The post-mortems of Hillary Clinton's failed quest for the presidency have just started to be written, and a troubling trend is developing . Within the space of a few days, the Washington Post has published two opinion pieces that cite sexism and misogyny as key reasons for Hillary's problems. We need to nip this false conclusion in the bud, both for the sake of truth and the sake of party unity in November.
Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-Hillary Emily's List, inflamed the cries of campaign sexism in a Post opinion piece last Saturday. According to Malcolm, any claims that Hillary has lost the race, and any calls for Hillary to quit the race, are not due to facts or reality, but due to pure sexism:
So here we are in the fourth quarter of the nominating process and the game is
too close to call. Once again, the opponents and the media are calling for
Hillary to quit. The first woman ever to win a presidential primary is supposed
to stop competing, to curtsy and exit stage right.
Sports analogies are not my forte, but since Malcolm brought it up first, we're not just in the "fourth quarter of the nominating process" but in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. And the game is not "too close to call"; rather the losing team is down by 30 points. Yes, perhaps you could develop some type of computer-driven scenario in which the losing team could somehow come back to win the game, but you wouldn't take any betters.
Calls for Clinton to quit are not being motivated by sexism, of course, but by an honest, if painful, look at the numbers and the facts. And if the situation of the candidates were reversed, is there anyone who doubts that Hillary would have kicked Obama to the curb by now? Malcolm seems to be calling for Hillary to be treated differently because she is a woman, and isn't that what feminism is fighting against? For Malcolm, it seems as if the only way for Obama and his supporters to NOT be sexist would be to just give up and concede the contest to Hillary.
This past Thursday, Marie Cocco wrote a column in the Post -- "Misogyny I Won't Miss" -- that really takes the "victim card" in this campaign to new heights:
"...for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been
exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture."
From Cocco's perspective, the Democratic primary has been nothing more than a nonstop sexist barrage against Clinton. Cocco decries the "unrelenting, sex-based hate that has been hurled at a former first lady and two-term senator from New York" during the campaign. To prove her point, she cites a few political campaign novelty items that she has found offensive, and pieces together a handful of admittedly sexist remarks made by a few political commentators over the long, long course of the political campaign.
It is worth noting that none of the sexist remarks cited by Cocco were made by Barack Obama or by any of his staffers, surrogates or anyone else associated with his campaign in any way. However, I have developed quite a long, disturbing list of racially offensive remarks made by Hillary Clinton herself, from her dissing of Martin Luther King in January to her writing off of her Louisiana loss in February due to the state's "very proud African-American electorate" to her remark just last week about how she represents hard-working "white Americans." And don't get me started on the offensive comments made by Bill Clinton, starting with his Jesse Jackson putdown in January after Hillary's loss in South Carolina, or the claims by top Hillary surrogates Geraldine Ferraro and George McGovern that it was easier for a black man to get elected president than a white woman, all facts to the contrary.
I'm not here to try to play the identity politics game. But I am here to say that I can cite many instances of Hillary Clinton and her staffers and top supporters making racially offensive comments and engaging in racially divisive tactics, but I cannot cite any examples of Obama and his campaign doing anything similar in terms of gender. And while I am the first to admit that there is still plenty of sexism and misogyny in our society and that sexism and misogyny no doubt played a role in how some people voted during the primaries, I think it is quite safe to say that this was at least cancelled out, if not exceeded, by the role that racism played in other people's votes.
Yesterday The New Republic published an interesting article in which they asked a broad cross-section of more than a dozen Clinton staffers -- from "high-level advisors to grunt-level assistants" -- to provide their honest, anonymous assessments of what went wrong with the campaign. They offered a litany of insightful reasons for Hillary's failures -- and none of them had anything at all to do with sexism or misogyny.
Instead, the Clinton staffers cite a number of key strategic and management mistakes that stem back to the very beginnings of the campaign, and that built on each other as time went on. For example:
- Hillary had the wrong message: "Running as an incumbent, as the inevitable candidate, was probably our biggest mistake, particularly in a time when the country is really hungry for change."
- Hillary made bad personnel decisions: "Hillary assembled a team thin on presidential campaign experience that confused discipline with insularity; they didn't know what they didn't know and were too arrogant to ask at a time early enough in the process when it could have made a difference."
- Patti Solis Doyle was not a good campaign manager: "[Original campaign manager] Patti and [her deputy] Mike [Henry] sat up there in their offices and no one knew what they did all day. Patti's a nice person who was put in a job way over head."
- Hillary should not have made her pollster her chief strategist: "It is impossible to disagree and have a counter view on message when the person creating the message is also the person testing the message."
- Mark Penn was incompetent: "In Iowa, Penn consistently would show polls that were of the eight-way. That was basically meaningless because it wasn't going to be an eight-way race. The candidates that were the second-tier candidates were not going to reach the threshold [of 15%]. The real race was the three-way. But he always focused on the eight-way when we'd start going over the numbers in Iowa. It was frustrating to the state staff and other people as well. It just showed a lack of understanding and a disconnect."
- Hillary did not develop an effective fundraising strategy: "There was financial mismanagement bordering on fraud. A candidate who raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the years had to pump in millions more of her own money to stave off bankruptcy."
- Hillary did not execute an effective media relations strategy: "The way we handled (the press) was a mistake on our part. What we're hearing is that we truly treated people badly and weren't accessible enough or open enough. We had bad relationships with reporters, and it probably bit us on the ass."
I could go on, but I think the point is made. Anyone who wants to learn about what truly went wrong with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign needs to realize, first and foremost, that it was due to a string of missteps and management problems -- and with the effective campaign run by Barack Obama -- that had absolutely nothing to do with gender. And if we are to be successful in uniting all Democrats behind Barack Obama in November, comments that try to pin the blame for Hillary's loss primarily on sexism and misogyny are doing a huge disservice to the party, by inflaming the justifiable anger and resentment that many women hold about the sexism in our society and directing it in a counterproductive and misguided way.