Blogs > HNN > Clintonism not Sexism Defeated Hillary

Jun 8, 2008 9:50 am


Clintonism not Sexism Defeated Hillary



Hillary Clintons’ supporters, justifiably, are devastated. She came so close to winning. Having waited so long for a Mrs. President, millions of women shared Hillary Clinton’s assumption that this year would witness that historic breakthrough. Especially in the last three months, Hillary Clinton found her groove, honing her message, campaigning effectively, winning the big states. But she could not overcome the lead she unwillingly spotted Barack Obama. More than 17 million voters later, Hillary’s camp has every right to mourn, yet little basis for claiming she endured discrimination. Clintonism – Hillary’s and Bill’s peculiar combination of pathologies – defeated Hillary Clinton in 2008, not sexism.

In 2007, many toasted the Democrats for having a viable female candidate whose fame made her far more than a gender-based candidate and a viable African-American candidate whose message made him far more than a race-based candidate. Overlooking the ugly identity politics to which Democrats in particular and Americans in general have been addicted, we hoped that the candidates would run on message and their records, not on a sense of group frustration or entitlement – and that the candidates would be judged on their merits not by the color of their skin or the combination of their chromosomes.

It is hard to quantify prejudice when both racism and sexism have been delegitimized. Our favorite tools, surveys, require honesty, while many racists and sexists know to camouflage their ugly feelings. Still, just as John Kennedy played the Catholic card cleverly, and mobilized Republican-leaning Catholics to vote for him and the Democratic Party in 1960, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama benefited from great enthusiasm among women and blacks, respectively. This mass mobilization appears to have delivered far more votes for their respective camps than were lost to prejudice.

But, as the conflict intensified, it was, alas, inevitable, that had Obama lost, some blacks would have yelled racism – just as some women are now attributing Clinton’s loss to sexism. The bills in the indictment are feeble. If the charges are limited to a handful of poorly-chosen phrases journalists and politicians used, in the heat of a campaign wordfest, America is a far more enlightened place than most Democrats acknowledge.

Clearly, the media – if we can speak in these general terms – was rougher on Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, especially at first. But to attribute the media bias to sexism requires some evidence. Barack Obama benefited from great coverage because he offered reporters a fresh face and a great story. From the start of the campaign, Hillary Clinton’s problems had far more to do with the baggage she carried from the 1990s than the baggage she shares with her sisters in arms.

What really defeated Hillary Clinton was Clintonism. Her arrogant air of presumption, her preference for staffers better known for loyalty than competence, and her and her husband’s aggressive tactics backfired this year. Americans, it seems, are not just fed up with George W. Bush but with politics in general. And the two Clintons represent the polarizing, do-or-die, hyper-partisan, exceedingly personal politics of the baby boomers, both right and left – that both Barack Obama and John McCain repudiate by their respective ages and by the message each generates.

It would be easier to make the charge of sexism stick had Hillary Clinton run the kind of campaign she ran from March to May for the year-and-a-half before that. Instead, we watched an overpaid staff fritter away money, opportunities, and ultimately, a chance at victory. We watched a candidate with obvious talents and passion, fail to deliver a compelling message and try inheriting the White House rather than earning it. We watched the candidate’s husband engage in the sharp-elbow tactics and self-destructive sloppiness for which he was so famous in the 1990s, but which so many seem to have forgotten in the haze of Bush-generated nostalgia for the Clinton era. The changes in the Clinton campaign after March, in personnel, messaging and tactics implicitly acknowledge the failures before March.

Hillary Clinton has always been a fast learner, smart, able to improvise, willing to be self-critical, and effective at recovering. She displayed all those qualities in this campaign – and was rewarded with hundreds of delegates and millions of votes. That she did not start changing soon enough, or recover fast enough to surmount the lead she and her incompetent campaign staff gave Obama, is not due to sexism.

Part of breaking the glass ceiling and competing with everyone else is avoiding the tendency to attribute criticism or setbacks to bias. In fairness, Hillary Clinton has not complained about gender bias. Her disappointed supporters should follow her example, celebrating how far she came, and learning from her how to learn from mistakes and defeats not simply wallow in them.

CONSOLATION PRIZE: For all those Democrats depressed by Hillary’s loss – and for all those Republicans worried about the – dare we call it – Obamomentum I prescribe a simple Rx: watch Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. It is hard for anyone who loves America, and loves democracy, not to be moved by his centrist, inclusive, nationalist vision. Whether he can implement it, of course, is the big question…



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scout oreo - 6/15/2008

This is my first visit to HNN and I chanced upon this article. Gil Troy's essay on Clintonism is simply ludicrous. I am more than surprised that a professor of History penned this scurrilous and biased article. Clearly we all have our biases, but it would be nice to have some objectivity in this essay and not merely opinions tilting against the Senator with a blatant disregard for the sexism that occurred against Senator Clinton in the primary. Was sexism the main reason she lost? I do not know, but my guess is that it played a part. I imagine that many factors contributed, especially the lack of organization for the Caucus states. Yet the fact that nearly all the sexist remarks made during the primary race remained unchallenged by the DNC and prominent members of the Democratic Party, (not to mention the media) speaks volumes about the acceptance of this type of discrimination against women. Are the Clinton's an ambitious couple--Yes. The same can be said about the Obama’s (and the Bushes and McCains, and Kennedys and on and on and on). Ambition does not make these families nefarious and bent on obtaining power at all costs. Public service today appears to be a tricky business. When you do not care for a particular individual, their every motivation for attaining office is viewed as a power grab or in a negative light. One section of this essay was especially irritating:

Her arrogant air of presumption, her preference for staffers better known for loyalty than competence, and her and her husband’s aggressive tactics backfired this year. Americans, it seems, are not just fed up with George W. Bush but with politics in general. And the two Clintons represent the polarizing, do-or-die, hyper-partisan, exceedingly personal politics of the baby boomers, both right and left – that both Barack Obama and John McCain repudiate by their respective ages and by the message each generates.(My emphasis)

This paragraph is what is wrong with the juvenile, pundit analysis in today’s political climate. Senator Clinton’s confidence is portrayed as arrogance, her staff is characterized in a demeaning manner with their loyalty somehow a liability. Commentators take tough words (and oftentimes benign phrases) in a competition and transform them into unacceptable “aggressive tactics” instead of viewing them merely as part of a vibrant contest. All the actions of the Clintons over the last 30 years or so are summed up as “polarizing, do-or-die, hyper-partisan, exceeding personal politics of the baby boomers.” There is no space to outline the many positive influences of the Clintons and the baby-boomers in these comments, but even a cursory search will provide some examples of cooperation not polarization, of accommodation instead of do-or-die tactics.

The implication that Obama and McCain are politically pure politicians that will transform the political landscape into a more positive atmosphere is naïve and ignores recent evidence of the primaries. The Obama campaign, while insisting their campaign would be hopeful and not go negative, consistently depicted the Clintons as willing to do or say anything to get elected. How is this a new type of politics? Please. This was merely a crafty slight of hand that gave the illusion of bringing light yourself while branding the other as negative. Typical politics. McCain is no better. He declared that the Hamas would rather have Obama as President and thus implied Obama would be a weak President. Pretending that McCain and Obama are above the fray is to stick your head in the sand.

To make clear my own political tendencies, I have respect and admiration for Obama, McCain, and Clinton. As a Democrat, I cannot vote for McCain since his social policies are not in line with my way of thinking, but that does not diminish my respect for him. I have long been an admirer of Hillary Clinton and voted for her in the primary. I initially leaned toward Obama, who I have followed since I read his first book many years before he spoke at the Convention in 2004. After reading this book, I told most of my friends that he would one day be President. This was in the late 1990s. However, during the primary I was disappointed by his lack of substance and grasp of issues during some of the early debates. Clinton seemed much more capable to me. Now that the primaries are over, I strongly support Obama. I think he is more prepared to be President since Clinton consistently challenged him and kept him on his toes. He is a fast learner. Even so, with many gifts, especially as an orator, he is still a man with human frailties and weaknesses like all of us. Putting him on a pedestal will only make his mistakes more dramatic. Let us keep him in perspective, as few have been able to do with the Clinton’s.


James Draper - 6/13/2008

You can't escape charges of sexism and racism while legitimizing identity politics - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120062413171299477.html?mod=special_page_campaign2008_mostpop


Robert Harbison - 6/11/2008

I think more than "Clintonism" it is "Clinton Derangement Syndrome". The media and many republicans have an insane bias against ANYTHING Clinton. A person only had to live in the US during the 90s (the years of the "Hunting of the President") to see that this vocal minority segment of the population VIOLENTLY hates both Clintons. The Obama campaing, is not about winning the White House, the DNC KNOWS that he wil not win - it is about elminating the last vestiges of the Clinton Legacy.


arica coleman - 6/11/2008

Gil is right that sexism did not cause Hill to lose the nomination, he is wrong to suggest that Hill did not complain of sexism. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-mitchell/full-transcript-of-hillar_b_102716.html.

Also, Obama took some serious hits as well. Bosnia, RFK and Clinton's pandering to whites did not get the same media coverage as Wright and Bittergate which were constantly in the media from early March to early May. Also, the media let Clinton spin results anyway she wanted. They knew it was over by March but they kept it going.

Hillary loss because her opponent ran a far better campaign, period. Her campaign went bust after Super Tuesday. She had no plan B.


Gary W. Daily - 6/11/2008

“Clintonism,” whatever that fill-in-the-blank, all-purpose jab might mean, undoubtedly played a part in HRC’s failure to win the Democratic nomination. Close elections are like this. But does this rule out the sexism and downright misogyny that Clinton confronted throughout the campaign (and not just the “early” days as Troy would want us to think) as a contributing factor? Does Troy really want to put this ugly reality to rest and go on with male political business as usual? Michelle Obama is the next target of sexism, so a diminish and forget strategy may not serve those interested in “hope” and “change” should choose to follow.

Gil Troy asks: “But to attribute the media bias to sexism requires some evidence.” And just where has Gil Troy been through all these long months? Even the casual observer of the media and the press could pick up on examples of HRC being harshly characterized and covertly criticized on the basis of irrelevant gender bias. Andrew Stephen of the New Statesman (5-22-2008) in his “Hating Hillary” piece nicely hit some low points in this regard. I quote one paragraph as “evidence” to counter Troy’s sniffing dismissal of what is perfectly clear to all who have been paying attention.

“I am no particular fan of Clinton. Nor, I think, would friends and colleagues accuse me of being racist. But it is quite inconceivable that any leading male presidential candidate would be treated with such hatred and scorn as Clinton has been. What other senator and serious White House contender would be likened by National Public Radio's political editor, Ken Rudin, to the demoniac, knife-wielding stalker played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Or described as "a fucking whore" by Randi Rhodes, one of the foremost personalities of the supposedly liberal Air America? Would Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein fame) ever publicly declare his disgust about a male candidate's "thick ankles"? Could anybody have envisaged that a website set up specifically to oppose any other candidate would be called Citizens United Not Timid? (We do not need an acronym for that.)”

But Troy and others might not accept these examples as evidence, only “tedious and tendentious complaints.” And so they are because as Stephen so pointedly puts it, “sexism has been allowed to take its place as a form of discrimination that is now openly acceptable. "How do we beat the bitch?" a woman asked Senator John McCain, this year's Republican presidential nominee, at a Republican rally last November. To his shame, McCain did not rebuke the questioner but joined in the laughter. Had his supporter asked "How do we beat the nigger?" and McCain reacted in the same way, however, his presidential hopes would deservedly have gone up in smoke. "Iron my shirt," is considered amusing heckling of Clinton. "Shine my shoes," rightly, would be hideously unacceptable if yelled at Obama.”

Why should women and feminists swallow Troy’s wildly wrong statement that sexism has been “delegitimatized”? Evidence many of us are willing to face demonstrates something else, something that has been around for a long time and still has a firm grip in our culture.

[Full disclosure: I wrote in John Edwards’ name when I voted in the Indiana primary–but that’s another MSM erases candidate nightmare story. Obama has my full support in the coming election. I just wish he would finally get around to putting a section on his web site that _directly_ speaks to Women’s Issues.]


Gary W. Daily - 6/11/2008

“Clintonism,” whatever that fill-in-the-blank, all-purpose jab might mean, undoubtedly played a part in HRC’s failure to win the Democratic nomination. Close elections are like this. But does this rule out the sexism and downright misogyny that Clinton confronted throughout the campaign (and not just the “early” days as Troy would want us to think) as a contributing factor? Does Troy really want to put this ugly reality to rest and go on with male political business as usual? Michelle Obama is the next target of sexism, so a diminish and forget strategy may not serve those interested in “hope” and “change” should choose to follow.

Gil Troy asks: “But to attribute the media bias to sexism requires some evidence.” And just where has Gil Troy been through all these long months? Even the casual observer of the media and the press could pick up on examples of HRC being harshly characterized and covertly criticized on the basis of irrelevant gender bias. Andrew Stephen of the New Statesman (5-22-2008) in his “Hating Hillary” piece nicely hit some low points in this regard. I quote one paragraph as “evidence” to counter Troy’s sniffing dismissal of what is perfectly clear to all who have been paying attention.

“I am no particular fan of Clinton. Nor, I think, would friends and colleagues accuse me of being racist. But it is quite inconceivable that any leading male presidential candidate would be treated with such hatred and scorn as Clinton has been. What other senator and serious White House contender would be likened by National Public Radio's political editor, Ken Rudin, to the demoniac, knife-wielding stalker played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Or described as "a fucking whore" by Randi Rhodes, one of the foremost personalities of the supposedly liberal Air America? Would Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein fame) ever publicly declare his disgust about a male candidate's "thick ankles"? Could anybody have envisaged that a website set up specifically to oppose any other candidate would be called Citizens United Not Timid? (We do not need an acronym for that.)”

But Troy and others might not accept these examples as evidence, only “tedious and tendentious complaints.” And so they are because as Stephen so pointedly puts it, “sexism has been allowed to take its place as a form of discrimination that is now openly acceptable. "How do we beat the bitch?" a woman asked Senator John McCain, this year's Republican presidential nominee, at a Republican rally last November. To his shame, McCain did not rebuke the questioner but joined in the laughter. Had his supporter asked "How do we beat the nigger?" and McCain reacted in the same way, however, his presidential hopes would deservedly have gone up in smoke. "Iron my shirt," is considered amusing heckling of Clinton. "Shine my shoes," rightly, would be hideously unacceptable if yelled at Obama.”

Why should women and feminists swallow Troy’s wildly wrong statement that sexism has been “delegitimatized”? Evidence many of us are willing to face demonstrates something else, something that has been around for a long time and still has a firm grip in our culture.

[Full disclosure: I wrote in John Edwards’ name when I voted in the Indiana primary–but that’s another MSM erases candidate nightmare story. Obama has my full support in the coming election. I just wish he would finally get around to putting a section on his web site that _directly_ speaks to Women’s Issues.]


Charles Lee Geshekter - 6/11/2008

Gil Troy provided a succinct and persuasive explanation for Hillary's defeat in the primaries.

When hearing those tedious and tendentious complaints about alleged "sexism" towards Hillary's campaign, I wonder if that charge applies to the vast majority of women under 40 who voted for Obama, and does it also apply to the many female journalists who grilled Hillary and raised similar concerns to those pinpointed by Gil Troy?

I didn't think so.