American political discourse is as deep as a bumper-sticker: “BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED!” Restraint means using only three exclamation points. But t-shirts are where the real rhetorical action is — making one’s chest into a billboard is a bold statement of values, and the results can be fascinating. When I lived in rural Colorado, a frequenter of our local pool hall invariably wore his California Klavern KKK t-shirt every Saturday night. I sometimes saw him on the street earlier in the afternoon, and he wouldn’t be wearing his Klan shirt, which means that it must have been reserved for his just-got-paid, out-on-the-town ensemble. The locals sometimes mocked him: “California Klavern? Pansy.”
(They didn’t say “pansy.”)
#ad#So I’ve been taking note of how many of those pro-Obama, anti-Hillary “Bros Before Hoes” t-shirts there are on the streets, and by my count the number is higher post-primary than before. The Democratic nomination has long been decided, but “Bros Before Hoes” marches on.
The dreadlocked thirtysomething woman sporting a “Bros Before Hoes” top on the Lower East Side of Manhattan did not look like a Republican, and forthright inquiry confirmed that she was not: When asked, she looked like I had tried to hand her a diseased possum. She affirmed that she was voting for Obama, though she said identified herself as an anarchist and worried that the senator from Illinois is “too corporate.” She said she preferred Obama to Clinton because she was angry at the Clintons for their acquiescence to Gingrich-era welfare reform, though her Prada bag, iPhone, and couture-crusty trustafarian hair-do all suggested that her worries were not rooted in personal experience. Likewise, the young black man on the train to New Haven that evening, wearing the same t-shirt, affirmed that he is pro-Obama. Their attitude toward these t-shirts was largely irony-free.
Two are a coincidence; journalistic canons call for three items to constitute a trend, and I’ve counted a half-dozen “Bros Before Hoes” t-shirts in the past week. And note for the record that the stoner comedy Pineapple Express also makes repeated use of the phrase “Bros Before Hoes,” though not in the context of the presidential race.
Is the popularity of this offensive t-shirt slogan evidence for Senator Clinton’s complaint of sexism? The strong version of the Hillary Hypothesis, that she lost the primary because some backward voters are uncomfortable having a strong woman in a position of power, is probably not true: Hillary didn’t lose because she’s a woman; the woman lost because she’s Hillary. But there is something to her complaint, namely that among Democrats sexism or the allegation of sexism does not have the same voltage as racism or the allegation of racism. Outside of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit, sexism has been and remains a second-degree misdemeanor on the left.
Exhibit A is the fact that the name “Kennedy” remains platinum-plated among Democrats, in spite of that clan’s exhibiting attitudes toward women that might be described as cavalier at best. If the Kennedys treated blacks with the same contempt they treat women, William Kennedy Smith would just be another Will Smith, and none of those third-tier nieces would be going out of their way to include “Kennedy” in their names. It’s hard to imagine what a racial Chappaquiddick would look like, but it is safe to assume it would be an instant career-ender. For that matter, “Bill Clinton” remains a name to be conjured with among Democrats, despite his boorish treatment of such women as he could lay his hands on. But as grisly Third World trends including sex-selective abortion and distasteful Islamic marriage practices thrive in American immigrant communities, they are ignored because failing to ignore them would leave critics vulnerable to accusations of racism, however faint or groundless. The race card is a trump card, sexism is the two of hearts.
Of course, calling Barack Obama “bro” on a t-shirt is racially provocative, too, and would seem even more so coming from John McCain or from Rush Limbaugh, who caught three kinds of hell for satirizing Al Sharpton’s race-hustling schtick in “Barack the Magic Negro.” But “bro” is one thing. “Ho” is another thing. One is potentially provocative, the other is naked sexual denigration. A comparable slogan elevating Hillary over Obama would not be seen in public in America, excepting perhaps the occasional rural pool hall.
Hillary’s true-believers understand that they and their grievances will never merit the free upgrade to first-class victimhood, and they are seething. Senator Clinton, who charmingly seems still to harbor political aspirations, is trying to keep a lid on things, possibly with plans to take over Senator Kennedy’s role and become the liberal lioness of the Senate. Getting in touch with her inner dominatrix (which does not seem to have been much of a reach for her) she has assembled a new crew called the “Whip Squad” to quell any display of disunion at the convention. But she’s still got that delusional glint in her eye, and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a “Bros Before Hoes” t-shirt within whip-range in Denver.
– Kevin Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review.