The facially plausible case for Hillary Clinton is that neither Clinton nor Sanders will get much done given the GOP Congress. Thus, it doesn’t really matter which one of them becomes President, only that it is one of them and not a Republican. Clinton is clearly way more electable than Sanders and thus Clinton should be nominated.
Interestingly, in the last month or so, many of Hillary’s media supporters have been indirectly making the case that she has serious electability problems.
Here’s Catherine Rampell making the case that Clinton is structurally prevented from behaving in the kind of authentic and sincere manner that appeals to voters:
These qualities are what make him seem “authentic,” “sincere” even — especially when contrasted with Clinton’s hyper-scriptedness. Sanders, unlike Clinton, doesn’t give a damn if he’s camera-ready.
This is, of course, a form of authenticity that is off-limits to any female politician, not just one with Clinton’s baggage.
Female politicians — at least if they want to be taken seriously on a national stage — cannot be unkempt and unfiltered, hair mussed and voice raised. They have to be carefully coifed and scripted at all times, because they have to hew as closely as possible to the bounds of propriety available to both their sex and their occupation. They can’t be too quiet or too loud, too emotional or too cold, too meek or too aggressive, and so on.
Here’s Rebecca Traister making a substantially similar point about the ways in which Clinton is structurally prevented from getting behind the kind of ambitious proposals that appeal to voters:
That hurts, and it falls into a very old, very well-worn gendered pattern, in which women — understanding that making promises they cannot back up will not get them taken seriously and that they must prove themselves extra-competent in order to be understood as basically competent — become the nose-to-the-grindstone wonks, easily compared to know-it-all bores like Tracy Flick and Hermione Granger. They’re the wet blankets, the ones all too acquainted with the limitations imposed by the world, and all too eager to explain their various ideas for working around them. Men, and especially white men, whose claims to public or political power are more easily understood, are permitted a slightly looser approach.
There’s been some talk about how a female candidate could never be as scruffy as Bernie Sanders, as uncombed and unkempt. A woman could never be as grumpy as Bernie, as left-leaning as Bernie, as uncooperative with party machinery as Bernie. And that stuff is true enough. But the bigger truth is that what Bernie does, to great acclaim, that Hillary Clinton could never do is make big promises of institutional overthrow, tug on our imaginative heartstrings by laying out a future that might not be grounded in reality, and urge a revolution.
Here is a truth about America: No one likes a woman who yells loudly about revolution.
Here is Courtney Enlow repeating these same points and adding that Clinton has been structurally prevented throughout her career from adopting the kinds of good and clean politics that voters like:
FIRST AND FUCKING FOREMOST, COOL, YOU LIKE BERNIE’S WISHES AND DREAMS APPROACH TO POLITICS. “FREE COLLEGE FOR EVERYONE AND A GODDAMN PONY.” YES, THAT SOUNDS FUCKING WONDERFUL BUT DO YOU THINK HILLARY COULD EVEN SAY THOSE WORDS WITHOUT FOX NEWS LITERALLY BURYING HER ALIVE IN TAMPONS AND CRUCIFIXES?
YOU DON’T LIKE THAT SHE PLAYS THE GAME? THAT SHE HAS TIES TO THE ESTABLISHMENT? FOR ONE THING, THAT’S HOW SHIT FUCKING GETS DONE. FOR THE OTHER THING, THE BIGGEST THING, A WOMAN DOESN’T GET THE FUCKING OPTION *NOT* TO PLAY THE GAME. NOT NOW. NOT YET. WE ALL WISH THINGS WERE DIFFERENT BUT THEY DON’T BECOME DIFFERENT WHILE WE’RE ATTACKING THE FUCKING PERSON WHO CAN MAKE THAT POSSIBLE.
IT IS ABSOLUTELY GUT WRENCHING THAT THIS BADASS, IMPORTANT WOMAN HAS BEEN DIMINSHED AND WRITTEN OFF AND HATED HER WHOLE CAREER, HER WHOLE EXISTENCE AS A PUBLIC FIGURE. YOU LIKE BERNIE BECAUSE HE DOESN’T PLAY THE GAME, BUT FOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FOR A WOMAN, SHE HAS HAD NO OTHER CHOICE.
These are three examples from this particular genre of essay, but there are dozens more. The way the genre works is you identify a criticism of Clinton — that she’s unlikable, inauthentic, insincere, has weak policies, has a bad track record, constructed and participated in a corrupt political money machine — and then you defend Clinton from the criticism by saying sexism in society makes it impossible for her to do or have done otherwise. Insofar as it’s not fair to ask someone to do the impossible, the upshot of this argument is that it’s unfair to criticize Clinton for these deficits.
Most of the debate on these articles focuses on whether it is actually impossible for Clinton to do or have done otherwise. This debate tends to hit a dead end pretty quickly as both sides just assert that it is or isn’t impossible back and forth without having any definitive way of resolving the disagreement.
But there seems to be a bigger issue lurking in the background. If it is truly impossible for Clinton to do the kinds of things that attract voters, then that means she has serious electability problems. If it’s impossible for her to be a likable, sincere politician with inspiring, ambitious ideas that really gin up the enthusiasm, then that means she’s a weak candidate. Whether this is her own fault or the fault of pernicious forces in society doesn’t change the ultimate fact that she’s weakened by it.
If you believe that the most important thing is electability, and believe that sexism makes it impossible for Clinton to do a lot of the things that are important for electability, then where does that leave you exactly? Should you roll the dice on a candidate who, by your own account, is so heavily weighed down by double standards and gendered expectations that she cannot appeal to voters? That seems like a big risk to take with the White House on the line, doesn’t it? Can we really gamble on running someone who is apparently severely handicapped as a candidate when four Supreme Court nominations hang in the balance?
I bring this up not to actually endorse any particular argument on this front, but rather to point out the tension in many of these electability arguments. To say Clinton is electable is also to say that sexism is not that big of an impediment to being a good politician that appeals to voters. Conversely, to say that sexism is a big impediment to being a good politician is to say Clinton is not that electable.