I am by no means a staunch Clinton supporter. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was fraught with gaffes and missteps–some racist, some overtly dishonest. Her foreign policy proposals would spell disaster for America and the rest of the world. And yet her failure to capture the nomination and her recent reluctance to relinquish the Democratic crown to a younger, more charismatic man strike me as tragic (like, of Greek proportions). This is a woman who toiled her whole life to reach the level of power and influence required to become a presidential contender, only to lose to a shooting star whose rise no one could have ever predicted.
But now it’s time for everyone to weigh in on what her campaign meant in the grand scheme of things. Was her campaign a landmark for women’s progress everywhere? Or it just evidence of Clinton’s disorderly desire for power and influence?
The New York Times‘ and Slate’s finest feminists used the end of Clinton’s campaign as a conduit for meaningful reflection on gender and feminism in America. Gail Collins waxed elegiac about Clinton’s loss. Judith Warner reflected on the media’s sexist campaign coverage.
On the other end of the spectrum, The Economist claimed Clinton “has not only lost the Democratic nomination. She has humiliated herself in the process.”
The Economist points to poor campaign organization and the badly natured Clinton duo as the main culprits for Clinton’s loss; they conveniently ignore the rhetorical influence of the the Chris Matthews and Bill O’Reillys and Tucker Carlsons of the world. And yet it would also be unfair to blame Clinton’s loss solely on the punditocracy’s crass misogyny.
Anne Appelbaum of the Washington Post wrote on Slate’s XX blog that Clinton is “an appalling role model” who disobeyed young women’s “Lesson No. 1: Marry the Right Man.” I happen to think Appelbaum is appalling for implying Clinton could/should have controlled her husband’s infidelities. She goes on to speculate that Clinton continued her doomed campaign perhaps because “she was trying to prove something about her odd marriage—or, more likely, prove something to her odd husband.” Appelbaum conjures up the worst of feminine stereotypes–that the insecure Clinton derives her self-worth from her husband and marriage. I mean, really? Clinton was willing to keep her campaign machine alive and spend millions of dollars just because she felt bad about herself after Bill’s philandering? Appelbaum is clueless.
Where is the middle ground here?
Matt Taibbi says the strength of Clinton’s support for Obama in the coming months determines whether we should see her campaign as a hard-fought feminist battle or a “selfish, indulgent, pointlessly divisive and destructive exercise.”
How about this: Clinton stayed in the race so long because she is a power-hungry, calculated politician who invoked feminist language to justify her long campaign, but she also believes, or convinced herself, that her attempt to break the highest glass ceiling was noble.
Obviously Clinton’s failure was caused by the complicated relationship between old fashioned misogyny, the Clinton reputation, Clinton’s own missteps, and Obama’s amazingness.
The best part: time won’t tell which factors were most important. The warring factions will continue upholding their side which either ignores sexism or claims it is the most crucial factor.
I just can’t wait until someone makes a classy Hollywood drama about this. Meryl Streep should star as Hillary.