Look, I should be upfront about this: I am not a Democrat — though I was at one point — nor do I think that the Democratic Party is an entity that will ever have the working class’s interest at heart. In a way, the party’s flailing campaign of red-baiting and blame-shifting onto pointless crap that few people give a damn about works as a benefit to socialists who are working to build a politics of equality and liberation. Additionally, I really hate writing response pieces; I would much rather be thinking of ideas that can be put to use as we move forward.
But after reading Susan Bordo’s article in the Guardian — titled “The destruction of Hillary Clinton: sexism, Sanders and the millennial feminists” — I simply could not help myself on this.
The first third of the piece lays out the apparent ignorance of millennial feminists, with gems such as:
“Many younger women, on the other hand – no less feminist, no less committed to gender equality – had formed their ideas about ‘the Clintons’, as Savannah Barker reminds us, in the shadow of 20 years of relentless personal and political attacks. Few of them – as I know from decades of teaching courses on feminism, gender issues, and the social movements of the 60s – were aware of the ‘living history’ (to borrow Hillary’s phrase) that shaped the woman herself.
They hadn’t experienced a decade of culture wars in which feminists’ efforts to bring histories of gender and race struggle into the educational curriculum were reduced to a species of political correctness.”
Polling and research on the political knowledge of younger voters is mixed. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that, while young people scored lower overall on the news quiz than their older counterparts, American youth are more in tune around issues based around the economy than older Americans. Additionally, Lau and Redlawsk (2006, 2008) found that while older voters had more political knowledge than younger voters (as is to be expected), youth engage in more political information processing — that is, they tend to seek out political information from more sources — than their elders.
The argument that young women — who broke for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary by an average of 37 points — are somehow ignorant of history because of their vote choices is one that has reared its head repeatedly over the last two years. Who can forget Gloria Steinem’s explanation that young women voted for Bernie because “that’s where the boys are”? Or Madeleine Albright, who once stated that the deaths of over 500,000 children in Iraq due to Clinton-era sanctions was “worth it”, having the gall to condemn other people to hell because they chose another candidate? Or Jill Filipovic musing in the New York Times that young women supported Bernie Sanders because, well, they just have not experienced enough workplace harassment yet.
And then, of course, there was this
“They didn’t witness the complicated story of how the 1994 crime bill came to be passed or the origins of the ‘super-predator’ label (not coined by Hillary and not referring to black youth, but rather to powerful, older drug dealers).”
Bordo is right about one thing: the “super-predator” term was not coined by Hillary Clinton. It was, in fact, coined by one John DiIulio, Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the first director of the Office for Faith-Based Initiatives under George W. Bush. In a National Review article titled “The Coming of the Superpredators”, DiIulio spoke of a new type of criminal on America’s streets:
“To cite just a few examples, following my May 1995 address to the district attorneys association, big-city prosecutors inundated me with war stories about the ever-growing numbers of hardened, remorseless juveniles who were showing up in the system. ‘They kill or maim on impulse, without any intelligible motive,’ said one. Likewise, a veteran beat policeman confided: ‘I never used to be scared. Now I say a quick Hail Mary every time I get a call at night involving juveniles. I pray I go home in one piece to my own kids.’ On a recent visit to a New Jersey maximum-security prison, I spoke to a group of life-term inmates, many of them black males from inner-city Newark and Camden. In a typical remark, one prisoner fretted, ‘I was a bad-ass street gladiator, but these kids are stone-cold predators.’ Likewise, in his just-published book, Mansfield B. Frazier, a five-time convicted felon, writes of what he calls ‘The Coming Menace’: ‘As bad as conditions are in many of our nation’s ravaged inner-city neighborhoods, in approximately five years they are going to get worse, a lot worse.’ Having done time side-by- side with today’s young criminals in prisons and jails all across the country, he warns of a ‘sharp, cataclysmic’ increase in youth crime and violence.”
DiIulio even warned of “wolf packs” maiming and murdering wantonly in America’s cities. If that rhetoric sounds familiar to you, it is probably because news media across the country breathlessly reported on youth — mostly Black — engaging in something called “the knockout game”. Of course, that turned out to be less burgeoning menace than easily-dispelled myth. But such coverage does not exist in a vacuum, and it can have real effects on society and politics. Gilliam and Iyengar (2000) examined local news coverage in Los Angeles in 1996 and 1997, finding that white respondents were better able to recall Black perpetrators than white perpetrators in local crime stories. Additionally, exposure of white viewers to news stories where the accused criminal was Black led to a statistically-significant increase in the preference for a more punitive crime policy.
Into this breach steps Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign in 1996. Early that year, President Clinton was advised by Dick Morris and other pollsters to sign the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act — otherwise known as welfare reform — in order to “[clear] the way for [the Democratic Party’s] rejuvenated influence over one of its central concerns, ghetto poverty”. Using low-income Black women as props, Clinton signed the Act into law on August 22, 1996.
Hillary Clinton bragged about her role in rounding up votes for welfare reform in her book, Living History. She also played a role in bringing the term “superpredator” to the fore of American political consciousness. On January 28, 1996, Clinton gave a speech in New Hampshire where she said
“Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.”
Reference the pull quote from DiIulio’s article. The term “superpredator” is clearly meant to refer to children, and Black children at that. Most of DiIulio’s article centers around Philadelphia, a city that has been majority-minority since the 1990s. It is impossible to read Hillary Clinton’s statement about superpredators and come away with the feeling that she was advocating for Black adults to be put in prison.
Believe it or not, we have not even gotten to the worst part of the article. Blame has to be assigned for the perfidy of the youngins, and it winds up in an all-too-predictable place:
“Any rift between feminist generations, however, would almost certainly have been healed by Donald Trump’s outrageous comments and behavior, had younger progressives not become bonded, during the primary, to a Democratic male hero who both supported the issues they were most passionate about and offered young women independence from the stale and, in their view, defunct feminist past. These young women weren’t going to rush to order a plastic ‘woman card’ for a candidate that had been portrayed by their hero as a hack of the establishment. They didn’t believe in sisterhood– a relic of a time when, as they had been told (often in women’s studies courses) privileged, white feminists clasped hands in imagined gender solidarity, ignoring racial injustice and the problems of the working class.
They didn’t want to be dealt any cards at a bridge game organised by Gloria Steinem or Madeleine Albright – or Hillary Clinton. They wanted Bernie Sanders.”
I mean, you have to chuckle at the notion of a Hillary fan writing a book and thinking to themselves, “Can you believe it? THEY DIDN’T EVEN ORDER A WOMAN CARD!” But what follows is hardly a laughing matter, as it seems to constitute the worldview of many a Clintonite since November 8th.
Bordo puts out the caveats that one has come to expect from any liberal commentator that wishes to be taken seriously: that she agrees with Bernie’s platform, that Bernie’s issues are her issues, and that Bernie’s supporters are her “natural colleagues”. You see, you have to say things like that because issues like getting money out of politics, free higher education, universal health care, and standing against endless destruction abroad were things that liberals claimed they cared about when it was George W. Bush that occupied the White House. The sudden liberal aversion to these stances is nothing if not convenient; they knew that the likely Democratic nominee for president in 2016 was likely to support none of these things.
But the bizarre thing was the expectation that the rest of the American Left should do as these liberals did, and simply have their political compass dictated to them by Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Liberals like Bordo seem to believe that, well, any kind of leftist challenge to Clinton constituted a “sabotage” of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s presidential campaign, as evidenced by this particular stretch in the article:
“These people (young feminists), in so many ways, are my natural colleagues, and most are as upset as I am by Trump’s victory. But they played a big role in the thin edge (not a landslide, as Trump would have us believe) that gave Trump the election. For while Trump supporters hooted and cheered for their candidate, forgiving him every lie, every crime, every bit of disgusting behaviour, too many young Democrats made it very clear (in newspaper and internet interviews, in polls, and in the mainstream media) that they were only voting for Hillary Clinton as the lesser of two evils, ‘holding their noses’, tears still streaming down their faces over the primary defeat of the person they felt truly deserved their votes. Some didn’t vote at all.”
Did you catch that? It was the votes — or non-votes, as it were — of young feminists that played “a big role” in Clinton’s defeat at the polls. Not the fact that Clinton campaign ads focused the least on policy in recent presidential election history. Not the fact that Los Angeles saw seven times more pro-Clinton ads than Milwaukee (and, not for nothing, that might explain the historic turnout in California that gave Clinton the three million vote edge that liberals keep prattling on about). Not the fact that the Clinton campaign told an SEIU bus full of volunteers headed to Michigan to turn around because the campaign thought that mind games would win the election for them. No, it was young women deciding that the issues that animate their lives the most — education and health care — were not worth giving up on for one more middling Democratic politician. The gall is truly breathtaking.
Also breathtaking are the contradictions in Bordo’s piece. Here she is lamenting the fact that Bernie Sanders would not call Hillary Clinton a progressive:
“When Sanders denied that badge of honour to Clinton he wasn’t distinguishing his agenda from hers (their positions on most issues were, in reality, pretty similar), he was excluding her from the company of the good and pure – and in the process, limiting what counted as progressive causes, too. His list didn’t include the struggle for reproductive rights or affordable child care. Nor, at the beginning of his campaign, was there much emphasis on racial justice.”
Leaving aside the plainly ridiculous notion that someone who made universal, single-payer health care the focus of his campaign — which, ya know, might include reproductive justice and child care — does not care about those issues (or the fact that he has received perfect ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood during his time in Congress), notice what Bordo says about Sanders and Clinton: “their positions on most issues were, in reality, pretty similar”. Yet the previous paragraph quoted Jonathan Cohn saying that, “If Sanders is the standard by which you’re going to decide whether a politician is a progressive, then almost nobody from the Democratic party would qualify. Take Sanders out of the equation, and suddenly Clinton looks an awful lot like a mainstream progressive.”
Well, which is it? Are Bernie and Hillary two peas in a pod or not? Bordo probably wants people to forget that Hillary Clinton stated that single-payer is “something that will never, ever come to pass”. Or that free college for all would “make college free for Donald Trump’s kids” and that her plan to make those families who make $85,000 a year pay college tuition made sure that “everybody had skin in the game”. Or that Hillary Clinton once told a group of banking and oil executives that the destructive aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq “was a business opportunity”.
In fact, it seems that Bordo took issue with any criticism of Clinton’s record:
“Sanders’s branding of Hillary as establishment, however, seemed vastly unjust and corrosively divisive to me, especially when delivered to a generation that knew very little about her beyond what Bernie told them. Like progressive, establishment is a pretty meaningless term, particularly when lobbed at one Washington politician by another….He was the champion of the working class (conveniently ignoring that black and white women were members, and that their issues were also working class issues), but her longstanding commitments to universal health care, child care, paid sick leave, racial justice, the repeal of the Hyde amendment, and narrowing the wage gap between working men and women apparently evaporated because she’d accepted well-paid invitations to speak at Goldman Sachs.”
Incredible. Nothing means anything, and “well-paid invitations to speak at Goldman Sachs” should not dent your progressive credentials. Are we to believe that Hillary Clinton’s “longstanding commitments to universal health care, child care, paid sick leave, racial justice, the repeal of the Hyde amendment, and narrowing the wage gap between working men and women” were the topics upon which she touched on before these audiences? How wild an assumption is that?
Here’s the worst part of all this: this was not an article, but rather an excerpt from a book. A 272-page book. Could you imagine reading this kind of tortured nonsense for nearly 300 pages? Where perhaps the most powerful woman in the history of our Republic is done in by college-age feminists and a previously-obscure democratic socialist from Vermont?
Yeah, me neither.
If you are a Democrat, this should worry you. A lot. Well, this…and the notion that the dreaded “BernieBros” are apparently apparitions of Vladimir Putin.
It should worry you because the people who claim to be the adults in the room have not learned a damn thing. “I’m With Her” to these people meant just that, and the resulting defeat does not mean that Hillary Clinton herself failed, but rather was failed by those who owed her campaign their votes. It is inconceivable to Clintonites that her embrace of a safe campaign that promised nothing big and had no compelling vision or argument aside from “I’m Not That Guy” might result in people choosing to stay home or vote for left-wing alternatives. Even Bordo believes that “…(a)ny rift between feminist generations, however, would almost certainly have been healed by Donald Trump’s outrageous comments and behavior”, as if Clinton was running a general election campaign against some unknown Congressman from Mississippi rather than someone who has had his life chronicled in the public eye for nearly 40 years.
By continuing to rail against Bernie Sanders and his supporters, prominent liberals and Democrats are dooming themselves to a permanent minority, disconnected from any kind of direct action against repression and oppression, divorced from any real notion of progressivism and connection to the working class. This basic reality is amplified by the fact that Sanders remains the most popular politician in the US, with only 3% of Clinton voters viewing him in a “strongly unfavorable” fashion. With pieces like Bordo’s cropping up with some frequency and semi-personalities whose entire social media is dedicated to relitigating a primary their candidate barely won, it seems that whole 3% are concentrated in the media
Clintonism has had its day and, well, it’s time to Move On.