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Clinton, Biden, Kerry, and the Dilemma of Women in Politics


It’s hard to isolate a single key graf from the Rebeca Traister piece we discussed earlier, but this is certainly one of them:

The anger at Clinton from some quarters — in tandem with the beatification of her from others — reminds us just how much this election tapped into unresolved and still largely unexplored issues around women and power. In the aftermath, the media has performed endless autopsies. We have talked about Wisconsin, about Comey, about Russia, about faulty messaging and her campaign’s internal conflicts. We have fought over unanswerable questions, like whether Sanders would have won and whether Clinton was particularly mismatched to this political moment, and about badly framed conflicts between identity politics and economic issues. But postmortems offering rational explanations for how a pussy-grabbing goblin managed to gain the White House over an experienced woman have mostly glossed over one of the well-worn dynamics in play: A competent woman losing a job to an incompetent man is not an anomalous Election Day surprise; it is Tuesday in America.

Let’s make a couple of instructive comparisons. Look — I like Joe Biden. He was a good vice president. But I still find the cottage industry of “Biden woulda won [if he wasn’t somehow, despite being Vice President of the United States, brutally suppressed by the Clinton machine]” assertions amazing. Lets review Joe Biden’s history of seeking presidential nominations, shall we? In 1988, Biden was forced to drop out of the race amid a plagiarism scandal. This race was ultimately won by noted superstar political talent Michael Dukakis, who really did run the inept and underachieving campaign Clinton is accused of running. In 2008, when Clinton barely lost to arguably the foremost political talent the Democratic Party has produced in a half-century, Biden ran a bungling, ineffectual campaign that ended in Iowa with zero delegates. If I may state the obvious, there is zero chance that a woman with that track record would be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. If the answer is that she would if she were vice president, the odds that a woman with Biden’s track record would be nominated as vice president are also roughly 0%.

It’s also not a coincidence that Clinton is treated with far more vituperation on the left than Biden is. Biden is very similar to Clinton — if anything historically a few clicks to the right. But can you imagine, say, Doug Henwood publishing His Turn: Biden Targets the Presidency if Clinton had announced she wasn’t running? And can you imagine a book title implying that it’s somehow unusual and unseemly for a male politician to seek power? I’m not saying gender is the only factor here — Clinton Derangement Syndrome is complicated, and the left variant has roots in very legitimate criticisms of Bill Clinton’s deeply compromised presidency. But it surely is a factor.

Or take John Kerry. Like Clinton he’s a DNC-friendly moderate liberal who voted for the Iraq War. He lost to George W. Bush and lost lost, being -3 million votes rather than +3 million. I think Kerry’s campaign was fine and he did about as well as can be expected, to be clear, but this line of defense is not available to people who think that elections are the sole responsibility of the candidates and discussing structural factors is just sour grapes. (Kerry’s more favorable Electoral College map, by the way, is another data point indicating that the unusual 2016 map was much more about Trump than Clinton, unless you think that the windsurfing patrician from Massachusetts had some special connection with the midwetsern white working class or Bob Shrum is a tactical SUPERGENIUS.) And yet, at the time there was considerably less agonizing on the left about whether he was worth supporting — Nader got .38% of the vote, with Cornel West and many other prominent Naderites endorsing Kerry. And after the fact there has been no significant faction of the left that just about shits in its pants every time Kerry gives an interview or commencement speech, or objected to Kerry continuing as senator or accepting the position of Secretary of State because he was obligated to retire from public life after having lost to George W. Bush. Again, I’m not saying that gender is the only factor here, but it surely is a factor.

Speaking of which, one of our own commenters gave a perfect summary of the latest round of Clinton Derangement Syndrome:

You know, I’m getting tired of all this. Dukakis went away. Gore went away. Mondale went away. McGovern went away.

She’s threatening to turn into William Jennings Bryan, who never went away.

The party desperately needs to develop a new generation of leaders. Those leaders need to have names that are not “Clinton”, both because of electoral reasons (baggage and the fact that the party has moved away from their cautious style of politics) and fairness reasons (we need to stand against family connections as the determinant of who gets ahead).

She’s been sucking up a lot of oxygen since the election. Chelsea has sucked up some too, and so has Bernie Sanders for that matter. It’s not good for the party. Losers need to go away. It’s harsh, but I really wish the Clintons would just go enjoy their retirement somewhere so liberalism can move on and work on 2018 and 2020 without their participation.

If I might be permitted to belabor the obvious:

  • The whole “consuming oxygen” thing is the kind of buzzword used by hacks like Mark Halperin that makes absolutely no sense under any inspection. Political discourse is not zero-sum game. Resistance to Trump is a positive-sum game. Clinton (or Biden, or Bernie) giving a speech or interview doesn’t prevent other Democratic leadership from emerging. The whole concept is nonsensical. Not only Biden and Bernie but Clinton have a lot of fans, and they can all play a useful role in mobilizing opposition to Trump. (Part of the problem here, as Trasiter’s story gets at, is that people who consumingly despise Hillary Clinton seem to be incapable of believing that anybody does like her.) Clinton, like Biden or Bernie, might also do some things that aren’t helpful and should be open to criticism, but the idea that there’s some problem with her saying things in public in principle is utterly absurd.
  • There is no chance that Clinton will run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. And even if she was planning on running, whether or not she gives a commencement speech is neither here not there to her imaginary 2020 run anyway.
  • The tradition of losing presidential candidates going away and never being heard from again is entirely imaginary. Jimmy Carter didn’t. Al Gore didn’t. Kerry, as we’ve discussed, didn’t. Mitt Romney didn’t. John McCain continues to average roughly 2.8 Sunday talk show appearances a week. And losing candidates remaining public figures did not suppress other leaders from emerging or influence the direction of the party in any way, for the obvious reason that CONSUMING OXYGEN is an asinine concept that very dumb pundits use to sound sophisticated.
  • The invocation of Chelsea Clinton really gives away the show. She’s not running for anything. There is no evidence she ever intends to run for anything. Her Twitter feed and her vanity award from a Hollywood trade publication have zero impact on American politics. The only reason she “consumes” any “oxygen” is that some obsessive Clinton haters left and right are also palpably desperate to have more Clintons to kick around.
  • If you don’t want to talk about Hillary Clinton, don’t talk about her. Her giving a commencement speech about the need for fresh leadership at her alma mater doesn’t demand discussion. “I wish Hillary Clinton would stop forcing us to discuss her” is, ah, protesting rather too much.

As I’ve said before — and as Clinton says in the interview — the idea that we should ignore real and ongoing issues like vote suppression and ratfucking by the FBI and the Russian state because it would detract from discussions of how someone who will never run for president again sucks isn’t about winning elections or resisting Trump. It’s pure Clinton Derangement Syndrome, and in at least some measure it helps explain why there have been zero women presidents in American history.

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