Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

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.


Political Choices and Imperfect Information

We’re deep into presidential primary season, and Americans are taking our imperfect knowledge of the candidates to the polls.

Given the sheer amount of ink–digital or real–devoted to American presidential candidates, you’d think voters would have ample, detailed information about those competing for our votes and contributions. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. Verifiable information is “supplemented” with rumor (scurrilous or fawning, depending upon the source and its motivation), and what we do read or hear is filtered through a partisan lens.

Unless we actually know a candidate–or know someone who does–we have only imperfect impressions on which to make judgments about character and intellect. That’s one reason why, in a more perfect world, voters would pay more attention to a candidate’s positions and less to the hype. Marco Rubio’s desire to outlaw all abortions–even in cases of rape and incest–tells you more about his character than softball interviews or even hardball debates.

I remember when George W. Bush was first running for President. He came across as more personable than Al Gore, and the meme was that here was a guy you’d enjoy having a beer with. At the time, I was working with an IUPUI professor whose (very Republican) doctor husband had practiced many years in Midland, Texas. When a dinner party conversation turned to the campaign, he mentioned that he’d gone jogging three or four times a week with George W. and a couple of others for several of those years.

“Really!” I said. “What’s he like?”

The doctor thought for a couple of minutes, then said “Dumb and mean.”

I don’t offer this as irrefutable evidence of George W’s intellect or temperament; I have no idea what their relationship might have been, or how accurate the doctor’s assessment. But it is evidence that widely shared impressions of public figures do not necessarily saccord with assessments by people who actually know and work with those figures.

I thought about that conversation when I read this description of Hillary Clinton at the Political Animal.

As President Obama’s former speechwriter (including during the 2008 primary), Jon Favreau admits that he was not always a fan of Hillary Clinton. He writes about how his view changed while he worked with her in the White House.

“The most famous woman in the world would walk through the White House with no entourage, casually chatting up junior staffers along the way. She was by far the most prepared, impressive person at every Cabinet meeting. She worked harder and logged more miles than anyone in the administration, including the president. And she’d spend large amounts of time and energy on things that offered no discernible benefit to her political future—saving elephants from ivory poachers, listening to the plight of female coffee farmers in Timor-Leste, defending LGBT rights in places like Uganda.”

Given the sustained assault on her character over the years, many of us have had a less-than-enthusiastic response to Hillary’s candidacy. She is clearly the most knowledgable and experienced, but she has also been the most tarnished–sometimes fairly, often not. People I’ve met who actually know her tend to share Favreau’s impressions.

Who’s right, who’s wrong? Who knows?

At least she isn’t arguing about who has the biggest penis.