Suddenly and as if on cue, as tends to happen with campaign surrogates days before an election, supporters of Hillary Clinton collectively advanced a curious argument. Madeline Albright, the former secretary of state, declared “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” at a Saturday rally in New Hampshire. (It might not have helped much; Clinton would go on to lose lopsidedly.)
On Bill Maher’s show the night before, Gloria Steinem made that shaky premise even more dubious, offering that women supporting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders were too busy chasing men to form their own opinions. “And when you’re young, you’re thinking ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie,” she said, apparently endorsing the same sexist, estrogen-emphasizing arguments of her past opponents.
Steinem has since retracted, Albright has doubled down, and Clinton played the “Good grief, we’re getting offended by everything these days” card, though one prominent partisan of hers—husband Bill Clinton—continued the campaign’s practice of accusing Sanders of sexism by way of insinuation and associative guilt just this weekend.
Hillary Clinton gave a neither-here-nor-there endorsement of Albright’s comment, calling it a “light-hearted but very pointed remark.” Pointed, yes, toward the conclusion that all women should unthinkingly support a women candidate and that the politics of identity eclipse policy. My condolences to the whole of womankind condemned to the fire for being unable to simultaneously support Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina.
That the Clinton campaign is in a bad way among millennials is not news. Sanders took 84 percent of the Iowan millennials—and took the female millennial vote by similarly lopsided margins—understandably embarrassing for the former secretary of state. Though her campaign has enlisted the support of Lena Dunham, Kim Kardashian, and Katy Perry, nothing appears to have curried female millennial favor.
Clinton’s lazy appeals to womankind to rally behind her will be deservedly derided before dissipating in a few news cycles. But out of the particular emerges the general, and Clinton seems to be drifting into a familiar panicky pattern that forebodes future setbacks: her fondness for employing family consiglieri to do the dirty work, as if none of the stink will ever make its way back to her.
Chelsea Clinton stated, falsely, that Bernie Sanders would “dismantle” Obamacare and the Child Health Insurance Program. Bill Clinton speaks of “anger” and “resentment” toward his wife. Family bulldog David Brock peddles attacks on Sanders’s health, following the same track of Republican critics who committed themselves to a shameless campaign of shaming the secretary into releasing her medical records.
In her last try at the contest, Clinton also went wrong when surrogates ran amok. Bill stepped in it when he compared Obama’s South Carolina primary win to Jesse Jackson’s, channeling the same women-must-vote-for-women-or-go-to-hell attitude embraced heartily (or light-heartedly!) by her campaign today.
Clinton has accomplished the remarkable task of appearing the unenergetic, establishment candidate in two contests where, as the first female nominated to head a major presidential ticket, she would make history.
Campaigning has never been the strength of the former first lady—her greatest quality has always been her encyclopedic policy knowledge. As the awkward, wonky scion helming the political machine of a dynasty that has already exhausted its current eligible stock of presidential candidates, Hillary most resembles Jeb Bush, and she would probably be doing as poorly as star-crossed Jeb were the Democratic electorate as committed to self-immolation as their Republican counterparts.
Worse, less than a third of voters say they trust Clinton, who is now draping herself tightly in the progressive politics of the Obama era, and can appear a bit of a political chameleon after more than two decades of national prominence. Some of that may be the result of unfair attacks, but not all of it. Witness her recent about-face on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or her long history of opposing gay rights before LGBT rights became a campaign platform.
Populism still holds sway among Democrats, but another upstart who seemed far-fetched a few months ago now poses a serious threat to Clinton’s presidential prospects. In frightening moments like these, her campaign tends to fall back on disingenuous attacks that only further its decline.
By tarring male opponents as sexist and condemning dissatisfied woman to perdition, Clinton’s friends turn on its head what seems to be the basic point of feminism—that women be judged equally among men, not preferentially. There are good reasons to support Hillary, and there are good reasons to not. But not letting reason trump baser factionalist impulses is the central point of our democracy.
Idrees M. Kahloon ’16, a former Crimson editorial executive, is an applied math concentrator in Dunster House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.
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