How can it be said that Senator Clinton is expanding the boundaries of what is possible for all women when she keeps defining her continued legitimacy by claiming working class, particularly older, white women voters will never expand theirs – i.e. will not, no never, vote for Barack Obama?
That’s only the first of several questions I would pose to women supporting Clinton. To help me diagram my other confusions and the counterpoints to them, I’ll turn to Susan Cheever. It was her radio essay last week on NPR titled, Why I Love Hillary, that brought me to the conclusion that after seventeen months of Clinton’s run for the White House, the disconnect between men and the women who support Clinton has not gotten smaller – it’s gotten larger. Not what I would have hoped for.
Cheever started her essay by posing the following question:
“Why is it that the more Hillary loses, the better I like her?”
I don’t know. I don’t like Hillary better the more she loses. More importantly, I trust her less. This has nothing to do with her being a woman or me being a man. I felt the same way about John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden when they kept running even though they had no shot at winning. They all, kept saying they knew they could win, but I didn’t believe they believed it. Therefore, I began to believe less that they actually cared for the voters and more that it was just their id run wild.
The most optimistic explanation is that Clinton is staying in the race because she feels she has something to say on the issues that only she can say. But, I think by now she has said it all. Proceeding further, and doing it by attempting to undercut Obama, certainly doesn’t make me like her more.
But Cheever doesn’t expect me to understand: “When I tell a handsome…” – that part is not me – “…man at a party that I support Hillary...” he says, “‘that figures, you're an older woman.’” Which leads me to another question: Since Cheever has accepted a huge limitation on the possible by embracing Clinton’s conviction that some women will only vote for her, how could she possibly think I could get beyond, “that figures.” (I admit, that’s a rhetorical question.)
But Cheever has a second reason men can’t get beyond “that figures” and here she has a good point: Men can’t understand the affinity some women have for Clinton because we can not identify with the sexism, propelled by objectification, that women confront. As Cheever explains, Clinton “was never the pretty, simpering, long-legged blond we were all supposed to be; she had to find another way to be a woman. Me too.” It’s true. I can appreciate that, but on a gut level, I’m not even remotely qualified to speak on it.
The “me too” sentiment also helps Cheever explain why she likes Hillary more, the more she loses. Clinton “is a loser, and I'm a loser." I must emphasize here, just as Cheever does, that this “loser” label is not in regards to being accomplished or a success in your work. No, the point is, “women don't get respect for being hard workers, they get respect for having good legs.” And again, for a guy to say he can truly appreciate how this feels would be entirely foolish.
Nonetheless, the “me too” and the loser/loser idea leads me to another question that I do feel entitled to ask: If Hillary had the same smarts, resume and health care plan, but looked and talked like Gwyneth Paltrow, would Cheever be supporting Obama? To put it another way, shouldn’t a leader have to do more than be just like you, to earn your love?
Because what – besides being like Cheever – has Hillary done?
Well, she voted for the war. To explain her vote she claimed criminal naivety, but I’ve never bought that. She voted for the war in an effort to “look tough.” I hear Cheever saying, “if it wasn’t for sexist stereotypes, Clinton wouldn’t have had to ‘look tough.’” I don’t agree. She could have voted “no” and then taken to the floor of the Senate and given an inspiring speech, delving into the all the nuances, manifestations and ramifications of sexism, just as Obama did with racism. It could have ended with the words, “I say this because I want Susan Cheever to be even more proud of me than if the only blow I struck for feminism was never giving up on super delegates.”
Instead, she did exactly what Bill Clinton did in ‘92. To prove Democrats were “tough,” he flew to Arkansas in the middle of his presidential campaign to sign the death warrant upholding the execution of Ricky Ray Rector. Rector was the guy so without mental faculties that he left the pecan pie from his “last meal” on the side of the tray, telling the guards he was saving it "for later." Hillary’s vote, sending more than 4,000 Americans to their deaths, and countless Iraqis, was her version of sending Rector to the gallows.
And so we return to my question: shouldn’t a leader have to do more than be like you to earn your love? I say, yes.
In fact, shouldn’t a leader have to behave as if – to paraphrase Henry Hassett Browne and John Donne – all men and women are born brothers and sisters and anything that diminishes either of them, hurts me? Yes. And, on that score, Clinton has failed. Confusions aside – that’s the reason I don’t love her.