Friday, June 6, 2008

How Hillary failed feminism

For the first time in my life, I felt embarrassed to call myself a feminist.

I realized that as Hillary Clinton gave her narcissistic non-concession speech Tuesday, which should have marked the end of a historic campaign for women everywhere. But I want to send out my heartfelt thanks to her, Geraldine Ferraro, EMILY's List and New York NOW and Harriet Christian for doing what right-wing blowhards never could.

Lady Hillary sounded only slightly less sour and a smidge saner than dear Harriet, the Clinton supporter raving outside Saturday's Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting made instantly famous on YouTube.

"The Democrats are throwing the election away! And for what? An inadequate black male?" Christian cackled, adding on Fox News that "99 percent of blacks don't even know why they're voting for" Barack Obama.

That kind of racism, once jaw-dropping, is now par for the course for cutthroat Clintonistas.

Harriet was only one of a motley crew of bitter white women screaming that Obama was a "socialist" leading an "anti-woman cult." All the blind rage about "massive disenfranchisement" was over Clinton losing four whole delegates (two, since they were halved) from my state of Michigan.

I kid you not.

But it's easy to say sayonara to reality when your candidate has. Most days, Hillz lavishes more praise on John McCain that Obama, whom she again declared less qualified than herself after he clinched the nomination Tuesday. Not that she would gracefully concede, as she probably banished calculators, as well as TVs in the Baruch College bunker she holed herself up in.

How ironic is it for the wannabe feminist-in-chief to have adopted the persona of "Math is tough" Barbie?

Clinton seemed determined to string out her self-immolated campaign, make Obama sweat and ding him even more, until boatloads of her Capitol Hill colleagues told her to hit the road Wednesday. True to form, she was shocked, still expecting her loyal subjects to fuel a last-minute comeback, as is the Clinton birthright.

Hillary never could own up to her own failings in her campaign - the arrogance, absurdly bloated adviser salaries and lack of strategy after Super Tuesday. And she certainly could never acknowledge Baby Barack's strengths - superb organization, fundraising prowess and oratorical mastery.

No, it was sexism that got her in the end.

How is anyone buying this? Our heroine was the undisputed frontrunner as wife of a popular former two-term president who's run the party for 15 years, with a $109 million personal fortune to boot. The primary system was cannily crafted by cronies like the aptly monikered Harold Ickes to ensure a swift Clintonian coronation.

And when she started to lose, she viciously bludgeoned Obama, aided by surrogates like Gerry Ferraro whose race-baiting rhetoric resembled that of toothless Southern hicks in the Jim Crow era.

Perhaps even more disturbingly, Clinton's strategy came down to trying to nakedly engineer an Obama meltdown. She couldn't just pray for another Rev. Wright; she had to show all those "hardworking white Americans" the colossal error they were making to go with the Kenyan-Kansan (and mess with the queen).

So when she let fly her musing on Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, it was a telling glimpse into her Machiavellian psyche that seemed almost wistful, as though a bullet in Barack's brain was her only road to the White House.

It wasn't ideal, but she'd take it. Politics is a bloodsport, after all.

And somehow Obama, that "skinny black guy with big ears and a funny name," as he describes himself with the kind of self-deprecation Clinton is allergic to, defied all odds.

He went off script and beat her. Talk about historic.

As for Clinton, she mangled her moment in history. Feminism didn't fail her; she failed feminism.

The melodramatic hand-wringing ("Now we'll never have a woman president!") is ridiculous and an insult to talented female politicians across the country, many of whom pointedly backed Obama.

We will. It just won't be Hillary - not now.

Once upon a time, I counted Hillary Rodham Clinton a role model as a champion high school debater mulling law school. Having a first lady with a career was about three decades behind, I thought, never figuring out why she dropped the idea as quickly as her maiden name. In the end, I decided I hated money, hence my esteemed career as a writer.

And while I owe generations of women who came before me a debt of gratitude, I am profoundly tired of the identity politics wars that have decimated the left for a half-century. I am sophisticated enough to know the narrative of history is not gender (nor race); it is multifaceted and broad, terrible and triumphant.

If you don't get that, you don't get anything.

So when Clinton lauded herself Tuesday for launching a campaign that inspired parents to tell their daughters, "See, you can be anything you want to be," I tittered at her trademark vanity at first.

But she's right. May they grow up to be far more honorable leaders than she.


Janine said...

Excellent piece. I've long thought that there seemed to be a sort of reverse-feminism applied when it came to criticisms of Hillary; legitimate critiques of her, her actions, and her stated policies were nullified by cries of "You just don't like a strong woman," which was confusing to a feminist like myself...

This isn't to deny that there wasn't rampant misogyny directed at her and her campaign, but the much subtler (and occasionally louder) racism directed at Obama often got trampled under it.

Kathy said...

I'm a woman, I am pro-choice, pro equal pay and the works...but I cannot stand Hillary. Why does that make me an anti-feminist?

Regardless of what she wants us to believe...she is not our ambassador.

Susan J. Demas said...

Janine and Kathy,

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your perspectives, which have largely been absent in the debate.


Janine said...

Ugh. I have grown so tired of the unrelenting hostility coming from some Hillary supporters. If I hear one more time how misogynistic I am or how much of a feminist I'm *not*, I will (to quote Bill Hicks), puke blood.