Hillary Clinton announced her Presidential candidacy on April 12, 2015. In the moment, it was great news. I like the woman; I believe her to be the single strongest and most qualified candidate in either party; I had been hoping she would be the next President ever since she stepped down from her Secretary of State position in 2013.
So I was happy. For an hour or so. And then, it was replaced by a feeling I’d nearly forgotten: A pit at the bottom of my stomach, a stress headache, a steadily mounting fear.
Oh, God, I started thinking. They’re going to do it to her again.
“It” is Hillary-hate. It is the tendency for people to decide, at regular intervals, that Hillary Clinton is not a mainstream Democrat who’s carved out a groundbreaking career in politics, but a blood-drenched, boner-killing, venom-dripping hellbeast who is out to destroy America.
“They” is more nebulous, and worse: Hillary-hate is often, but not always, the province of men. It is often, but not exclusively, Republican; conservatives launched The Hillary Project to stop her candidacy back in 2013. (“Hillary Clinton—the name alone strikes dread in the heart of freedom loving Americans.”) And it is often, and unacceptably, embraced by otherwise progressive men, who abandon their principles and their common sense in order to trash her, demonize her, and loudly proclaim to anyone who will listen that they Just Don’t Like Her.
You know Hillary-hate. You’ve seen it before: It’s Tucker Carlson proclaiming that “when she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.” It’s Chris Matthews scolding Clinton, when she criticized Bush’s homeland security spending in 2005, by saying that “you look more witchy when you’re doing it like this.” It is sainted progressive icon Jon Stewart getting huge laughs, off a shot of Clinton smiling politely, with the line “that look is where boners go to die.”
And it goes on, and gets worse, until Hillary is not just portrayed as an ugly, mean old lady these dudes don’t want to fuck, but as an actual monster. Hillary-hate is the fact that, while Clinton was grieving the suicide of her friend Vince Foster, Republicans spread rumors that she had seduced and murdered him. Hillary-hate is Maureen Dowd calling Clinton “Godzilla” and “Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.” Hillary-hate is the not-remotely-subtle implication that Clinton abuses her husband, spread by the New York Post; next to a photo of Clinton with her mouth wide open at a Benghazi hearing, they ran the headline “NO WONDER BILL’S AFRAID.” Hillary-hate is the persistent, bizarre need for major media outlets to go along with Dowd’s calling Clinton the “50-Foot Woman” and to make Clinton look scary by portraying her as superhumanly huge: On the cover of TIME as a rampaging, pantsuited giantess the size of a skyscraper (photographed in the act of stepping on a powerless man, of course) or on the cover of the New York Times Magazine as some sort of Lovecraftian elder God the size of a planet.
Hillary-hate is Nation contributing editor Doug Henwood, greeting Clinton’s candidacy, this time around, with a book cover in which she is portrayed as a murderer aiming a gun at either (a) you, the reader, (b) the Democratic party, or quite possibly (c) Democracy itself.
Henwood turned out to be my breaking point, for this particular hate-wave. He provided the moment when I found out what happens on the other side of dread; when the anxiety of my internal monologue (they’re going to do it to her again; they’re going to do it to her again; they’re doing it to her again) broke, and clarified.
I don’t care if I have to end my career, end my friendships, or end my life with a Twitter-fight-induced heart attack, is what I thought, on the other side of fear. If there is anything I can do about this, they will not get away with doing it again.
Now: I am not a diplomatic person. Electoral politics is not usually my beat; what I track is pervasive cultural bias against women, through the frame of the media. I’m not a politician, or a paid shill, and if Hillary knew I was on her side, she’d probably beg me to shut up. I’m a voter, and I’m a woman, who knows that Hillary Clinton has been the lens for America’s feelings about women and power since I was a small child.
I do not object to Hillary-hate because I always agree with Clinton, or because I am committed to unthinking defense of her every word and move. I even acknowledge that there are valid reasons to dislike her: I’m sympathetic to the people of color who’ve pointed out that she can be very bad on race, and that she has a lot of work to do to convince them that she will be responsive to their needs. That’s not Hillary-hate, that’s rational criticism, and it ought to be heard and respected, particularly by Hillary Clinton. What I oppose is Hillary-hate. I oppose misogyny. And I do it because I know, as sure as I know anything, that what men say about Hillary is what they’ll say about other women, what they’ll say about me, if we get too strong for them to control or ignore.
And I’m telling you: If you like Hillary, or if you just don’t want women to be portrayed as castrating bitches for being successful, the time to speak up is now. If we stay quiet during the previews, then, when it’s time for the show — the race to become the next President of the United States, which she will almost certainly wind up running — we may be too late.
I am also telling you: Do not allow yourself to be shamed for this. Hillary-hate has a lot of rules, which makes it predictable; one of them is that it intensifies whenever she stands to advance. Another rule is that it plays fast and loose with the facts. The final rule is that, in the midst of a hate-wave, people tend to forget everything they liked about her before it hit. But when it passes, people like her again. A lot. In 2013, she had a 69% approval rating (including 92% of Democrats) and was more popular than any other Secretary of State since 1948, with the exception of Colin Powell.
It is OK to like Hillary Clinton. It is! She’s made mistakes and she’s been wrong, like every politician, but when you hear that Hillary has only ever made mistakes or only ever been wrong, or that she is somehow more wrong than anyone, including the many liberal Democrats who share her policies, you are not hearing the whole story.
None of us wants to hash out the “BernieBros” problem again — in short, they’re real, and they’re not spectacular — but their common line that Hillary Clinton is “Reagan with a vagina,” to quote the nightmarish comment section of this fine Kathleen Geier piece, or the second coming of Margaret Thatcher, to quote roughly every lazy comparison-maker on the Internet (they’re both women, so they must be identical, I guess?) is in fact wrong.
Hillary Clinton has a liberal record. While in the Senate with her purported opposite Bernie Sanders, they voted the same way 93% of the time. She was rated as more liberal than 85% of her fellow Senators; in fact, despite the narrative in ’08 that Obama was the only liberal choice (I backed him that year, and I’m glad I did) she is slightly to the left of Obama, who stands at 82%. This isn’t to say that I have never disagreed with her, or that I won’t disagree with her in the future, or that Sanders isn’t to her left on economics. It is simply to say that the “Clinton = secret conservative” narrative is not grounded in fact, including the glaringly obvious fact that actual conservatives hate her. Maybe Clinton just pissed in their cornflakes one fine morning, but I’m betting it’s because she’s not conservative.
Clinton also has a feminist record. In fact, it’s been the primary source of much hate against her, starting in 1992, when Pat Buchanan riled the fears of the Republican base at the RNC by pointing to her agenda of “radical feminism.”
She is a strong defender of reproductive health care: Planned Parenthood hailed the announcement of Clinton’s candidacy, in a press release proclaiming that “there has not been a candidate for president with a stronger commitment to women or a clearer record on behalf of women’s health and rights,” and she has been the first candidate to bring up the attempts to de-fund Planned Parenthood in both Democratic debates. (In the second debate, she was also the only candidate to even mention it.) She has consistently and uniquely centered the role of women and girls in foreign policy, beginning with her historic 1995 speech in Beijing — “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights” — and continuing throughout her time as Secretary of State, and has been credited by some with breaking the long-held but unspoken rule that women had to be “tougher” (meaning: more militaristic and conservative) than men in order to be seen as credible on the international stage.
She is not a do-it-alone feminist or a personal exceptionalist; she has consistently worked to promote and foster female leadership, everything from hiring many women as key campaign staffers to mentoring Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the very few women who’s been put forward as a potential Presidential candidate for the next generation. She has worked to frame gun control and police violence as women’s issues; she is the only candidate so far to make the domestic violence crisis part of her platform, advocating to close loopholes that allow domestic abusers and convicted stalkers to obtain guns. And on the topic of violence against women — and this is particularly delightful for those of us who have certain key reservations about feminists of Clinton’s generation — she has been actively campaigning to address transgender rights and needs, including what she has called “the crisis of transphobic violence.”
I respect feminists, like Geier, who are debating whether Clinton is a perfect feminist. She is not. Nor am I. Nor is any feminist or woman I know. There are valid critiques of her gender politics; again, Clinton has work to do, particularly on racial justice, in order to be the best feminist she can be. Yet Clinton is, in fact, a good feminist, and an unprecedentedly electable feminist, and I would argue that levels of feminism would most likely not even be a subject of debate if she were not in the running. (I like Sanders’ record on certain feminist issues, but for all his strengths, he seemingly subscribes to the old-school lefty theory that class is the determining factor in all oppressions — an approach that tends to invariably marginalize issues of identity as “less important,” and which much feminism, including socialist feminism, has been built around refuting.) When was the last time you debated whether a male Presidential candidate was a great feminist, or merely a good one? When was the last time you questioned whether a male candidate was qualified to represent all men?
Those are the questions to ask yourself. Because this is when the issue snaps into focus. Hillary-hate isn’t just big, obvious declarations that she is a monster. Hillary-hate is also the double standards, the quiet elisions and distortions. It’s what happens when Ben Norton, one of the loudest and most vehement critics of Clinton’s Iraq War vote, advocates for Joe Biden’s candidacy without mentioning that Biden also voted for the Iraq War. It’s what happens when H.A. Goodman declares that voting for Clinton would be a violation of his principles, because she’s too much like a Republican — even though he was openly planning to vote for an actual Republican, Rand Paul, last year. It’s the fact that Hillary has to pass all the same tests that men do, plus several they are never required to take, and that she always has to score twice as high just to get a passing grade. As, for example, in the Democratic race, where she is consistently framed as a risky candidate to nominate, despite literally scoring twice as high as her nearest competition.
And whether or not you like Hillary Clinton, that has a massive impact. This is how little girls learn to doubt their own competence, to play down their ambition or intelligence. This is how little boys learn to treat little girls with contempt. It is how a new generation of young left-wing men is learning that they can leverage sexism to get their way, and that they can deal with women’s criticism — no matter how accomplished those women may be as progressive voices — by condemning those women for “playing the victim,” or calling them insufficiently leftist. It may be how young left-wing women learn that, if they see or experience sexism from the men in their lives, their only safe option is to be quiet and look the other way. And it’s why some white men are able to claim that they care more about marginalized groups than those women do, while also saying that if Hillary gets the nomination, they will attempt to split the Democratic vote and bring on a Republican administration that would be unmitigatedly disastrous and oppressive for immigrants, people of color, the poor, GLBT people, and (oh, yeah) women.
It’s tempting to identify the Hillary-hate with Sanders, since his fans engage in it, and to dislike him. I’ve succumbed to the urge myself, and I’m not proud. But you shouldn’t. Though I believe he’s more of an economic policy guy than an effective world leader, he’s a brilliant economic policy guy. I’d love to see Bernie working in the Clinton administration, economic-policy-ing the heck out of things. And not only is getting mad at Sanders wrong, it’s beside the point.
The current Hillary-hate is an overture: A fraction of the sheer tonnage of misogyny and dishonesty that’s going to come if and when she wins the nomination. Hillary Clinton has already been the subject of over $1.8 million worth of attacks from PACs — more than any other candidate. Republicans know she can win, and they know that Hillary-hate is their best, possibly only weapon. If you track the hate, you know: The Big One is coming. And it’s going to come from people who don’t have any investment in progressivism, people who aren’t using Hillary-hate for even vaguely admirable reasons.
And if we don’t speak up now, if we give a pass to Hillary-hate early on, they will be able to use our own words — or our own silence — against us. It will gain that much more traction. It will be that much harder to fight. It may mean we miss our chance, not only at electing a female President in the foreseeable future, but at electing a Democrat at all.
It is hard to speak up against Hillary-hate. It is thankless. People will attack you, trivialize you, demonize you, sexualize you, lie about you, hate you. In fact, they’ll treat you… well, they’ll treat you like they treat Hillary. But once you’re part of it — once you break on through to the other side, and experience a little of the sheer crispy-fried gender Hell that must be Hillary Clinton’s day-to-day life — it’s a lot easier to see why and how they’re wrong. And it’s a lot easier to see that Hillary-hate needs to end, not for Hillary Clinton, but for any woman who wants to make her way through this world.
Photo by Keith Kissel, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license