I was chatting with someone last night about politics, like you do, privately, like you do, so we could have a conversation instead of being interrupted by people telling us how Hillary Clinton is evil. Things get a little rough when politics turns people into sea lions. He mentioned appreciating a piece on the Democratic contest at Shakesville, so I went looking for it.
I don’t know whether “Expectations of the Monster” is the piece he was talking about, but I didn’t get past it. I got stuck instead, stuck trying to figure out how to share it. I got stuck trying to figure out how to get people to read it as it was, there on the screen, instead of as a piece of partisan propaganda. It was the same stuck I’d been trying to figure out how to share the “All-Caps” piece (warning: brief auto-play video at the bottom of page) from earlier.
I was still stuck when I went to bed. When I woke up, this is what came out.
When we’re talking about the Democratic presidential nomination, and I tell you that Hillary Clinton’s actual record shows continual movement to the left (which is not flip-flopping), some of you will tell me that you just don’t trust her. You’ll tell me Clinton is calculating, cold, evasive. You’ll point to “scandals” as though the existence of so many allegations proves there must be some core of fact.
You might as well call me “dogmatic” and “authoritarian” to my face.
I’ll tell you that you’re wrong about Clinton. I’ll probably even be diplomatic about it, because the fact that we’re having the conversation in the first place is a political act. I’m not going to put myself through that without goals, and I keep my eye on my political goals even when I’m upset. But I’m likely to trust you a little less. I’m likely to be less comfortable with how you view me.
I’m coming up on four years of concentrated political effort to destroy my reputation in the atheist movement. Some of my friends are approaching five years, but I was mostly a nobody before I insisted on anti-harassment policies and started making them happen. The only things about me, my life, and my demeanor that haven’t been picked apart are things I’ve spent that time not even looking at in public lest someone follow my gaze and decide to start digging.
What Clinton has been put through is so many orders of magnitude worse. Unlike me, she hasn’t made it one of her goals to challenge the narrative itself and make the cost unacceptably high for people who do this to politically effective women. That’s smart. She has other goals, and she can’t do both at once.
That means the narrative stands, though. More than twenty-five years of smears, insinuations, unfounded charges, nitpicking, and sleazy personal insults hang in the air all around her.
When you wave at it all vaguely instead of looking at where it came from, when you tell me she just isn’t trustworthy for reasons, I know all this can work. I know it can destroy a woman whose major “crime” was pushing for progress faster than post-Reagan Republicans were willing to allow, and all without having been elected directly.
I know it can destroy me. I know it can all pop right back up the moment you disagree with me on something political and be used to turn me into a monster.
I could tell you how I feel about that, but I’m just a wee bit defensive at the moment, so I’ll keep that to myself. I wouldn’t want us to be on the outs.
Commenting note: If you think a personal reflection like this is a place to argue for or against your candidate, whoever that might be, think again. Think hard. Trying to talk about this problem–and having that treated as though I were campaigning instead of engaging in the same cultural critique I do every day as a feminist–has been exhausting and disheartening. My reserves of diplomacy are running low.