Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Ever since Eve: Hillary and the War on Women

By Robin Lakoff

Hillary Clinton

There have been recently several attacks by Republicans (just for example, Karl Rove and Reince Priebus) on the character and competence of Hillary Rodham Clinton: about her complicity in Benghazi and the Boko Haram kidnappings, her age, her health, and more. The response by the Democrats and the supposedly liberal pundit class has been less than tepid. In fact, I would characterize it as frequently favorable.

Hillary Clinton

An interesting shift has happened in the run-up to 2016. Until a few months ago, most commentators on the liberal side saw Clinton’s candidacy as “inevitable” and at the same time saw her as a strong and desirable candidate: competent, feisty, a tough fighter, and so on. Now, as the time grows closer, funny things are beginning to happen to the Democratic pundit class: they are starting to shift.

So the other day, on "Hardball," Chris Matthews – formerly a strong Clinton supporter – was starting to express doubts about her electability and trying to think of other viable candidates to run in her stead; on the May 20 op-ed page of The New York Times , Frank Bruni, a regular columnist, has gone on the attack. It is an odd sort of attack, a kind of for-your-own-good-dear kind of character assassination.

“That she [HRC] endures it [the Republican smear treatment] is admirable. That she’s so willing to is scary,” says Bruni. For Hillary (and Bill with her), the desire to win despite it all is a sign of “rapaciousness beyond all bounds.”

In other words, don’t blame the Republicans for their lies and distortions. Blame Hillary and her enabler, Bill, for fighting against them. What would normally be seen as virtue and courage is rapacity. She has, moreover, “baggage and obstacles” that are likely to make her unelectable. But that’s OK because she is “political royalty, awash in money and celebrity endorsements” – in other words, she’s uppity.

So I start to wonder, looking at the peculiar ways this game is playing out on all sides:

1 . Why do the Republicans fear HRC?

Because she is such a strong candidate? The conventional answer, from Republicans, Democrats, and pundits alike.

Because she is female. The real answer, explaining the peculiar passion and desperation, at this early stage of the game.

2. What should the Democrats (and their supporters) be doing?

Be proactive – attack the Republican hopefuls just as they are doing to HRC. But they aren’t. Not a word.

Push back strongly against the Republican attempt to destroy HRC. (If she really is the heir apparent, isn’t that what they need to do – right now? But their response is lackluster at best; more and more, they are essentially agreeing with their opponents: maybe she is brain damaged; certainly, the woman is old.)

3. What aren’t the Democrats doing?

See (2).

4. Why aren’t the Democrats doing what they should be doing?

Because that’s what the Democrats always do. (True enough, but not true enough.)

Because they don’t want HRC to run or to be elected. (Any more than the Republicans do.)

5. Why not?

Because they think she can’t win. (The conventional truth.)

Because she is a woman. (The true truth.)

6. Why do the absurd Republican charges keep gaining traction?

Because everything bad is a woman’s fault, so these charges against HRC must be true. There’s Eve, there’s Helen, there’s Pandora -- the list goes on and on.

With regard to this point, consider an article sent to me by Andrew Lakoff (thanks!). Interesting here is the author’s POV: Sarah Ellison (the interviewer) made Arthur Sulzberger look both dumb and smug, and she is to be blamed for that:

In Ellison's defense [says Josh Marshall, the author], the quotes do make Sulzberger sound like something along the lines of an unselfaware doofus. And what he himself now says tends to confirm what I wrote a short while ago: that he got rolled or played or something'ed by Dean Baquet.

Why “in Ellison’s defense”? Isn’t this what a smart and tough reporter needs to do? If Sulzberger was Baquet’s patsy, isn’t that worthy of criticism? Why does her toughness toward Sulzberger require any defense?

So the fact that a woman reporter reduced the publisher of The New York Times to “an unselfaware doofus” constitutes a case of bad, “aggressive” behavior – and so Sulzberger’s embarrassment is not the result of his incompetence, but is a woman’s fault?

7. If HRC is rendered hors de combat in 2016, what will the Democrats do?

Find another woman. (No, because there really isn’t one ready and electable in 2016. Warren is too far left and too inexperienced. Granholm was born in Canada to Canadian citizens. Gillibrand is too…something. Sigh of relief.)

Nominate Joe Biden. (Hello, President Cruz! But at least he’s a guy.)

The War on Women is not being fought by the Republicans alone. Many Democrats, male and female, are their willing – nay, eager – allies.