Tag Archives: scrutiny

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.