19 January 2016

Fiat Hillary ruat caelum

Suzanna Danuta Walters offers perhaps the most audacious argument yet for why progressives should support Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Walters, an editor and sociality professor, was invited by The Nation to explain why she, as a "red diaper baby" and avowed socialist feminist, supports Clinton, while Liza Featherstone, a Nation columnist, explains why a socialist feminist should not support her. Reduced to its bare minimum, Walter's argument is: since Sen. Sanders is unlikely to accomplish anything radical as President due to Republican dominance of Congress, we may as well go for the historic symbolism of electing the first woman President. She argues further, and with eyes wide open, that a second Clinton presidency will do for gender issues what the Obama presidency has done for race issues. Her explanation pre-empts any snarky comments without necessarily refuting them. Here's Walters on Obama's legacy:

Shattering glass ceilings can have broad and rippling consequences. The election of Obama did not usher in an era of “post-racial” accord. However, it did something else, something that couldn’t happen without having a black president in the Oval Office: It brought to the surface the enduring power of racial animus in the United States—an animus that Obama himself commented on increasingly often throughout his presidency—and the equally enduring struggles against it. His presence brought race to the forefront of American politics and raised the bar for “doing enough” for African Americans significantly higher, even as he wrestled with the trap of respectability politics and the Catch-22 of giving voice to black anger. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, may have come into being without his presidency, but surely the very fact of this man, with this history, with this skin, in the White House forced critically important questions about the unfinished fight for racial equality into public view. 

In other words, the racially-charged debate over Obama served to remind the left that the U.S. was still a long way from racial equality where it really mattered and galvanized many on the left to push for further reform in the face of an inferred racist backlash. In Walters's analysis, Obama may have more value as a galvanizing symbol than as an actual leader. So she hopes it will be with Clinton. Walters puts a positive spin on this expectation, arguing that a Clinton presidency "may help animate conversation, instill fierce female pride, and inspire young girls the world over." But in essence she expects (and apparently wants) a Clinton presidency to be as divisive as Obama's, so long as it's clear that in neither case the President is to blame.

[T]he idea that Hillary’s victory would be “merely” symbolic underestimates the profound import of symbolism and obscures her explicit alliance with (some version of) feminism and her clear qualifications for the job. As with Obama and racism, her candidacy is bringing sexism out into the open—not that it’s ever far from the surface!—both the Trump-like horror of the female body, and a curiously visceral and over-the-top cottage industry on the left of “anti-Hillary” haters (as if she were the enemy and not… right-wing Republicans?). But like the racist fervor that greeted Obama, the misogyny bubbling over will make plain the deep gender inequities that persist despite decades of feminist work, and finally put to rest the lie that this revolution is largely won.

I'm not sure Walters is describing accurately what's going on right now.  She comes close to the Zionistic position that any criticism of Clinton is misogynistic, and that in particular the argument against a symbolic vote for Clinton is a misogynist attack on her feminist supporters. The argument that Clinton is a tool of Wall Street at the end of the day, regardless of this or that reform or regulation she's supported, is no reflection on her gender. Nor does criticism of her scare tactics against Sanders's plan for a single-payer health insurance system reflect on her or her daughter as women. Yes, there are haters who mock her age and appearance, but is that misogyny or just the same ad hominem impulse that substitutes personal attacks on any disliked candidate (e.g. on Sanders's own age, Trump's hair, Christie's weight) for substantive ones? I think it's especially dishonest to impute any sexism to the Sanders camp, since who doubts that if Senator Warren had entered the race, Sanders would have a lot less support right now? All that being said, I don't doubt that a Clinton presidency would be divisive. I only doubt that it would be divisive in the clarifying way Walters hopes for. And it may be unfair to Clinton or her feminist supporters to say this, but do we really need a symbolic President for the next four or eight years? When you consider that if anyone in the running is a symbolic candidate, one in whom people see a reflection of themselves, that candidate is  Donald Trump, you may want to rethink the profound import of symbolism and consider different priorities this year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"as if she were the enemy and not… right-wing Republicans?"

So people are not allowed separate enemies? I would think that, between the Bengali fiasco and the e-mail issue, that her "credentials" are pretty much shot. Add that to the fact that post-Whitehouse Bill Clinton has been more of a neo-con than progressive, that her oh-so-obvious carpet-baggery at the start of her political career should be all the warning any one needs that this woman should NOT be put in the oval office. If we value the office; if we have any respect for the position of President, then we owe it to ourselves to only give our vote to someone who is honest and has integrity. If the whole point is "symbolism" (what a joke), then we should not elect someone who symbolizes incompetence and irresponsibility.