Go read and consider Michelle Goldberg’s analysis of “The Hillary Haters” at Slate. The nut:
Few people dislike Hillary Clinton for being too moralistic anymore. In trying to understand the seemingly eternal phenomenon of Hillary hatred, I’ve spoken to people all around America who revile her. I’ve interviewed Trump supporters, conventional conservatives, Bernie Sanders fans, and even a few people who reluctantly voted for Clinton in the Democratic primary but who nevertheless say they can’t stand her. Most of them described a venal cynic. Strikingly, the reasons people commonly give for hating Clinton now are almost the exact opposite of the reasons people gave for hating her in the 1990s. Back then, she was a self-righteous ideologue; now she’s a corrupt tool of the establishment. Back then, she was too rigid; now she’s too flexible. Recently, Morning Consult polled people who don’t like Clinton about the reasons for their distaste. Eighty-four percent agreed with the statement “She changes her positions when it’s politically convenient.” Eighty-two percent consider her “corrupt.” Motives for loathing Clinton have evolved. But the loathing itself has remained constant.
I wonder: what is the through line in all of this ressentiment?
In [Republican Denny] Butcher’s aversion to what he perceived to be Clinton’s sense of entitlement, I started to see how contemporary loathing of Hillary overlaps with the ’90s version. Her enemies’ caricature of her has flipped from Madame Defarge, Charles Dickens’ revolutionary villainess, to Marie Antoinette, symbol of callous aristocracy, but the sense of Clinton’s insulting presumption has remained constant.
Aside from Al Gore, whoever Bill Clinton had put in charge of health care reform would have been unelected; presidents make lots of appointments that have legislative consequences. (No one elected Robert F. Kennedy to be John F. Kennedy’s attorney general.) To me, at least, it sounded as if Butcher was angry that Hillary had stepped outside the role of a typical First Lady, that she had transgressed certain gender constraints. But like most Hillary haters, Butcher rejects the idea that gender has anything to do with his antipathy. “Not at all,” he says. “Absolutely not. Nope.”
Also like a lot of people who despise Clinton, Butcher finds her invocations of gender infuriating. “I think she’s trying to tell people, ‘Vote for me because I’m a woman,’ ” he says. “Ignore the fact that I have accomplished practically nothing significant in my whole career in the public eye, but I’m a woman, so vote for me.”
Listening to Butcher brought me back to [Bernie Sanders voter Margo Guryan] Rosner. Their politics are very different, but their assessments of Hillary Clinton are strikingly similar. Like Butcher, she’s irritated by what she sees as Clinton’s gender-based pitch. “She’s a grandmother. So am I. Big deal,” Rosner says. Like Butcher, Rosner felt that Clinton had overstepped as First Lady. “She and her husband were putting her right out in front, and she didn’t handle herself well,” she says. “She certainly wasn’t a Michelle Obama.” Unlike Hillary, says Rosner, Michelle Obama “seems to say the right thing at the right time, and she is very supportive of her husband and her children, even staying in Washington after they leave office so that one of her children doesn’t have to switch schools. That’s a big deal.” Rosner may be very liberal, but not all our gut reactions are governed by politics.
So, yes, it’s gender–but I can’t help but notice that all but two of Goldberg’s interviewees are people in their late 40s or older. Let’s think a little bit about age and Hillary hate among those of us who have known her in the public eye the longest.
Full disclosure: I’m a Gen-Xer in my late 40s, too. I’m a full generation younger than Clinton (who was born the same year as my mother, 1946). Back in the 1990s, I don’t remember women of my generation thinking too much about her one way or the other–those of us who supported Democrats generally thought she was just fine, while those of us who were Republicans saw in her yet another reason to loathe Bill Clinton. In other words, it was her party affiliation and nothing personal. I was personally surprised, and impressed, that she started her own electoral political career as her husband’s ended in 2000.
But I remember being struck in that first decade of her appearance on the national political scene by how visceral the reactions to Hillary Clinton were among women who were her contemporaries. Clinton’s fellow baby boomers seemed to see in her somehow either a reflection or a repudiation, of their own choices, and most women her age judged her for not doing it right, no matter what. Conservative women saw her commitment to public service (in their eyes, her unseemly careerist ambition) as deeply troubling, while fellow feminists and trailblazers outside of (or like Clinton, in addition to!) marriage and motherhood found her fidelity to Bill Clinton exasperating. Either way, she just couldn’t win. Her age peers seemed weirdly entitled to comment on her personal and professional life choices in ways that revealed more about them than they did about her.
Aside: Maybe one reason we’re seeing all of these “people hate Hillary Clinton” articles and news stories is that her generation and older Gen-Xers are now in full editorial control in the news media, in spite of Clinton’s rollicking success in the Democratic primary. To read all of these stories, you’d never know that Clinton won her primary race this year with a greater percentage of total votes than recent Democratic primaries in which the Democrat went on to become two-term presidents! Yes, that’s right: objective evidence suggests that she was in fact a much more popular Democratic candidate (with 56% of the primary vote) than Barack Obama (47.5% to Clinton’s 48% in 2008!) or Bill Clinton (52%) in terms of her margin of victory in the primary, and that the Democrats are much more united in their support of her. So where were all of those “Why People Hate Bill Clinton” articles, or “Why Did the Democrats Nominate the Loser of the Democratic Primary?” stories about Obama in the mainstream press? I wonder.
Because of her exceptional achievements as an American woman, Hillary Clinton has never been entitled to make her own decisions–and mistakes–and live with them the way the men of her generation can. Men can be insanely ambitious (Obama), even while having multiple wives (Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, and just about every other man aged 60 or older in politics today) and/or open histories of marital infidelity (Bill Clinton), or even shall we say unusual marital arrangements (Mitch Daniels, y’all!) and none of these sexual histories are disqualifying for the men. Yet Clinton’s faithful marriage (to an unfaithful man) and motherhood (of one daughter) somehow makes her suspicious. What, I wonder, was the ideal perfect way to thread that needle of human relationships?
One of the troubling lessons of the 2008 and 2016 primary season is the fact that younger women now feel entitled to find something about Clinton’s life choices they don’t like and to judge her in ways that they never would a man with her background and record. That’s a shame that we need to get over, and fast.