If Clinton Is a Monster, So Am I

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.

If Clinton Is a Monster, So Am I

20 thoughts on “If Clinton Is a Monster, So Am I

  1. 1

    I have argued with you on your FB page about this primary. I agree with everything you are saying here, and thank you for reaching out to me and my ilk. At last night’s town hall, Hillary did a masterful job of articulating the crushing weight of the narrative against her.

    It’s no fun being so virulently opposed to good people with whom you share common cause about most other things. Your thoughtful perspective will be extremely helpful in my quest to maintain friendships in the face of political disagreements.

  2. 4

    Here’s a little clue, folks. If I’m talking about how the lie machine is allowed to damage politically effective women, and your response is “But this woman is bad!”, you’re telling me it’s fine for people who think I’m bad to crank up the lie machine against me. Knock it the fuck off.

  3. 5

    I suspect the reason the lie machine hasn’t cranked up against Bernie is that they still haven’t taken him seriously. But they will, more so as his numbers improve. It won’t be about him any more than it has been about Hillary. It’s about damaging anybody not on their side of the issues. If we are disheartened about our own candidates, we don’t show up at the polls and they win, regardless of how many of us in this country actually believe in their spew.
    We don’t have to help them.
    I, for one, will remember the adage about voting your heart in the primary and your head in the general elections. It’s all about the Supreme Court, and ANY liberal President will be vastly better than EVERY so-called Conservative candidate. Go Hillary! Go Bernie! Just, maybe go a little farther, Hillary!

  4. 6

    Oh, and FYI, none of the above is meant to argue against your point. It’s just a piece on a bigger canvas. And we can fight if we’ll just bother to.

  5. 7

    As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I’m often appalled at the conduct of a cohort of my fellow-travelers, who think that suddenly it’s okay to resort to misogyny and lies to undercut Hillary’s campaign. (One example I saw recently was a meme where they hypothetically ask a question, typically on a pop-culture topic, to each candidate, and their expected responses. Bernie is always shown having a deep understanding of whatever it is, no matter how silly that would be, while Hillary’s answer is always both shallow in comprehension and visibly insincere. But if there’s one thing that I would never, ever accuse Hillary of, it’s that she doesn’t study issues to encyclopedic depth. It’s an absurd accusation, an attempt to paint her as a ‘shallow ditz’.)

    So, yeah, Stephanie, I totally get where you’re coming from. I’ve got reasons for why I’d rank her below many other nationally prominent Democrats in my choice for top office, but resorting to some of the tactics I’ve seen from her ostensibly liberal opponents is just shameful.

  6. 8

    There are about a million places online where you can talk about the candidates and whom you support or hate and why. This one post isn’t one of them, because no one seems to be able to focus on this topic while they’re doing that. Period.

  7. 10

    Tim Murphy at Mother Jones shares some remarks from Madeleine Kunin, who experienced a similar attack (being portrayed as anti-feminist to Sanders’s feminist) when running against him in the mid-1980s. Kunin sees similar tactics (decades-old, right wing-generated lies being refashioned for modern left-wing purpose) being used against Clinton now. Interesting, but highly de-motivating, pattern about the persistence of long-debunked, easily refutable lies. I’m sorry the climate is making you relive (revisit, anticipate) your own experiences with harassment. The way this has played out sucks.

  8. 11

    I see a number of parallels between the outright misogyny being aimed at Hillary Clinton, with the situation of our recent Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who had to deal gracefully with a horrific, organised, misogynist opposition to her leadership, led by a regressive sexist shitbag named Abbott (only deposed by a slightly more progressive leader late last year). I see the US situation as completely different in terms of how political mechanics work – but the way misogyny functions is absolutely the same.
    Hillary is the only serious, credible female contender left in the 2016 race (with a negligible 2% vote in Iowa, we can probably forget Carly Fiorina along with the other GOP also-rans, currently dropping out of sight) and I foresee a horrible time ahead for her progressing towards the nomination, and then if she is successful, onwards to the election. (As an outsider to the way the US does presidential races, it is really striking to see how the Democrats obviously have two excellent candidates who effectively tied in Iowa, but the next few months will be spent by their campaigns tearing each other apart – it is hard to see what is gained by that.)
    Julia had all of the slurs, ‘bitch’, ‘witch’, and much worse, aimed at her (extreme content notice on this PDF dossier of abuse compiled by Anne Summers), as well as a narrative specially crafted after the hung 2010 election that she had lied her way back to a minority government, rather than the fact that she had to negotiate with minor parties and independents to achieve anything.
    In other words, there was a hate campaign and a lie machine already present and raring to go, that only needed the slightest push to start rolling – men who hate women. This was especially noticeable on social media – see Anne Summer’s dossier above. (And while there are a few women who hate other women, and I don’t want to pull a #NotAllMisogynists… the majority of abusive hatred came from sexist men.) The opposition leader, who couldn’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag (which is why Gillard remained as PM after the hung election, rather than Abbott winning government an entire election period earlier), was only too happy, not to lift a finger to prevent it, but to actually provide the push himself.
    Even three or so years later, I am still extremely angry about what Julia had to go through as PM – it was a colossal disincentive to any Australian woman who might imagine that she too, could one day be the leader of her country. I see many of the same dynamics at work making it a hostile working environment for Hillary, too, and I am almost dreading what the remainder of 2016 will hold.

  9. 13

    I think it is important that we tackle misogyny and a culture of lies and harassment wherever we find it. If we only do it when the target is “on our side”, we’re not really against misogyny, lies and harassment but only against those things happening to people we like.
    It does not matter if it’s Clinton or Fiorina or Palin or Coulter. And we must make clear that tackling the misogyny aimed at them does not mean support of their positions or politics (as a European your elections are beginning to annoy the fuck out of me. Get over and done with it, will you?)

  10. 15

    Even knowing that it is almost 100% BS, it has been incredibly difficult for me to separate the real Clinton from the decades of dehumanizing that she’s suffered from pretty much every direction. Even the legitimate criticism is couched in terms that are more harsh and fundamentally about her as a person than you see directed against any other candidate at any level. Obama got a lot of the same from a racist position, but Clinton has been dealing with it since before I was old enough to vote. Where other politicians get disagreement with the understanding that politics is compromise, Clinton is treated as though she’s some diabolical monster.

    The “left” has largely accepted and embraced the big lie about Clinton, even if they recognize most of the little lies as false.

  11. 16

    Let me see if I understand this argument:

    $INDIVIDUAL is a cold, conniving, $EXPLETIVE who makes Machiavelli look like a teddy bear. Therefore, I don’t want anything to do with $INDIVIDUAL and will do my best to keep $INDIVIDUAL from power.

    Is that it, in a nutshell? Because the flip side is that you want people in power who you would like to have a beer with.

    It also implies that you would do anything possible to keep Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon from power, regardless of your other principles. And yet …

    Those four conniving bastards were the most effective leaders for their causes that the United States has had in more than 200 years. They shaped, and are still shaping, the world we live in in too many ways to count, and (depending on what you whether you like those changes) are either iconic leaders or monsters. Personally, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with any of them; Jimmy Carter is more my style. But politically?

    I voted against Nixon and would again without hesitation, not because he was a bastard but because he was an astonishingly effective bastard who accomplished his political goal of reshaping the US political scene.

    Johnson was an incompetent at running a war and got too many of my friends and classmates killed (and as a result put Nixon in the White House. On the other hand, he put through a domestic agenda that easily rivals FDR’s and that the Right is still trying to chip away, mostly without hope of success — and at a cost (the South) that he knew in advance and chose to pay.

    FDR? What can you say? My mother died hating his name, despite living on Social Security and my father’s veterans’ benefits from FDR’s war.

    Lincoln? If there were a bar in Hell, he and Johnson would understand each other if only for each having paid the price of losing the South for their party for something that they considered worth it. But let’s not forget that Lincoln chose to spend more American blood than in all the other wars this country has ever fought before or since. Not in percent of population, either — in sheer numbers of headstones.

    Damn right they were calculating bastards, but (depending on your team) they were out conniving bastards. And if you don’t allow conniving bastards onto your team, you’re going to lose to the teams that recruit them. Because hardball politics is no place for teddy bears who can’t recognize the price that their goals will cost or, having seen the price tag, refuse to face it squarely and choose.

  12. 17

    Dragging the above back to Stephanie’s point: when people start in on what a bitch Hillary (or any other woman) is, they lose me. Not because they’re targeting women, but because if they were talking about a man it would be admiringly.

    So I take it as a compliment, nod, and find find someone interesting to listen to.

  13. 18

    On the subject of misogyny in the campaign season, I am interested in how you would characterize Gloria Steinem’s statements re: “young women” supporting Sanders, not because they have made a debatable choice to push for economic reforms over feminist causes, but because they want to be “where the boys are”. As someone who is a Steinem fan, I was seriously disappointed by this weekend’s comment-notpology tango.

  14. 19

    I’ll just quote myself from elsewhere on Steinem:

    There are identifiable reasons for a generational divide in support for Clinton vs Sanders. Some of those are unfortunate, like the fact that the picture younger feminists have of Clinton is necessarily tainted by the version of her history handed down by a political machine that has always hated her. Some of them are boons, like the Millennial idealism and passion that our political system desperately needs. But this? This is just bullshit.

  15. 20

    Fair enough. Hadn’t seen the other comment, and thank you for it.

    I was annoyed when the Steinem quote was being paired with Albright’s “special place in Hell” mantra, too, because the views are very obviously not the same thing. You have to be deliberately misreading Albright not to get her point (it’s a point that can be argued, but not something hideously unreasonable on the face of it), whereas I just couldn’t find a good possible way to take Steinem’s statement.

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