Likely Democratic party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a woman – and that seems to be a very large part of her platform. She talks incessantly about her gender and how it infuses her politics, and her supporters, taking their cues from her, are quick to label any and all criticism of Mrs. Clinton as “sexist” – a label that, these days, can mean anything from believing traditional sex roles have some basis in human biology and the survival of the species to heterosexual men whistling and making lewd comments at attractive women as they walk down the street.
Now she has taken this strategy to its logical conclusion, accusing even her own would-be supporters in the Democratic party base of being insufficiently enthusiastic about her candidacy because … they’re “sexists.” She recently told a writer for New York magazine that some people who attend her rallies tell her:
“’I really admire you, I really like you, I just don’t know if I can vote for a woman to be president.’ I mean, they come to my events and then they say that to me. Unpacking this, understanding it, is for writers like you. I’m just trying to cope with it. Deal with it. Live through it.”
To begin with, I don’t believe a word of this, and neither do you. Can you imagine anyone saying that directly to her face at one of her carefully-staged rallies? I certainly can’t.
Putting that aside, however, no doubt there are some oldsters in the Democratic base who hold this archaic view: yet polls showing her support is strongest among the older crowd don’t bear this out. The core of Bernie Sanders’ base comes from the so-called millennials, whose commitment to feminism we can take for granted. Is Mrs. Clinton saying they are imbued with the poison of “sexism”?
On the other hand, it seems to me that there is something to what Hillary says, even if the specific incidents she refers to are entirely a product of her imagination. Although if I had the opportunity to engage with her, I might put it a little differently, as follows:
“While I can’t say that I actually like you, I do have to admire your grit: look how far you’ve come! However, I can’t vote for a woman whose foreign policy platform is an attempt to prove how macho she is.”
This need to overcome the unreasonable idea that women are naturally pacifistic has haunted female sovereigns since the days of Elizabeth I of England: Lizzie subdued these prejudices by defeating the Spanish armada, aiding the French Huguenots, and invading the Netherlands. Golda Meir had to overcome the objections of the Israeli religious parties, who defeated her in her bid to become Mayor of Tel Aviv on the grounds that a woman wasn’t up to the job: upon her ascension as Prime Minister, she put all doubts to rest by mobilizing the military in the run up to the Yom Kippur War and decisively defeating the Arabs. Maggie Thatcher, who no doubt had to overcome traditionalist attitudes, earned her nickname as the “Iron Lady” by crushing the Argentines in the Falklands, taking on the Irish Republican Army, and telling George H.W. Bush not to “go wobbly” on Iraq.
As far as we’ve come in debunking irrational ideas about gender roles, still they persist, and Hillary Clinton’s journey from Vietnam era antiwar activist to putative leader of the Free World has surely encountered the same obstacles that stood in the way of her predecessors. Given her history as a young opponent of the Vietnam war who campaigned for Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire, and her subsequent reputation as being to the left of her husband, she may have good reason to think she has something to prove – and this is, I believe, the key to understanding the evolution of her foreign policy views.
While at Yale Law School, young Hillary chaired a meeting that called for a nationwide student strike against the Vietnam war. She became an acolyte of Saul Alinsky, the radical leftist strategist who advocated “social revolution,” as she put it in her senior thesis on his views.
To come out of that background and aspire to the presidency, Hillary had to “evolve” – and nowhere is this transformation more apparent than in the realm of foreign policy. Like many on the ostensible “left,” she was quite willing to make a deal with the interventionist Devil if it meant having a free rein in domestic affairs. Leaving her Vietnam era views far behind, she hectored Bill Clinton into bombing Serbia and launching the US intervention in the Balkans. She backed in full Bill’s sponsorship of the “Iraq Liberation Act,” which set the wheels of the US invasion of that unfortunate country in motion. From there it was a simple matter to vote for the Iraq war while in the Senate – and to defend her position against Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primaries.
As Secretary of State, she represented the interventionist wing of the administration, leading the charge to overthrow Moammar Qaddafi, coming up with a scheme to arm Syrian rebels, and – in spite of the “reset” with Russia – more recently comparing Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler.
In short, the closer Mrs. Clinton gets to the Oval Office, the more hawkish are her public pronouncements.
There may be an ideological reason for this: I have no doubt her metamorphosis from Sixties flower child to a modern Boadicea represents a true change of heart. And yet, to borrow an old cliché from the Sixties, “the personal is political”: in making her way in the “man’s world” of politics, one can easily see how the necessity of proving herself as strong and decisive shaped her ideological transformation.
Of course, one could say that this is an argument against any woman becoming President; after all, wouldn’t she, too, have to overcompensate? The answer is no: it is Mrs. Clinton’s overweening ambition and her well-known opportunism that have nullified her previous views and earned her the endorsement of a growing number of neoconservatives.
While it is certainly easier to assuage the doubts of those who quail at the prospect of a woman President by going into an Iron Lady act, there are other paths to power. And surely a more enlightened – and realistic – view of women has taken hold in our culture, to the point where such reassurances are arguably unnecessary. Yet Mrs. Clinton, hardened by years of an uphill climb to attain her present prominence, shows no signs of recognizing that times have changed: after all, she’s still playing the “woman card” for all it’s worth.
And therein lies the great danger: do we want someone who thinks she has to prove herself capable of going to war with the determination and, yes, bloodthirstiness of a man occupying the Oval Office? Donald Trump has accused her of being “trigger happy,” and there’s a whole lot of truth in that. Surely the need to prove her macho credentials would lead her – has led her – to overcompensate.
Which is one reason why I find the prospect of Hillary Clinton in the White House terrifying.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.