I’ll lay my cards on the table. I’m a conservative woman, and I want to see a woman elected as President of the United States. Apparently 57 per cent of Americans say it doesn’t matter to them if they see a woman elected to the presidency in their lifetime; but I am not one of those people.
Yet, as much as I want to see a woman break through that barrier, I will not vote for anyone based on gender. I will vote for the person who I judge to be the best one for the job. And in a miraculous turn of events, it looks as though the Democratic Party might becoming to the same conclusion. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, Democrats are having a sort of ‘inner cleanse’ of the whole ‘you are sexist if you don’t vote for Hillary’ mindset.
If you haven’t noticed, Hillary is playing the gender card more and more these days. It’s not too much to say that it has been one of the focal points of her campaign. I was dreading another 8 and a half months of it, but the events of this past week have forced Hillary to alter significantly that aspect of her message. She touted the ‘vote for me, I’m a woman, don’t you know this is historic’ message in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and did poorly in both states (officially she won Iowa, but it was basically a draw between her and Sanders).
In whatever future biographies are written about Hillary, I promise you that New Hampshire 2016 will be noted as a turning point for her campaign strategy. Going into that primary, she knew she was behind in the polls. She had to do something, so she chose to hit back (again) with the gender card. So we had Bill Clinton showing up in New Hampshire and accusing Bernie supporters of sexism. And Hillary brought to one of her rallies former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who chastised young female Democrats for not supporting Hillary, telling the crowd that there was a special place in hell for women who did not ‘help’ each other.
Hillary laughed and clapped, but the comment backfired spectacularly. The backlash among young Democrats is probably best summed up in these words from my 17-year-old daughter: ‘Why did women even get the right to vote if these feminists are going to turn around and tell them how they must vote?’ Even the New York Times, unabashed supporter of Hillary, had to give coverage to the discontent, finally admitting that although the nation may ready for a woman president, it is #1) actually possible that Hillary may not be the right woman for the job and #2) actually possible that you could be a feminist/non-sexist who believes in equal rights and opportunities for women and still believe #1).
Two days after the Albright comment, New Hampshire Democrats roundly rejected Hillary. The message was clear: the gender card is not a vote winner, even among Democrats. So Hillary had to change tack. Beginning with her concession speech in New Hampshire, she started to focus much more on a ‘vision’ for America, and take the focus off herself. And on Thursday night in the Democratic debate, Hillary actually made a u-turn on the gender card: ‘I’m not asking people to support me because I’m a woman. I’m asking people to support me because I think I’m the most qualified, experienced, and ready person to be the president and commander-in-chief.’ Yes, well said. But forgive me if I point out that this position differs more than slightly from the ‘place in hell’ argument.
The ‘place in hell’ argument not only shows poor taste, it is also evidence of a certain kind of ‘victimised feminist’ logic which has never been far beneath the surface of Hillary’s campaign. Hillary tries to fuse her gender with a fight for women generally, with the result that she defies you to untangle her purposes from the purposes of all women everywhere. Therefore, when you disagree with her, you set back the cause of all women. When she loses, all women lose. This is a logic which seems to have been unthinkingly adopted by the liberal establishment. To support a Hillary candidacy is to support all women; therefore, not only is it good to support Hillary, but she is entitled to our support.
Perhaps it is this logic which explains the absurd question which the moderators at Thursday’s debate asked Bernie Sanders: ‘Senator, do you worry at all that you will be the instrument of thwarting history, as Senator Clinton keeps claiming, that she might be the first woman president?’ Now, I ask you, how can Bernie Sanders thwart history? Has Hillary been anointed to be the first woman president? Is the question really asking Bernie if he is worried he will thwart her entitlement to the presidency? But there is no such thing, not even for Hillary. We make history what it is, and if Hillary cannot beat Bernie Sanders, then he hasn’t thwarted history, he has made history.
Bernie’s a socialist, and I would never vote for him. But his surprisingly formidable challenge to Hillary has brought a kind of reality check to the rhetoric of gendered politics in this country. And for that, I am grateful.