The Corner

Politics & Policy

Hillary’s Other America

Hillary Clinton speaks at the annual Hillary Rodham Clinton awards ceremony at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. on February 5, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

I am still chuckling at Hillary Clinton’s speech in India.

Among the things she said:

If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle, places where Trump won. What that map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that own two thirds of America’s Gross Domestic product. I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, Make America Great Again, was looking backwards. You don’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women getting jobs, you don’t want to see that Indian American succeeding more than you are, whatever that problem is, I am going to solve it.

For years, I’ve been writing that the great myth about Hillary Clinton is the notion she shared even a fraction of her husband’s political skills. There is no transitive property to marriage. If Bill Clinton could play the xylophone, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have gained the skill when she said, “I do.” So it goes with politics. Bill Clinton would never dream of saying anything like this. Having risen in Arkansas politics — not an over-performing state GDP-wise — he understood how to talk to working-class voters in ways Hillary never learned in 40 years of standing next to him sagely nodding.

So, what’s wrong with what she said? Well, nearly everything, starting with the fact that she probably believes all of it. It shows that she really doesn’t like large swathes of the country. She has a Manichaean view that says people who voted against her are backward, racist, sexist, and kind of dumb. I didn’t love the slogan “Make America Great Again,” and Lord knows I didn’t like Trump’s campaign style. But for millions of decent Americans, Trump’s program was optimistic. “We’re gonna make America great again” may sound unequivocally racist to the race-obsessed, but that’s not how everyone who liked it heard it. How easy and comfortable it must be to think that anyone who voted against you is against “black people getting rights.”

(Oh, and the idea that she would offer this argument in India is amazing. I mean, I’m a big supporter of India. But the insinuation that India is immune to the charge that some women are subordinate to their husbands, that some places are backward-looking, or that some people are hostile to minorities, is hilarious. Crapping on your own country’s backward pathologies in the land of resurgent Hindu nationalism, sectarian strife, and wife-burning is not exactly patriotic statecraft. I can only imagine the looks people in the audience gave each other.)

Now, I’m sure some liberals think everything she said is true — a sad commentary in itself — but even those liberals should understand how politically absurd all of this is, particularly coming after Hillary’s endless lists of other reasons why she lost. Her vision of America is a mirror version of the liberal caricature of the conservative vision, just as divisive, bigoted, and, ultimately, as arrogant.

Which brings me to this:

We do not do well with white men and we don’t do well with married, white women. And part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.

According to this theory, Hillary Clinton is the champion of women — but only women smart enough to recognize their interests or strong enough to defy the patriarchy. This is a pristine example of the lazy false-consciousness narrative that informs so much of feminism. It can’t possibly be the case that women agree with their husbands — or that their husbands agree with them. I mean, sometimes people who share a worldview marry each other. You either agree with — and ultimately love — Hillary or you figuratively toil in the fields in your Handmaid’s Tale habit.

Occam’s razor offers a much simpler answer. Hillary Clinton wasn’t skilled or likable enough to pull it off. She was a known quality, and much of the country wanted something new — not the dour heir to a political dynasty. Sure, she was dealt a bad hand. I’d be bitter too if I had won the popular vote but still lost. But Hillary literally ran on the idea that it was her “turn” to be president, an appeal that only works on people who already believed that her sex or last name entitled her to the job — a ridiculous idea on the merits and an insane one given the political moment she was in. That sense of entitlement explains why she never went to Wisconsin far more than the stranglehold of the patriarchy or the deplorableness of the denizens of backward America.

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