My 14-year-old, apolitical daughter came home from school about a month ago and said at the dinner table to me, my husband, and her 15 year-old brother: “[Insert name of classmate] said that Hillary Clinton is a liar.”
Drop the mic.
We all looked at each other. My husband and I are Democrats, live in a blue state, and an ultra-blue county and I have been a Hillary Clinton supporter for years. My husband is not as die-hard as I am but voted for her in the primaries. Deep breath. . . . How to handle this. . . .
“Did your friend say why she thinks Hillary Clinton is a liar?” My daughter’s response, “No.”
“Well, what did you say?” My daughter: “Nothing.”
What could she say to that? It’s a deeply engrained trope that was started by Republicans against Bill and Hillary Clinton back when they were the quintessential power couple and the GOP were still mourning the end of the Reagan/Bush administrations and their position of power beginning in the early 1990s. I found it troubling in part because I am pretty sure the classmate’s parents are Democrats. But moreover, it bothered me that my apolitical daughter had no idea what to say in response to a slanderous label that finds no support in fact. My daughter did seem to know though that her parents weren’t going to be supporting a liar for President and she wanted to see our reaction. It made me realize that there is probably a lot of people out there—a lot of young (and maybe even older) women—who don’t know what to make of it when they hear the distortions that come out about Hillary Clinton. Thus, I wrote this blog post. I hope it helps women and girls feel more secure in challenging or dismissing these tropes when they hear them. Far from being the demon claimed by the right (and some Bernie supporters too), Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to become our first woman president and continue the progress made under the Obama Administration.
Indeed, she undoubtedly will have the opportunity to appoint at least one if not more progressive Supreme Court justices who will aim to overturn Citizens United (which will pave the way for campaign finance reform), as well as return to minorities voting rights that were wrongly taken away by a conservative majority of justices; who will make sure that we do not go back to the days before Roe v. Wade; and who will overturn Heller, the decision whose strained interpretation of the Second Amendment gave virtually unfettered rights to individual gun owners. On the other hand, Donald Trump threatens to nominate very conservative jurists to the Supreme Court who would decide these cases the opposite way, sending us further down the primrose path and back into the dark ages. That is why it is essential for all progressive thinking women and men to rally behind Hillary Clinton and dismiss these old tired GOP tropes for what they are.
Tired Old GOP Trope #1: Hillary Clinton is not likable. Even women don’t like her.
How It Continues to Arise: Commentators continue to observe this casually without any real evidence. The likability factor is a very nebulous one that is hard to pin down. If someone doesn’t “like” a person running for public office, then all of the accomplishments, achievements, and solid policy experience and goals are somehow beside the point. Americans vote for someone they think they would want to sit down and have a beer with, right?
The Counterargument: Hillary Clinton has been voted the most admired woman in America 17 times in 18 years. Plenty of Democrats—women, minorities in particular—presumably “like” her as she does particularly well with those groups. She also has millions more votes in the primaries than her opponent, Bernie Sanders.
Rather than debating whether Hillary Clinton is in fact liked or not liked, let’s get to the crux of the issue: Why wouldn’t she be liked and why do we have to like a person for him or her to be our President in the first place? David Brooks recently surmised in a New York Times editorial that Hillary isn’t liked because we don’t know anything about what she likes to do with her free time. In essence: does she have hobbies or does she just want to be the leader of the free world, dammit? As if playing basketball like President Obama or golf like many professional men would make all the difference.
There is a throwaway line in Brooks’ editorial, about Clinton being a grandmother. Aha! There it is! It’s not that she doesn’t have other interests—she is very outspoken about how much she loves being a grandmother, how she enjoys spending quality time with her daughter and granddaughter, and enjoys reading to little Charlotte, etc. So it’s not that she doesn’t have other interests outside of public life—clearly she does—it’s just not the right interests (Basketball? Golf? Drinking with the guys?). Believe me, if Hillary Clinton took up a hobby (and who’s to say she doesn’t have a hobby by the way—maybe she just doesn’t talk about it), this would not make anyone like her any better. People would then be saying—why doesn’t she care about her family more? Nobody ever asks that question of a male politician. Ever.
Could it be that no woman running for public office is ultimately “likable”? Put differently, is it possible for a woman politician to be both likeable and capable? That’s hard to say, although if likeability is in fact tied to how one spends their leisure time, it’s hard to imagine a woman who is doing an excellent job juggling a career and a family having the time to get her likeability badge. Sarah Palin seemed to have some interests outside of politics and family, but then again she famously failed the capability test during her run for vice presidency. I personally would rather have a surgeon operate on me who I know is smart and capable, rather than one that I hear is an awesome basketball player. Hopefully I’m not the minority view on that one.
The Tired Old GOP Trope #2: Hillary Clinton is a liar. She is dishonest and can’t be trusted.
How It Continues to Arise: Donald Trump has taken to calling Clinton “Crooked Hillary,” as if that makes it true. Bernie Sanders has repeatedly made reference to Clinton’s speaking engagements to Wall Street firms, and the large fees she received as a result. The point he is trying to make—often indirectly—is that by accepting these fees, she is corrupt, beholden to Wall Street interests, and part of a bigger problem in the U.S.
The Counterargument: Hillary Clinton—unlike Donald Trump—came from a middle class upbringing. She actually made the lion’s share of her “fortune” after she was First Lady for eight years. As recently as 2001, the Clintons were “dead broke.” Donald Trump’s sole purpose in life until very recently was to make huge amounts of money. He has bragged that despite being a billionaire, he takes advantage of tax loopholes and looked forward to the real estate bubble bursting so that he could swoop in and get some bargains. He has filed for bankruptcy multiple times. The common denominator here is that he clearly relishes taking advantage of the system in a way that enriches himself and hurts others. Trump also refuses to release his tax returns despite it being the standard course of events for presidential candidates to do so, prompting speculation about what could be in those returns.
Finally, according to the political fact-checking website, PolitiFact.com, Hillary Clinton has made statements that are at least partially true 71% of the time. By means of comparison, Bernie Sanders made statements that were at least partially true 69% of the time. Her statements were completely true 23% of the time, while Bernie’s statements were completely true 14% of the time. But the big story is Donald Trump. Trump has made completely true statements only 3% of the time, and has received the aptly titled “pants on fire” designation a whopping 19% of the time, while Clinton received that designation a mere 1% of the time.
Crooked Hillary?! How about Crooked Donald?
Regarding speaking engagements, former presidents and other leaders command huge sums for speaking to groups who can afford to pay them. That is even when there is no prospect for them to run for office again. Get it? Bill Clinton and George W. Bush don’t make a fortune every time they speak to a crowd because they are running for the White House or Congress and the audience hopes to influence them in some way. Likewise, no one accuses Barack Obama of being in the pocket of Wall Street bankers despite his acceptance of large contributions from the banks when he was running for president in 2008. This is another red herring issue—despite all that Wall Street money, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both in favor of the landmark banking law—the Dodd-Frank Act—which gives the power to break up banks if they become too powerful. Hillary has made clear during her campaign that she wants to enforce the law and give it teeth through additional regulations and rules.
Further, even saintly Bernie Sanders has taken advantage of support from special interest groups. The powerful gun lobby, National Rifle Association (NRA) helped him get elected to Congress, and then he turned around and voted in favor of their positions multiple times. Donald Trump likewise recently climbed into bed with the NRA and cozied up. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton has met multiple times with the mothers of victims of shooting incidents. She promises to make gun violence prevention a priority of a Clinton administration. I know who I trust most on the issue of gun violence prevention and it isn’t Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.
Finally, I would submit that there are tinges of sexism lurking within this slanderous trope. Is it possible that we hold women to a higher ethical standard than we do men? That we expect a woman politician to be more or even far more honest than her male counterparts? One study found this to be the case.
The Tired Old GOP Trope #3: Hillary Clinton is too ambitious. All she cares about is her own success.
How It Continues to Arise: She dares to—gasp—run for the presidency. Not once, but twice! Even though a lot of people (especially a lot of white males) wanted a man to win the Democratic nomination, she is persisting in her goal of becoming the leader of the free world.
The Counterargument: This one is so obviously sexist, even the mainstream media can’t deny it. For comic relief, check out the Onion’s spoof of this sexist trope. But it’s become increasingly unfunny as time passes and it continues to be recycled. Interestingly, as early as March 2008 there were calls for Hillary to step aside when she was battling against Barack Obama for the nomination and she was doing better at that time in the race than Bernie Sanders is today—over two months further into the primary season. Why is it ok to push the female candidate to withdraw but not the male candidate? Short answer: it’s not.
What person running for president isn’t ambitious? Doesn’t it go with the territory—almost like a prerequisite character trait? Yet, a woman running for president is overly ambitious and even selfish (say some Bernie Sanders’ supporters, as anyone who reads comments on social media well knows). Beyond that, let’s go back in time to when a young Hillary was setting forth her vision for America. She actually entered a life of public service because she cared about the downtrodden in our society—women, minorities, children, etc. As a young law student in the early 1970s, she traveled to the Deep South to work on school desegregation. She was for universal health care long before President Obama was – in fact she was ahead of her time on this issue and faced criticism from many corners — but nevertheless passionately pushed for it as head of a task force while First Lady. Faced with defeat over universal health care, she turned her attention to enacting the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which today provides insurance to millions of children who otherwise would be ineligible.
So, it’s unfair to say Hillary only cares about her own success. First off, it’s not true. And secondly, it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect that anyone running for the highest office in the land—male or female—does not care at all about personal success. Ambition is not the sole domain of men and we need to get past that notion as a society.
The Tired Old GOP Trope #4: Hillary Clinton is inauthentic. She seems a bit too perfect, too packaged to be for real.
How It Continues to Arise: Progressive funnyman Jon Stewart came out of his post-Daily Show hibernation and declared her as much. To be fair, she has been in the national spotlight for 25 years and who stays exactly the same over time?
The Counterargument: There is a genuinely sexist underpinning to this trope, which I will get to in a minute but first, read what Hillary Rodham had to say in the graduation commencement speech she gave at Wellesley College in 1969, the first student to be asked to make such a speech. Sounds pretty thoughtful and genuine to me. What about when she said—infamously—that she wasn’t going to stand by her man like Tammy Wynette or stay home and bake cookies. Was that not a genuine (and indignant) Hillary? Or when she spoke passionately as First Lady about this country needing more love and kindness? Hillary has always had the same values, and underpinnings, and convictions but, for better or worse, became caught up in the realities of being a woman in politics in this country.
Following each of these moments there was a tremendous backlash against her. She was mocked as First Lady for preaching emotions such as “love and kindness” and viewed as harsh and cynical after explaining why she continued a professional life after marrying her husband. Should she not have tried to package her views in a way that would be received better? Should she have just gone home after Bill’s second term, never to be heard from again? We as a country and as women are better off because she tried to package her views in a more “acceptable” way and continued her life of public service.
The irony is that by doing so, things got twisted around and now a sizable number of people—men and women—view her as “inauthentic.” This is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t double bind that all professional women face. Be too soft and you won’t be taken seriously; be too strong, and you’re cold and calculating. Smile, and don’t shout, or be shrill, or be a “bitch.”
Men simply do not have to keep all these balls up in the air simultaneously. And even progressive men (such as Jon Stewart) and likely many young people have fallen into the trap of thinking Hillary is “inauthentic” and somehow lacks the courage of her convictions. The history of her life and career just doesn’t bare out that conclusion, however.
The Tired Old GOP Trope #5: Hillary Clinton is an enabler. Her husband had multiple affairs during their marriage and yet she continues to stand by him.
How It Continues to Arise: The GOP likes to raise this as a reason why we should not trust Hillary on women’s issues. If she can’t even put her own husband in his place, the tired old argument goes, and even “went after” and “ruined” the women who accused him of wrongdoing, how can she be seen as good for women? Donald Trump recently resurrected this “argument,” though he didn’t provide any support.
The Counterargument: Let’s get one thing clear, straight off the bat: there is NO WAY that Donald Trump as president would be better for women than Hillary Clinton. It’s just not the case. Donald Trump objectifies women and always has—even his own baby daughter, Tiffany, as well as his adult daughter, Ivanka. He has admitted that he does not respect women. He doesn’t think twice about demeaning women and calling them horrific names, often zeroing in on irrelevant factors like appearance. The examples go on and on.
In a contrast so stark it’s on another galaxy, Hillary Clinton has been fighting for women’s issues, such the right of a woman to choose when she bears children and thus have control over her own body, her entire adult life. Watch this watershed moment in women’s rights where she traveled to Beijing in 1995 and announced to the entire world, “women’s rights are human rights.” Clinton has been at the forefront of issues of importance to women and children such as universal health care, equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, etc., etc., etc.
Beyond that, there’s Bill Clinton and his treatment of women. It turns out that Bill did have sex with an adult White House intern by the name of Monica Lewinsky and lied about it under oath. That is true. It is possible that he has had other affairs or sexual dalliances during their marriage. Blaming Hillary for the indiscretions of her husband, however, is akin to blaming the victim. She was the spouse he cheated on, people! He lied to her like he lied to the rest of the country and in her own words, it couldn’t have been clearer how hurt and betrayed she felt when she learned the truth within days of the rest of us. Yes, she ultimately decided to stay with him. It was her personal decision, however, just like countless other women who have discovered marital infidelity and decided that the good in the marriage outweighed the bad. The difference is that she had to make this decision under the glare of public scrutiny and the decision became politicized by her opponents and enemies. She enabled nothing—Bill was a big boy who made bad choices and was humiliated and even impeached for it, although he was ultimately acquitted. GOP leaders have nonetheless attempted to make hay out of decades old allegations that were never proven and have exaggerated the claims and number of women involved.
There is simply no evidence that Hillary Clinton “went after” anyone. And even if she had called anyone a “bimbo,” or similar names, let’s say, these women either knowingly engaged in sexual activity with a married man—her own husband—or did not but were lying about it to bring him down. Who wouldn’t be upset with them in either case? In fact, it only demonstrates that she IS human, with human feelings—so why crucify her for it? In the end, despite his personal indiscretions, countless Democrats still view Bill Clinton as a great president who balanced the budget, created tons of jobs, raised the standard of living for all Americans, and unlike his successor, did not lead us into an unnecessary war in the Middle East, with a huge cost both in dollars and American lives. Indeed, even Donald Trump himself has spoken in glowing terms about the Clinton administration (at least when he wasn’t running for office against Hillary)!
The Tired Old GOP Trope #6: Hillary Clinton is a serial criminal.
How It Continues to Arise: This one is so clever and diabolical! The GOP has alleged claim after claim over the years against Hillary Clinton—from Whitewater, to Benghazi, to E-Mails. Much to Republicans’ chagrin, she has never been charged with a crime, but the unsupported allegations continue to be raised against her like a blood libel, as if they are true. They then accuse her of being a scandal magnet—when they are the ones who created the scandals out of whole cloth in the first place. Donald Trump has recently picked up this line of attack.
The Counterargument: After all these years of GOP machinations attempting to get the Clintons generally and, more recently, Hillary Clinton, one would think that if there was anything there, they would have uncovered it by now, no? Yet Hillary has never been charged with a crime. Never. President Obama pointed out that her e-mail fracas was evidence of carelessness but nothing more. Another (male) secretary of state, Colin Powell, did similar things like commingling personal and official e-mail accounts. Benghazi is an even better example of much ado about nothing. You would think she had personally and purposefully led Americans into harm’s way for no good reason. Oh wait, that was George W. Bush and Dick Chaney, and the Iraq War. After 11 hours of questioning, and multiple GOP launched investigations, there has been nothing uncovered to suggest that Clinton was at fault for what very unfortunately happened at Benghazi.
So what to make of all of this? Politics is a dirty game and we are in unchartered waters with our first female candidate poised to win a major party nomination for President. It is important, therefore, for women (and moms) to be vigilant. When your child (or friend, or neighbor, or colleague, or relative) parrots one of these old and tired GOP tropes as if they are the gospel truth, don’t let them get away with it without challenging the basic assumptions. Make sure they see the sexist overtones, the hypocrisy from various GOP politicians who used to sing Clinton’s praises but now that she’s running for the presidency have changed their tune (Donald Trump is but one example. For others, see this article), the fallacies, and more. If they continue to press their case, perhaps it is a lost cause. Psychologists say that people believe what they want to believe and have a way of looking askance at evidence supporting the opposing view. Our children though have not yet hardened in their views and as parents it is our job to teach them that, while they should come to their own conclusions, they should at least be privy to all the facts.
With Love & Kindness,
The FeMOMist is a civil litigation attorney by background and training, middle-aged mother of two teenagers, stage III colorectal cancer survivor, blogger, runs a small business, and is a concerned American citizen. She maintains a pseudonym due to the pervasive misogyny and hate directed at feminists on the Internet, and admits that as a Gen X’er she is not as open online as her Gen Z kids.