Generation and gender in “hating” Hillary Clinton

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.

22 thoughts on “Generation and gender in “hating” Hillary Clinton

  1. Good analysis, wire to wire, nothing to add or subtract. I think she should just keep on not-baking cookies and to hell with them. See who wants what in the appointments way six months from now, and later where people stand in 2020 hindsight. In Philadelphia this weekend it was hard to tell the Hillary haters (of a certain age bracket) from the heat-addled Pokémon players, wandering around aimlessly, bumping into public fixtures in centuries-old green spaces, staring longingly into their phones, and sounding like Bass-Masters contestants chirping gleefully to their friends “I got one, I GOT one…”

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    • Ageist much? You totally glossed over all the Bernie supporters who are young and female and hate Clinton for no apparent reason. The women who hate Clinton are far and wide and not just your mother’s age. It’s because they have internalized sexism. It’s the patriarchy.

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  2. Excellent points, but isn’t it the case that older women (“older” meaning over 40? I’ve never seen it defined) have also been the bulwark of support for Hillary? It must be that people feel free to criticize her endlessly, but in the privacy of the voting booth vote for her anyway. Perhaps, at least for her female peers, public criticism is a way to vent anger over the impossible positions women are put in. I think that male critics are much more exercised over the “presumption” she shows in being openly ambitious.

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    • Yes, you’re entirely right; I probably should have qualified my comments about baby-boomer ressentiment by pointing out that the phenomenon I was talking about was led mostly by women in politics & the media–IOW, very accomplished women (Maureen Dowd, anyone?) with prominent platforms who all seemed to turn into a bunch of Regina Georges as soon as one of their pack decided to go for the presidency.

      Also, I should have added that Hillary hatred is mostly a white thing. While Bernie Sanders had great success in earning the votes of non-white voters in their teens and 20s, Gen-X and Baby Boomer non-whites were solidly With Her. Goldberg’s article was illustrated by people who were mostly older whites–notably, the two people who aren’t white she reports on are some of those very young Hillary haters (if not Bernie voters in both cases.)

      But then, if Clinton loses whites this fall it won’t be her fault. The fault, dear Polonius, is in our history, as it was Dem Lyndon Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 & the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And no Democratic candidate has won the white vote in presidential elections since then! (And yet, no one accused Obama, Clinton, or Carter of being unpopular–at least not until Carter’s failed re-elect run in 1980.)

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      • History does spool back on itself, like a helix, at least political history does. From my back window I can almost see the site of the former Convention Hall in (West) Philly, where in 1948 Hubert Humphrey, the 30 year old liberal (which in 1948 meant radical) Mayor of Minneapolis gave the “Civil Rights Plank” speech that sparked the Dixiecrats to walk out and split the election into a four party affair. (The Republicans met in the same building a week or two earlier or later, as did the Henry Wallace socialists). Twenty four years later, in 1972, Humphrey’s record and reputation lay in ruins under the debris of Vietnam, and–running for president a second time, in a building at Penn two blocks up 34th Street from Convention Hall–he was the baggy, wheezy, gray-suited precursor for Hillary; his liberal values and achievements literally lost to the college students who filled the building, as if it had happened in 1848.. And he was shouted from the stage by a nascent local radical group called “Move,” which was still years short of its two epic, violent, encounters with the Philadelphia police state–in 1978 and 1985.

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  3. “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!”

    This. The disconnect between the “people hate Hillary” narrative and the actual outcome of the Democratic primaries is a topic worth investigating in and of itself.

    Relatedly: in my FB feed today, I read a discussion, mostly by Gen-X men who backed (past tense? Maybe. Or maybe not so much) Bernie Sanders (with a few women, too, to be sure, but the discussants were overwhelmingly male) of how Hillary Clinton is too out-of-touch and inauthentic to reach voters. Lots of concern-trollery about her chances in the general (‘I really hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t think she can defeat Trump’); lots of mansplain-y directives on how she should conduct herself going forward (ranging from, ‘She needs to stop being such a policy wonk and connect with people on an emotional level’ to ‘She’s the wrong candidate at the wrong time,’ to just, basically, ‘She’s doing it all wrong!’). Absolutely no acknowledgment that, after all, she just won the damn primaries. And not surprisingly, therefore, absolutely no understanding of (or curiosity about) how she just pulled off her win: by carefully cultivating relationships and alliances with key Democratic demographic groups over the course of many years; and, more recently, during the actual primary season, by mostly eschewing the big mega-rally spectacle in favour of smaller town-hall and meet-and-greet events (where, apparently, she DID connect with the people who then went on to vote for her! but you’d never suspect that from the discussion I read today).

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    • Ah, well: I myself remember having doubts about Obama’s style and his ability to win over voters in the general–but then, there was more reason to doubt him because of his thinner resume AND the fact that he only won the primary on PK’s from caucus states!

      Folks who are in your FB discussion about their concerns about whether she can win are making progress towards acceptance. If they’re talking about winning, that means that winning is important to them! If they make their peace and vote for her, they win either way: if she wins, they can say they helped and enjoy a few more years of peace and prosperity; if she loses, they can say they were right all along! (Small consolation, I know, compared to the havoc that Trump will wreak.)

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  4. I think that the chattering classes talk about Clinton’s unpopularity because they have some make-believe numbers (favorable/unfavorable ratings) that show she is unpopular. They have to fill air time and column inches to get paid, and writing about policy is hard (you have to do math sometimes). But writing a story about the horse race is easy. So the journalists write about Clinton’s unpopularity and disregard all evidence to the contrary. But as you say Historiann, the real numbers, the election results from the primaries and the caucuses, show that she is more than popular enough to win the general election.

    I was feeling glum this week about the election and whether or not HRC could win. But I feel better having read your post and the comments here. I think its great news and the campaign will boil down to one thing — can the country temporarily set aside its misogyny in 2016 like it did with its racism in November 2008? I think it can.

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  5. Thanks, Historiann, for stepping back from what seemed boomer-dissing. As a mid-boomer (1955, can’t get more midder), I get exceedingly annoyed (euphemism) at the disdain (hostility) directed at boomers in general and female boomers in particular — along the lines of “we’ll be better off when they’re all dead.” (Stated quite explicitly.) I suppose I should quit reading comments on YouTube and in my local paper.

    I suspect that the reason much of the expressed support for Clinton seems tepid is that many of us learned a lesson in 2008, when those of us who continued to support Clinton were excoriated as racists. We’re letting our votes speak for us this time.

    I have no idea why boomer-age media women trash Clinton, but my arm-chair guess is that they’re secretly uncomfortable with the personal accommodations to the “old-boys” network they had to make, and they resent the hell out of someone they perceive as having risen above those restrictions.

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      • I’m sure you’re right, but I also think that Clinton has had to do the same (e.g. deal with constraints, make compromises, etc.)

        When we see people in a snit about something–Hillary made a joke about not baking cookies so I hate her! Hillary didn’t dump Bill Clinton for his cheating ways so I will never trust her!–I always wonder if it’s because someone else’s choices raise unsettling and unsettled questions about their own. I mean, she’s hardly the only woman of her generation to face some of the same decisions, although she chose to make them in a more public way than most people.

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    • Didn’t mean to seem like I was piling on Boomers! As we say: some of my best friends. . .

      It’s folly to trash an entire generation. I resist the dumping on of Millenials, after all!

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  6. I feel like that placard-carrying woman a few years back. The gist was, “It’s 2016. Why am I still explaining this shit?”

    Sometimes I drop into beautiful dreams where we’re judged by the content of our characters, not the usefulness of our wombs.

    Then someone like HRC comes along, steel magnolia supreme, with lists of accomplishments longer than both of a basketball player’s arms, and — wham! — the only thing worth discussing is that she’s stepping outside of her caste. (Not this blog of course. I’m ranting about The Media.)

    If caste is more important than character in someone of that strength and stature, the rest of us are just used tissues no matter what we do.

    So, my point, and I don’t really have one except general anger, is that I’m glad Hillary is better than I am and will, god willing and the creeks don’t rise, be our President.

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  7. The people in my FB feed (not a representative sample of the electorate, of course) break down into: men of all ages and political persuasions who hate Hillary with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, a few liberal men who will vote for Hillary with various degrees of nose-holding, young Bernie-backing women who hate Hillary with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, and women my age and older who are solidly and quietly behind Hillary. Why millennial women of my acquaintance think it’s more radical to vote for an old white guy who waltzed into the campaign at the last moment instead of a woman who’s paid her dues for years I don’t know, but I put it down to their inexperience with how the world works. The one who really gets me is the male friend of mine who depends largely on Social Security disability and who won’t vote for Hillary because she’s so “corrupt.” Of all the people I know, he’d fare the worst under a Trump presidency.

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    • As one presidential candidate would Tweet: Sad! Or, pathetic!

      Each generation of young women cling dearly to the fiction that feminism has accomplished all of its goals & is functionally unnecessary. After all, it’s easier and more fun to think you (as a young woman) can just live your life and make your choices and that it will all be cool like it is for your male peers. And as I’ve written here before at great length, feminism is the only social justice movement that goes out of its way to tear down and deny its foremothers, rather than honoring them.

      Like the old Who song says: won’t get fooled again!

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  8. First, a moment of truth: No one should read Maureen Dowd, whose Hillary-hating is epic, long-standing, legendary, and despicable. You will be happy to get those wasted minutes of your life back, I promise.

    Your post is absolutely correct. Why indeed all these “Why we hate Hillary?” articles? My best guess isn’t so much generational as it is that they’re driven by the need for clickbait, and hate works better than facts.

    My FB feed kept blowing up with academic-type pearl-clutching about “neoliberalism! She and Trump are the same” until I had to hide posts, but the boomers seemed to like rather than criticize her.

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    • Ppl who weren’t old enough to vote in 2000 should look up all of that rhetoric on the Left that year about how Gush and Bore are the same candidate, really, so why not vote for Ralph Nader.

      People who were old enough to vote in 2000 generally know better.

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  9. I am a 62 year old white woman and I have been trying to understand all the anti-Hillary stuff for months. I lived through the Clinton presidency and all the crap she had to put up with – and all the crap she has put up with since. I do believe it is an anti – woman thing in part ( promoted by women AND men) and more recently with the younger voters, it is a lack of willingness to become educated about the facts (rather than the Fox News, GOP version of her).

    Bottom line, she is a true believer and that is why she has hung in there. We will be lucky to have her.

    Liked by 1 person

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