated Whites, and they were disproportionately urban; Trump supporters were primarily less-educated White Christian males, and they were overwhelmingly rural.

In today’s America, cities are growing and rural areas declining. That decline undoubtedly feeds much of the anger and white nationalism displayed by Trump voters. One can be sympathetic to rural concerns without, however, giving the votes of rural inhabitants (already favored by gerrymandering) greater weight than the votes of urban Americans.

In Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court famously upheld the principle of “one person, one vote.” The operation of the Electoral College violates that fundamental democratic tenet.

The cost of living is higher in cities, and most of us who choose urban life are willing to pay a premium in return for the benefits offered by more cosmopolitan environments. But a reduction in the value of our vote shouldn’t be one of the added costs we incur.

It is time to get rid of the Electoral College.

Media and Women

I was recently asked by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women to participate in a panel discussion on women’s role in journalism and the 2016 election. Preparing for that panel led me to some gloomy conclusions. (Yes, I know this blog has been getting more and more gloomy as the election season drags on..Sorry about that.)

Obviously, women’s roles and participation in media have both improved over the past decades; today, women anchor television news programs, pen op-eds, have bylines and author blogs. That increased media visibility accompanies other notable improvements in our various roles across the economic terrain.

That said, in my view, any discernible “differential” impact on the media landscape has been swallowed up by the far more consequential changes to that landscape generally. Any effect of an increase in female journalists has been more than countered by the massive losses–the hemorrhaging– in what has been called “the journalism of verification.”

In today’s surfeit of fluff and “click-bait,” celebrity has more influence and range than credibility or gravitas. So we have a buffoon (to put it as kindly as possible) running for President and a media environment in which lunatics like Ann Coulter and Shawn Hannity have as much or more influence as respectable reporters and editorial writers, male or female.

My conclusion to the earnest all-female audience at the panel discussion: I don’t think we can examine the role of women in journalism when we have lost journalism to “infotainment.”

And that reality doesn’t even address the unbelievable misogyny that has made Hillary Clinton virtually unrecognizable–a misogyny that has gone largely unchallenged by reporters of both genders who are worried more about generating twitter followers and “clicks” than about accuracy and context.

If Obama’s Presidency and the Clinton campaign have taught us anything (and that is a real question), it is that the emergence of leaders from previously marginalized groups (blacks, women) generates increased hostility from those who were previously privileged. Much of the opposition to President Obama has been shameful and nakedly racist; Hillary Clinton has been vilified ever since emerging on the political scene for failing to be “properly” feminine and deferential. Most of the vitriol lobbed at both of them has had little or no relationship to their actual flaws and/or missteps.

Although I applaud the notion of more women journalists–not to mention more female lawmakers, CEOs, and law firm partners– I doubt that such an increase will immediately or in the mid-term usher in a dramatic change from that still-sexist reality. Progress will continue to be incremental and–for some of us–agonizingly slow.

Actually, at this point, I’d happily settle for more real journalists–of any gender.

Crime and Punishment

When I was practicing law, I often heard people complain about judges and prosecutors when those officials reached conclusions with which they disagreed. In most instances, the complaints were based on a lack of understanding of the facts of the case, the legal rules involved, or both. That was particularly true of criminal accusations.

Let’s say you are texting and driving. You know better; Public Service Announcements tell you how dangerous it is. Your mother tells you how dangerous it is. But your state has no law against it, and you think you’re in control. While you are texting, you crash into another car, injuring a passenger and totaling the vehicle.

Or let’s say you made the potato salad for the family’s picnic. It’s a really hot day and the sun is beating down. You know that foods with mayonnaise shouldn’t be left in the heat, but you are tending to other things. When everyone finally sits down to eat, several people get violently ill and it’s traced to the spoiled mayo.

Or let’s take a far more serious situation: you are one of those “good guys” with a gun. You bought it legally and have a permit to carry it. You have it in a holster, and for some reason, when you sit down, it discharges, killing a bystander.

In each of these scenarios, you have been responsible for harm. In none of them have you committed a crime, because criminal acts require something the law calls mens rea–criminal intent. In order for the state to charge you with a crime, it must have evidence that you intentionally committed a criminal act. Negligence and stupidity are not crimes.

That is not to say that your actions cannot be punished. In each of my examples, the persons harmed can bring civil actions against the negligent person who caused the harm, and can recover damages. In addition, your actions can be reported by the media, censured by your neighbors and provide reason for your boss and others to lose confidence in your judgment.

The FBI investigated Hillary Clinton’s use of her own email server, and found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing sufficient to charge her with a crime. The investigation found (and severely criticized) carelessness–both in Clinton’s handling of her emails and in what the agency characterized as the “culture” of the State Department. The conclusion was not that she hadn’t done anything wrong; the conclusion was that the wrong was not criminal in nature. (Click here for a more extensive explanation of the legal standards and relevant statutes.)

Individual voters can–and will–decide for themselves whether they think this particular breach of judgment makes Clinton unfit to be President. If she weren’t running against a certifiable psychopath, it might well cost her the election; but even if it doesn’t, even if she wins handily, it will cost her significant political capital (indeed, it already has) and will give additional ammunition to those who despise her.

Although it does not excuse her breach, the investigation’s discovery that many other State Department officials (including but not limited to Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice) have used and continue to use personal servers because of the ponderous nature of the “official” system should lead to a formal review of the agency’s technology systems, and to an effort to improve the State Department’s evidently unwieldy system.

Rather than Congressional action that might reduce incentives to bypass the rules, however, we have Paul Ryan’s announcement that the GOP will now “investigate” the FBI for reaching a conclusion partisans dislike.

The FBI investigation was conducted by a Republican appointed by George W. Bush, a man with a reputation for independence and unimpeachable ethics. Ryan’s willingness to besmirch that reputation and impugn the credibility of the FBI in order to make political points is something we might expect from Donald Trump, but is exceedingly disappointing (albeit not surprising) coming from the Speaker of the House.

At some point, it would be nice if our political actors focused upon making government work better, and left toxic gamesmanship behind. But I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

Sexism and Public Life

I’ll begin this post with a confession: I’ve never been a Hillary Clinton fan. Unlike the “Hillary haters,” I don’t have a major grievance (real or imagined); I just haven’t been inspired by her. I will absolutely vote for her in November (a vote for Trump is unthinkable, and a vote for a third party is effectively a vote for Trump), but I haven’t been an enthusiast.

I’ve been thinking about that, believe it or not, because I keep remembering two jokes my Jewish mother used to tell.

The first was about the elderly woman who went into a kosher butcher shop and inspected a chicken. She smelled under both wings, both drumsticks, and sniffed in the cavity, after which she held the bird up and said “Butcher, this bird stinks!”

To which he replied, “Madam, could you pass that test?”

How many of us would appear unblemished if for 25+ years, virtually every aspect of our lives had been publicized, scrutinized and subjected to public debate? How scandalous or mendacious would even our innocent blunders look–especially to political adversaries gleefully jumping on every misstep and interpreting them in the most sinister way possible?

So why has Hillary Clinton generated a degree of animus and scrutiny that has vastly exceeded that experienced by most male politicians?

On that question, my mother’s second joke may–or may not– be instructive. It involved an elevator operator at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. (Yes, that used to be a real job.) There was a radio station atop the Mart, and one day, a man got on the elevator and, stuttering badly, asked for the top floor. He was the only one on the elevator, and the operator asked why he was visiting the station. The reply: “The-the-they have a-a-a opening for an an-an-anouncer.”

As luck would have it, an hour later, the same man was again the only passenger on the same elevator coming down, and the operator couldn’t resist asking how the interview had gone. “T-t-terrible,” the man replied. “The-the-they hate Jews.”

My mother’s reason for telling that particular story was cautionary: members of disfavored groups should avoid the temptation to blame our failures on prejudice. We are responsible for most of our own disappointments, and we need to take responsibility for our personal deficits. It was a profound–and I think important–lesson, and together with her insistence that women could do anything we wanted, it inculcated in me a reluctance to attribute criticisms to sexism or anti-Semitism.

But after watching 7 years of ridiculous and unprecedented attacks on a black President –and seeing the wildly contradictory and vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton– I have to conclude that racism and sexism explain a lot.

A recent column in Market Watch, of all places, was eye-opening. Titled “All the Terrible Things Hillary Clinton has Done–in One Big List,” it began

Am I supposed to hate Hillary Rodham Clinton because she’s too left-wing, or too right-wing? Because she’s too feminist, or not feminist enough? Because she’s too clever a politician, or too clumsy?

Am I supposed to be mad that she gave speeches to rich bankers, or that she charged them too much money?

I’m up here in New Hampshire watching her talk to a group of supporters, and I realized that I have been following this woman’s career for more than half my life. No, not just my adult life: the whole shebang. She came onto the national scene when I was a young man.

And for all that time, there has been a deafening chorus of critics telling me that she’s just the most wicked, evil, Machiavellian, nefarious individual in American history. She has “the soul of an East German border guard,” in the words of that nice Grover Norquist. She’s a “bitch,” in the words of that nice Newt Gingrich. She’s a “dragon lady.” She’s “Elena Ceaușescu.” She’s “the Lady Macbeth of Little Rock.”

Long before “Benghazi” and her email server, there was “Whitewater” and “the Rose Law Firm” and “Vince Foster.” For those of us following her, we were promised scandal after scandal after scandal. And if no actual evidence ever turned up, well, that just proved how deviously clever she was.

The article went on to list all of the various accusations, many of them contradictory or patently ridiculous. I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing.

Hillary Clinton has been the subject of more intensive investigations (conducted by people absolutely salivating to find something ) than anyone I can think of. Either she hasn’t been guilty of whatever the accusations were, or we have the most inept investigators in the world.

Does that mean she hasn’t been guilty of clumsy lies, poor decisions, tone-deaf pronouncements? Of course not. She’s no saint. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that a man who’d made identical mistakes and had identical personal defects would have been subjected to far less vilification.

Sometimes, the problem is prejudice.