I’m in a sympathetic mood, because I just finished listening to Mat Johnson on a podcast talking about the diehard Clinton supporters who have clearly projected their own struggles onto Hillary Clinton and are taking her defeat in the primary as a referendum on their very right to be in the public sphere. Johnson made the point that he felt the same way as an Obama supporter in a lot of ways—specifically, the chance to look at the candidate and relate in a way that’s previously been denied you—and to be deprived that at what no doubt seems the last minute has got to be frustrating. He also makes some good points about the dynamics of the race, and how Obama’s campaign was privileged by the slow build, and Clinton’s campaign turned into a nightmare as they lost their grasp, and these things, independent of identity politics, framed the nastiness of the primary. He also makes points that resonated with me about why, if Clinton’s loss seems so personal to some women, it just doesn’t to me, which is complex and not worth going into here.
This is not to imply that Hillary Clinton is faultless — far from it. But it’s clear that the faults we tolerate and even overlook in men, we see as glaring in women.
In most women’s personal lives, this makes a lot of sense. It’s why women are probably so much harder to get to open up about their opinions than men. Most women I know tend to relate to the sense that if a man is wrong, he’s just wrong on that one thing, but if a woman is wrong, it easily turns into a referendum on her entire being, her right to speak at all, and perhaps the rights of all women to say anything. We’ve all had men shame us into silence with this tactic.
But Jong’s wrong. She’s projecting something that tends to work more on a personal level onto a public figure, and her examples show the fallacy in her reasoning.
McCain can confuse Sunnis and Shiites and nobody blinks. Bush can admit to his press secretary that he outed a secret agent while claiming that he’d fire any aide who did so — and the press sleeps.
She stumbled not so much onto a sexist double standard as a partisan one. Is there any doubt that if Obama mixed up Sunnis and Shiites like McCain did that it would be front page news? Evidence that the narrative started by Clinton but carried on by McCain—that Obama is “inexperienced”—is true?
Clinton made a big, whopping mistake in her Iraq war vote. The voters have a right to start standing up against milquetoast Democrats who meekly do what the Republicans instruct them to do. At the end of the day, that has nothing to do with gender. For huge swaths of the party, Clinton has become the symbol of just such Democratic weakness. Interestingly, another female leader has become the symbol of Democratic backbone on this all-important issue, and like Obama, her career has done well because of it.
This primary pulled the party, ever so slightly and ever so gently, to the left just a teeny bit. That’s progress, and the media-driven noise has eclipsed that fact. Not to say that race and gender weren’t big issues in this campaign, but it’s seemed from the beginning to me that the lack of a white guy in the contest should have really been cause for reasonable people to call that a draw and move on. It’s obvious why the media and the campaigns decided to stoke that flame anyway, because race and gender, unlike a lot of other contentious but important issues in elections, hit so damn close to home. People take it personally, tempers rise, and reason flies out the door. I’m not saying that the anger isn’t real. In fact, the opposite. It’s so real it becomes all-encompassing, and eclipses other issues that are real, but maybe a little more distant. Issues like the partisan double standard, or the Iraq war.