I have a confession to make: I like Hillary Clinton. And I am not even one of the people she's won over recently. I've liked for years. And, judging by her recent election results in SC, I am not the only one who does. Shocking, isn't it? So while it's certainly not true that "nobody" likes her (refer here to this brilliant tweet noting that "saying 'nobody likes HRC', then looking at who's voting for her gives me an instructive glimpse into who some 'liberals' consider 'nobody.'" Ahem. Nothing to see here. Carry on.), a good portion of the media seems to
be spewing misogyny from the deepest depth of hell dislike her to some extent. It's quite the phenomenon, actually.
I know, I know, she’s a horrible, lying, cheating, dishonest, shrill, shouting, unlikeable, corrupt, icy, robotic, hysterical, ugly, calculating, evil, untrustworthy, divisive, mean-spirited, egomaniacal, power-hungry corporate shill and all that. I am sure I forgot some of the more common - and intentionally left out some of the crasser - descriptors, I apologize in advance, no need to point them out. I’ve heard it so many times, for so many years, that I can recite it in my sleep.
(If you are looking for a comprehensive compilation of all her high crimes and misdemeanors, read Brett Arends' brilliantly funny article. May favorites are #44 "She's really ambitious and calculating, unlike all the other people running for president" and #60 "She claimed there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband, and it turned out there was nothing but a bunch of tycoons financing private investigators, and some fake think tanks and books and news sites and stuff.")
In fact, nobody says this better than Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, pointing out the ridiculousness of all that's being said with this picture:
But here's the thing: I am pretty sure she's not. In fact, I am 100% sure. No, I have not actually met her - but neither have most of those who ardently hate her with the fire of a thousand suns. I have spent an inordinate amount of time "researching her", though - watching her speeches, interviews, and debates, reading her plans and policy statements, her books, even some of her emails, going as far as (shudder) watching all of the dreadful, 11-hour Benghazi-hearing from last October ("This investigation is not about you." Seriously? Sir, you are full of shit. "This investigation" was nothing but a thinly-veiled witch hunt. It's just that the "witch" didn't let herself be hunted and remained poised, professional, competent, and collected through the entire ordeal, calmly answering even those questions that were nothing more than personal attacks.).
I did all of that trying to understand. I wanted to understand what she's done that basically makes it ok to call her a murderous beast, something akin to the Wicked Witch of the West, crossed with some sort of demon from hell. I went looking to find evidence that the things that are being said about her are true or justified. I assumed I would find evidence she is, in fact, worse than Hitler, Stalin, and Cruella de Vil wrapped into one. She has to be, right? Why else would people be saying these things about her, over and over and over?
And you know what I found, time and time again? A decent human being. I found someone who works hard, who's funny, smart, self-deprecating, and who genuinely seems to care. I found an actual person, buried behind so much slander, gossip, and caricature that it took intense digging to break through that avalanche, and even then, I was unsure if I should trust what I found. How could this be? She's not at all like the person we all think we know. I must be the one who's mistaken. Maybe I am falling for a clever ploy, some devious strategy where she's pretending to be an actual human being, where she has just figured out a better way to camouflage her true colors and deceive the public. IT JUST CAN'T BE TRUE that there's been a 25-year smear campaign against someone who's basically trying her best, however imperfectly, who tries to stand up for what she believes, even when sometimes it turns out she's made a mistake. Hindsight always gives us 20/20 vision, after all. But you know what? It IS true. The public discourse has more or less tried to erase Hillary Clinton, to silence her by replacing her with a monstrously distorted caricature, a caricature that is perpetuated incessantly in the media coverage of her, and has been for 25 years. And whatever she does, somehow it can always be twisted to fit that image.
When I first started grads school, in my very first semester, we were taught about the principle of falsifiability. Basically, whenever you make a claim, voice a theory or hypothesis, there has to be a way that I can disprove your argument. There has to be some evidence that, when manifested, shows that your theory, your explanation of how the world works, is wrong. Well, I hate to break it to you, but most of what has been said about Hillary Clinton is not falsifiable. There is nothing she can say or do to convince people that these accusations are false. Let's try an example, shall we? Let's say your theory is that Clinton is an emotionless, robotic ice queen, unable to feel anything and simply reciting scripted soundbites that she thinks will get people to vote for her - a calculating bitch that will say anything to get elected. You wouldn't believe how often I have heard that one. Anyhow, how could she prove she's not? What could she do to convince you? Seems easy enough. Show emotion, right? Be passionate about an issue? Stand by her principles? But what happens whenever she lets down her guard, when she shows emotion? She's accused of "faking it". Of "pretending to feel" to make herself more likable, in order to (you guessed it) get elected. Or she's portrayed as a hysterical crazy-woman.
Here's another one: She's vindictive and mean-spirited and will do anything in her power to destroy anyone who crosses her. Remember the coverage of the '08 primary? People were predicting she'd never support Obama because her wounded ego was more important to her than her party. What did she do? Not only did she support him, she campaigned for him with full force. She threw herself behind his candidacy without any hesitation and without any grudge, at least not a public grudge. Should disprove the theory of the vindictive egomaniac, right? Far from it! See, the reason she did all this is because she was already planning her next run for president.
Accusation after accusation, "scandal" after "scandal" came down to this: "We KNOW she is X" or "We KNOW she is did Y" ... and if there's no proof, well, that just shows how clever, devious, and well-connected she is and how she'll get away with anything. Funny how that works, isn't it?
Think about it this way: after 25 years and millions of dollars spent going not only through Hillary Clinton's closet, but every dusty corner of her basement as well, scrutinizing her personal life to an unprecedented degree, what we've found is this: back in the 90s she had some marital problems, and she used her private email address for work, when maybe that wasn't the best thing to do. That's it. Those are her skeletons as of today. I don't know about you, but I am not sure many others would look this clean after so much concentrated effort to find dirt on them.
I know what many of you are going to say: "But look at everything that has been said about her! Look at all the gossip and the accusations and the "scandals" (please don't make me get into those, my blood pressure won't stand for it)! Some of that has to be true! Why else would people be saying it, over and over and over?"
The thing is, that's not really how "guilt" is determined, is it? And for good reason. Just because I yell "Burn the witch!" over and over doesn't mean she's a witch. I know there's a quote that says: "Live your life such that if anybody speaks badly about you, nobody will believe it.", or something along those lines. Sounds lovely. Like rainbows-and-unicorns-lovely. However, given the world we all live in, that's not always possible, unfortunately. Slander, shaming, and blatant sexism has been used to silence uncomfortable women for so long, we hardly even notice it when it rears its ugly head yet again. Example: For quite a long time, as I said above, I pondered the question: "What on earth has this woman done to cause so much ... well, out-right hatred?" And then I realized, and to my embarrassment had to admit, that this was entirely the wrong question. I had - unintentionally, but still - participated in one of the most fundamental rules of the patriarchy: victim-blaming. She is being attacked, so she must have done something wrong to cause it. From there, it's only a small step to conclude that she "deserves it".
So when I moved away from trying to figure out what she has done, I realized that it's about what she is. Or rather, what she refuses to be. She refuses to be a woman who does what good little girls (and good big girls, mind you) have always been expected to do: sit down, smile, speak only when spoken to, and even then, make sure they don't say anything that makes them sound smarter than 'them menfolks'. She's stood up for herself and what she believes in, and she has been confident and outspoken about it. She came onto the national stage at a time when the fear of such women, the unruly, misbehaved, annoying ones, was reaching a high point (not that it is at a low point now, but that's a different topic for a different time.)
In that way, Hillary Clinton has, through a combination of factors, simply become a lightning rod, a scapegoat, the woman we can use to teach other women where their place is. Or where it isn't. It's not at the table. It's not on the debate stage. It's not in the White House. In some ways, a lot of what's being said about Hillary Clinton isn't about her at all. It's about what she represents. She's an easily identifiable target, and an immensely powerful symbol. "If this is what we can do to her, as powerful, privileged, and well-connected as she is, just imagine what we can do to you!", the patriarchy seems to whisper every time it tries to cut her down. And tried to cut her down it has, over and over. Are you surprised she's developed a thick skin, with all the hostility she's weathered? Good grief, if she hadn't, we'd have driven her to suicide twenty years ago.
Speaking of "thick skin", there's one more mini-rant (I am pretty sure I have outed myself as one of those unstable, ranting "angry women" by now anyway) I have to get in here: it's about this whole "we don't like her because of her armored persona"-bullshit. Armored persona? What the ...? Are you kidding me??? Do you remember what we put that woman through? What the press put her through? What happened to her, every time she tried to be open about who she is and what she believes? She was mocked, ridiculed, belittled, as it happened back in the early 90s. Her personal life was dragged into the public eye, and through the mud, in a way nobody deserves. When she choked up for a second in New Hampshire in 2008, she was accused of being too weak and emotional for the presidency and of faking her tears to get a sympathy-win (so not only did she win Iowa in 2016 and lose it at the same time, she also won and lost New Hampshire in 2008, because, really, people only voted for her because they felt sorry for her). Now Hillary Clinton is talking about "love and kindness" (though, to be fair, it's not really a new message for her). She must know that's a risky move. It's a decidedly "female" message, and it's a personal one. Again, she's attempting to share more of herself. Time will tell if we'll again repay her with unrelenting mockery.
And, frankly, that's partially what's so insidious about everything Clinton's been called. Whenever you confront the person doing the name-calling and point out the deeply ingrained sexism that underlies their comments - how it's strange that "ambitious" is a positive thing for a man, but somehow a flaw in a woman; how our obsession with her hair and her voice and her wardrobe is something you'd never see if she was a man; how's she simultaneously accused of being too cold and too emotional and so on - they always reply with some variation of: "We don't hate her because she's a woman. We hate her because she's Hillary Clinton."
Now, I hate to break it to you, but you can't separate Clinton the Woman from Clinton the Person. They are one and the same. She's both (women are people, too, you know?), and using misogyny against a particular woman, because you "don't like her", makes it ok to use it against any woman - after all, there's always something someone doesn't like about us, isn't there? It's policing. She's being humiliated and demeaned and even threatened with physical violence, not because she's a woman, but because she's the wrong kind of woman. See what happens when you don't do as you're told? See what happens when we decide you've forgotten where your place is? It's for this reason, by the way, that I have found myself defending Sarah Palin from (overt and subtle) sexism in more conversations than I care to remember - and there's not one single thing I like about any of Sarah Palin's so-called "policies".
"Sexism, you say? Pshaw! That's just an easy excuse for Clinton supporters to silence her critics!" I have to tell you that, back in 2008, I was actually surprised by the amount of sexism hurled at her. I did not expect it. I especially did not expect it from mainstream - or even so-called liberal - media. And I didn't expect it to be so overt. Excuse? Which rock have you been hiding under?
When we have discussions, on national TV no less, of whether it's ok to call her a "white bitch", when it is (not so subtly) implied that she only won New Hampshire because she "cried", when she's alternately called "cold" and "emotional", when MSNBC (not even Fox News, but MSNBC!) asks whether she's a "she-devil", when the ever-present, dim-witted misogynist Chris Matthews has to apologize for more or less openly stating that she's only where she is because people felt sorry for her after the Lewinsky affair, when she simultaneously isn't allowed to take credit for any of the Clinton Administration's achievements and is held personally accountable for each and every one of its shortcomings ... I could go on and on, those as just a few "highlights" of the so-called press coverage that popped into my mind ... then I do not think anyone gets to dispute whether there was sexism at work in that campaign. Did it cost her the nomination? Many factors came into play that year for sure. Barack Obama's well-planned and executed campaign strategy. The country's receptiveness to his message of "hope and change", rather than her less-exciting one of political pragmatism and incrementalism. Mistakes made by her campaign, and by herself. But one factor was certainly the enormous amount of sexism she faced, not just from the right, but also from her so-called allies on the left.
But this isn't 2008. It's 2016. Things are different. Right???
In some ways they are (or maybe it's just that I no longer have cable TV - God, how I wish I'd made that choice years ago!). I have noticed less blatant, unbridled, white-hot sexism - but again, maybe I am just too scared of what I'll find to really be looking. No "Iron my shirt"-hecklers or "Hillary make me a sandwich"-Facebook groups, no "Hillary Nutcrackers" and other delightful novelty items (discussed at great length on Fox News). And yet. We still talk about her voice. She "shouts" (gee, thanks, Sen. Sanders). She's "shrill". She loses, even when she wins (yup, didn't ya know, she might have won in Iowa, but it felt like a loss. And yes, she won SC by almost 50 points, but you know, she does have "problems" among white men, and she has to make sure that big wins like that don't alienate Sanders supporters). She's expected to measure up to impossible standards, and when she can't, she's called a "flawed" candidate. She's portrayed as an entitled "insider" expecting to be handed the nomination and an unlikable liability nobody will ever vote for at the same time. She still has to work twice as hard to convince people she's tough enough to be commander-in-chief, but when she's tough, she's a cold bitch. Even the fact that she's faced misogyny is used against her - just think of all the things the Republicans will call her in the general election! The fact that she's been attacked as a woman is somehow supposed to make her a non-viable candidate.
But yes, some things are different now than they were 8 years ago. Clinton certainly is a better, more confident candidate - and no, Bernie Sanders didn't make her one, Hillary Clinton made Hillary Clinton a better candidate - she seems to find it easier to speak in her own voice, something we were starting to see more of towards the end of the 2008 primary. She seems to feel less pressure to prove she's not a weak, soft, emotional woman on foreign policy issues - maybe because she's got her tenure as Secretary of State as an indisputable credential for her expertise and knowledge.
No, she's not perfect. She's made mistakes - though she has generally had the courage to admit that, and to change her position when she realized she had been wrong, something that's been used against her, even though it should be something we encourage in a candidate and a political leader, the ability to learn from mistakes and evolve - and she has taken positions that I have disagreed with. The thing is, I can disagree with her without stating that her voice makes me want to punch her, and without calling her a mad bitch, corporate shill, or a witch.
Do you want me to show you how it's done? "I strongly disagree with Secretary Clinton's position on X, because I think it would cause more problems than it solves due to reasons A, B, and C." "I think Sen. Sanders is better equipped to lead this nation because of his experience as Y or his stance on issue Z." "Hillary Clinton is certainly an enormously qualified candidate, but for me, the decisive issue in this election is A, and Bernie Sanders is just closer to my views." "I've read over Clinton's plans for X, and I don't think that's way to go. I would rather see the president approach this issue from angle Y, and Clinton doesn't seem to want to do that." "During the debate, Clinton said she supported policy A. I can't vote for a candidate who is in support of that policy." That wasn't so hard, was it?
So no, you don't have to vote for her, or agree with her, or even like her. What every one of us has to do, however, is be willing to question our motives for disliking her. Why is she "untrustworthy"? Why do you feel there's "just something about her" you don't like? Why are we so, so willing to believe every rumor about her, and assume her guilt, no matter what she's accused of? Why is it "funny" to accuse her of cheating, of wrongdoing, or being guilty, even when there's no evidence for it?
Two examples here: the first one concerns her "damn emails", as Bernie Sanders put it during the first debate. Do you remember when, in July of 2015, the New York Times couldn't wait to publish a -completely untrue - story of how Hillary Clinton was to be the target of a criminal referral? They SO couldn't wait that they did not even give her campaign enough time to respond before running the story, on the front page, and sending out a "Breaking News"-email. Now, why's that, you may ask? I can only guess. But my guess would be that they simply assumed it was true. It was about Hillary Clinton, after all, and she's always guilty as soon as charged - or even before. And that was the New York Times, not some no-name tabloid.
Not too long ago (can't find the link right now) I read a lengthy article, on ABC News I believe, where a legal expert carefully examined all the evidence in the Clinton "email scandal", only to conclude that, unless there was evidence we did not know about, there was no indication at all that she had broken any laws. He then added that, when he told a friend about this assessment, the friend's immediate response was: "I didn't know you were a Hillary guy!"
Let that sink in for a minute.
Apparently, the only reason anyone could possibly defend Clinton from accusations that, so far, have no evidence to support them, is that you're in the bag for her (because, after all, why would anyone accord her even a modicum of decency in their treatment of her?). Otherwise, all's fair when it comes to Hillary.
Second example: Iowa caucus. Clinton wins, though it's a fairly close result. Apparently, a handful of precincts were virtually tied and decided by coin toss. Six or seven precincts, if I am not mistaken. I log onto Facebook a few days later, and a friend of mine has posted a meme, depicting Clinton looking at her smartphone, with the caption implying she's searching for "double-sided coins". Haha. Even though I had SWORN to refrain from political discussions on social media - because, really, what's the point? - I could not let that stand without a comment, so I posted a link to a CNN story with the headline "No, Clinton did not win Iowa because of a coin toss", which did a good job explaining the situation. My friend's response? "It was a joke, lol!" Oh, I get that. I get that it was supposed to be funny. Why is it funny? Because it uses the old "Hillary always cheats"-trope. "Nobody likes her. When she wins, it's because she cried or cheated or both. Haha." It's such a well-used trope that every single person in this country probably understands the subtext as soon as they see that meme.Why? Because we are fed the same story about Hillary over and over, until we think it's the truth.
So to wrap things up, and finish my point: No, you don't have to like her. Yes, you can disagree with her without being a sexist. But maybe, just maybe, it would be good for all of us to take a close look at why we dislike and distrust her. Chances are, we'll find that it's really for no real reason at all.