Rejecting Michael Arnovitz’ plea for “reason” …
… with a plea for reason of my own
By James Oliver
In “Thinking About Hillary — A Plea for Reason,” Michael Arnovitz argues that most people who don’t like Hillary Clinton feel that way because of the perception that she’s a self-serving liar who should be making license plates instead of important decisions with national consequences. That perception, he argues, is unwarranted, and is the result of a longstanding, baseless right-wing conspiracy combined with sexism.
In his view, the public perception that she is dishonest is the result of a massive misinformation campaign to discredit her character and her qualifications. He refutes these allegations with cherry-picked sources favorable to Clinton, such as Jill Abramson’s piece “Hillary Clinton is Fundamentally Honest.” Matt Welsh at Reason.com does a decent job of refuting this article. Also, sexism.
Is there a Republican conspiracy against Hillary Clinton? For sure. But there was an equal and opposite Democratic conspiracy against Bush. Welcome to party politics. Whether or not you call something a conspiracy really just depends on whether or not you support it.
I’m much more concerned with the basic substance of Arnovitz’ argument — that the animus towards her is nothing more than sexism and misinformation. In a year defined by politically motivated violence and dissatisfaction with the status quo, a defense of Hillary Clinton, specifically, carries no real meaning.
Arnovitz lays the groundwork for his argument by explaining that to conservatives, Hillary is a “radical left-wing insurgent,” while progressives see her as “a Republican fox in Democratic sheep’s clothing, a shill for Wall Street who doesn’t give a damn about the working class.” He goes on to lament that “the fact that these views could not possibly apply to the same person does not seem to give either side pause. Hillary haters on the right and the left seem perfectly happy to maintain their mutually incompatible delusions about why she is awful.”
Of course, this statement makes no real sense. Conservatives and progressives are two clearly distinct groups of people, neither of whom are obligated to be consistent with the other’s opinion. (Arnovitz also describes pro-Hillary and anti-Hillary memes in his explanation of the ebb and flow of her support relative to her political campaigns, completely ignoring the fact that opposing memes were probably created and propagated by two different groups of people.)
His overall point, of course, is that there’s a lot of misinformation about Clinton, which is certainly true, as it is of any politician. But setting up his point this way suggests a tribalist way of thinking which betrays his underlying belief system: that there are Hillary haters and Hillary supporters. And if you don’t support her, you must be succumbing to media bias, among other things.
For instance, Arnovitz asks why Donald Trump is not being given the same treatment as Clinton in the media. He suggests that somehow, he’s getting away with telling lie after lie, while she’s taken to task for every minor inconsistency.
Except that anyone paying even a modicum of attention to these campaigns can tell you that is flat out ridiculous. The media has been relentless in criticizing and condemning Trump — not just MSNBC, which calls its coverage of his disaster of a campaign “Trumpster Fire,” and which has kept an inventory of his ridiculous and infuriating statements, but also the notoriously conservative Fox News. None of this, I feel compelled to say, is to be misconstrued as a defense of Trump. And none of it is unwarranted.
It does, however, render irrelevant Arnovitz’ perplexing contention that Trump is somehow getting away with something that Clinton isn’t. He literally has no allies in major media outlets. I don’t even need to cite sources — anyone who isn’t already aware of this can turn on any of the news networks for ten minutes and will almost certainly be convinced of my point. To say that Trump is being treated better by the media than Clinton is so ridiculous I can’t even believe Arnovitz published it.
Most Americans, as well as his own party, have rejected him either overtly or subtly. So not only does the media’s treatment of Trump not account for his popularity, but his popularity doesn’t even exist to blame on the media. What the hell is he talking about?
Of course, Arnovitz himself admits that Trump is unpopular, which defeats his own point.
Arnovitz continues his shaky argument by contending that “the main fuel that powers the anti-Hillary crowd is sexism.” In the interest of intellectual honesty, I have to concede that while I vehemently disagree that sexism is the primary component, he’s absolutely right that it’s a factor. As absurd and infuriating as it is when a Hillary opponent is accused of opposing her only because of her gender, it does come into play for many, however unconsciously.
Sexism, like racism, fascism, and any other -ism, is not usually overt and usually exists in the absence of self-awareness. Most people wouldn’t call themselves racist, but most people also have prejudices they’re either not aware of or are not able to admit. And like racism, sexism comes partly from societal norms but also from human nature. Hillary Clinton, like any other ambitious woman, is fighting an uphill battle against deeply ingrained — genetic, in fact — biases against women in power.
Ambition requires aggressiveness, which is normally associated with testosterone. This is why most Great Apes don’t follow female leaders (the linked article singles out bonobos as the only female-dominated Great Ape species, though female “voters” only choose male leaders). Human society requires leadership above and beyond that which was required by our ancestors and which is required by our primate cousins, of course, but our DNA hasn’t caught up with our intellect. So yes, sexism is part of why many people don’t support Hillary Clinton.
It’s tempting to point to the many women who support Sanders over Hillary, or who for that matter support Trump, as evidence that sexism has nothing to do with it. But the complexity of the human mind renders this defense moot. Don’t forget that there are many Muslim women who believe wholeheartedly that they should only touch a man if they’re married to him. The inescapable fact is that sexism is part of why so many people — women included — harbor feelings of hatred for Hillary.
My point is that it’s not the only reason, or even necessarily the decisive factor. To suggest that it is — as many people suggested racism was the only reason conservatives did not support Obama — is absurd. What, people who have never supported a Democrat in their lives would support Hillary Clinton if she were a man?
Arnovitz does say that he doesn’t believe sexism is the only factor. But given that in the sentence immediately preceding that point he claims to see “no other plausible explanation,” it seems to be no more than a token disclaimer he threw in as an afterthought.
The question isn’t whether sexism is a factor; it’s how many other factors there are, and where those dynamics rank among the other factors. For example, it’s possible that part of my disdain for Hillary Clinton comes from latent sexism, fueled by my DNA, which has been programmed by millions of years of primate evolution. But it’s also possible that I don’t like her hawkish foreign policy, her tendency to support big government, the role she plays in maintaining the economic status quo, and her overt contempt for challenging ideas and arguments. These, it bears mentioning, are the same reasons I felt the same level of hatred towards George W Bush — a white man.
His argument, though admittedly slightly more nuanced than the typical Facebook comment, is nonetheless dangerous to republican (little R) discourse. It disregards any legitimate criticism of a female candidate’s record and policy positions, making her gender the only thing that matters. That stands in stark contrast to true feminist principles.
Arnovitz’ idiotic contention that Trump is treated more fairly by the media is a typical knee jerk reaction. Everyone who follows politics — Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, or Green — cries foul about media bias against their favored candidate, and some have more reason to complain than others. So I can’t fault Arnovitz for this really, except it does demonstrate that the reaction is so reflexive that he can make this claim without a grain of evidence.
More troubling, consequential, and specific to liberals and to Arnovitz in particular is the instinct to reduce any anti-Hillary sentiment to sexism. If sexism is the only significant factor, why isn’t there as much anger and hatred directed towards Elizabeth Warren? Why was it appropriate for Madeline Albright to suggest that women who don’t support her — simply because she’s also a woman — will go to Hell? Isn’t that basically saying that you should vote for someone because of their gender? What’s the logical conclusion to that argument? What excuse would the same liberals make when asked why they didn’t support Sarah Palin? Was it only because she was a woman? Weren’t there plenty of other legitimate reasons not to support her?
Of course there were, but not for Hillary, according to Arnovitz. One of the examples of overhyped and baseless Hillary hatred that he cites is the YouTube video which recently went viral entitled “Hillary Clinton Lying for 13 Minutes Straight.” (Here’s a solid alternative). He describes it as clips of Clinton changing positions over the years, along with what he describes as “annoying but typical political behavior.” This is frustrating for two reasons:
First, it is intellectually dishonest to describe Hillary’s behavior in this video as “changing positions” over the years. That’s simply not what Hillary is doing in the clips. One of the most striking moments is when she claims to have deplaned on a tarmac in Bosnia among a hailstorm of bullets, rushing with a young Chelsea to a limo while ducking, lest they both be struck by bullets.
One wonders how she ever thought she’d get away with telling this story given the overwhelming video evidence that this is exactly what did not happen. Hillary and Chelsea paused on the tarmac to greet Bosnian supporters, took pictures, and exhibited an overall leisurely disposition as they slowly made their way to the car. Michael, if you’re reading this, before you blow a gasket, please answer this question for me: if Hillary’s enemy is a biased and sexist media, why did Brian Williams get suspended for doing the exact same thing? Do we hold our journalists to a higher standard than our presidential contenders?
You might be tempted to dismiss this as some harmless embellishment for storytelling purposes, which I did at first when I almost didn’t include this example. Except that the US military was involved in Bosnia at the time, and to maintain order in the United States when engaging in military action, the public needs to be made to believe the war is justified. Bosnian rebels almost killing the First Lady and First Daughter certainly didn’t hurt the case for intervention.
The YouTube video juxtaposes examples of Hillary repeatedly asserting the claim that she had to dodge bullets — literally saying they expected a welcoming committee which wasn’t there — with footage on the ground in Bosnia showing the exact opposite. It also includes clips of her being asked about it point blank and continuing to lie, trying and failing to adjust her story to fit whatever evidence was being brought to light.
The second notable example in this video is Hillary’s contention that she had opposed NAFTA from its inception — constantly raising objections to its supporters — juxtaposed with a mountain of evidence proving she had been one of NAFTA’s staunchest supporters from the start.
This is not “changing positions.” This is shirking responsibility for an initiative she supported but which came to be unpopular and trying to rewrite her personal history on the matter. It would have been one thing if she admitted to supporting it early on but realized later that she made a mistake. But misrepresenting her initial stance is not “annoying but typical political behavior.” It’s lying for political gain. And it’s not a white lie either. What policy positions she takes and which initiatives she supports are significant factors in what kind of president she would be. Lying about it is inexcusable.
Circling back to sexism, the go-to counter-argument against Hillary detractors, Arnovitz attempts to illustrate his point by comparing Hillary to David Petraeus, who shared sensitive information with his mistress. The parallel is with Clinton’s private email server, which she used during her tenure as Secretary of State. His issue is that prominent Republicans like John McCain continue to sing Petraeus’ praises even after the scandal, while Hillary is the subject of conservative ire for less egregious violations.
Let’s first take a look at Arnovitz’ description of Hillary’s offenses. Part of his defense of Clinton is that what she did was less of a problem than what Petraeus did, which is a pointless argument. Forgiving one government official for doing something unethical because another one did something slightly worse is at best misguided. He then repeats the most infuriating defense the Clinton campaign has offered for her infraction — that none of the emails she received were marked classified at the time.
It has been well established that information is often marked classified after it has already passed from one person to another. Did the former First Lady and former US Senator and Secretary of State not know this? It’s impossible to know what role a particular piece of information will play as a situation develops, so sometimes information becomes more sensitive with time, and is thus retroactively classified.
Even more obvious, since her private server was the only email account she used, she could not have prevented classified information from being sent to it. She may be able to say in retrospect that no classified information had passed through her server, but in using an insecure server, she took no apparent measures to prevent that from happening. So something classified could have been emailed to her. If it didn’t, then she got lucky, is my point.
Arnovitz acknowledges this major point with a parenthetical “side note,” with about as much respect as he gives the idea that sexism may not be the “only” reason to oppose Hillary.
But more importantly, David Petraeus is not currently running for president. Drudging up his offense is pointless and irrelevant, as is John McCain’s opinion of him. While Arnovitz did a great job of proving that John McCain is a hypocritical asshole, he utterly failed to defend Hillary Clinton’s character. Providing evidence that one side of a competition is bad does not necessarily prove that the other side is good. The real world doesn't operate on such binary, Biblical terms.
If Arnovitz wants to write a piece on political hypocrisy and how Republicans are more concerned with being team players than they are with the greater good, I’ll help him write it. I’ve already got some material for him. But to link Republican hypocrisy to Hillary’s good nature, even indirectly, is fallacious, and serves the exact same purpose he’s lambasting McCain for.
One of the things I can’t stand about Hillary Clinton is that I constantly find myself calling her honesty into question. Calling a politician a liar is redundant and overly simplistic. Whenever I do it I’m reminded of conservatives who mindlessly jumped on the “John-Kerry-is-a-flip-flopper” bandwagon in 2004, or liberals who derided Bush’s many lies as if a single politician’s dishonesty somehow stands in contrast to the rest. Many individual politicians are liars, yes. But the bigger emergent property is the culture of dishonesty in government that transcends any one politician.
And this is perhaps my biggest point of contention with Arnovitz’ article. Whether Clinton is especially corrupt is irrelevant.
Dictionary.com defines “corruption” in the relatively ambiguous terms of morality and ethics, not law-breaking specifically. At its core, it means impurity or imperfection. But when a politician is accused of corruption, his or her supporters often refute it on the grounds that the politician hasn’t been convicted of a crime (which doesn’t mean they haven’t committed one; I’ve never been arrested for marijuana possession, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never smoked it). Arnovitz takes this route when discussing Hillary with a semantic argument about scandals and suggesting that the number of them Hillary has been involved in is merely the result of a smear campaign.
And that’s almost certainly true to a point. But even though Hillary hasn’t yet been convicted of a crime, many of her close associates have been. The company a person keeps is almost never totally unrelated to their own character. Being at the center of a group of politicians whose self-serving behavior has crossed the line into criminal activity — and who have been caught — speaks not only to the culture of Washington, and of the Democratic Party, but also to the core of who Hillary is.
There’s a fundamental aspect of human nature that delights in power. That’s why politicians are more likely to have psychopathic traits, which isn’t always a bad thing. But part of psychopathy is self-centeredness. And when it’s combined with the amount of money that’s needed to achieve and maintain power — marketing, campaign staff, etc. — it makes for a nasty combination. Corporations donate to campaigns expecting something in return, whether through bribery or just knowing the politician they support is naturally friendly to their interests.
The clown show of the 2016 election season is not a glitch in the matrix. It is the natural culmination of a system which rewards political favors and which treats voters as pawns. This is not a conspiracy theory; it’s just the way people are. How many times in your own life have you seen someone get a job because they knew someone in the company? Did that make them more qualified?
And yet pro-establishment liberals like Michael Arnovitz would have you believe that a candidate who knows how to play and win the game in Washington is the best person to fight for your interests. Regardless of what Jill Abramson has to say about Hillary’s relative honesty, the point is that it’s relative, and the bar is set very low.
For all of his defenses of Clinton and her speaking engagement fees or his attempts to mitigate her scandals by citing the dictionary definition of the word, Arnovitz misses the point. He himself points to Republicans’ defense of David Petraeus as some sort of vindication for Hillary, completely ignoring the point that while her treatment of sensitive information may not have been as far along the line as Petraeus’, they were nonetheless along the same line.
More importantly, which only certain media outlets have explored, is the age-old question why? Proving criminal intent in court is one thing, but acquittal does not necessarily equate to innocence. Just look at OJ Simpson. We can all be free to draw our own conclusions about Hillary’s behavior regardless of what the FBI or DOJ ultimately decides to do. Don’t forget that David Petraeus never went to prison. Arnovitz’ own argument about Petraeus suggests that getting away with it doesn’t absolve Hillary of wrongdoing. It just means the system favors people like Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus — people who have the right allies.
If Hillary winds up not being indicted, does that necessarily mean that she didn’t set up her private server to protect a clandestine relationship between the Clinton Foundation and the power she wielded as Secretary of State? Could it possibly be because of who she’s friends with or what damage it would do to the party headed by the boss of the Attorney General? Is it really that hard to believe that she — or any person, male or female — may have tried to benefit from a position of power? Can you think of another reason for a secret, unapproved email server? Was it really so that a person entrusted with national security secrets and who had a staff of assistants didn’t have to handle two devices?
Our system is broken. Dissecting Hillary’s fees for speeches sidesteps her campaign donations by the very same big financial corporations her supporters want her to reign in, what they expect in return, and what that arrangement says about her and the other politicians — from both sides — that they also support.
Arnovitz claims that Hillary is one of the most qualified presidential candidates in history. Whether you agree with that depends on your definition of “qualified.” Has she spent a lot of time in government? Yes. Does she know the ins and outs of Washington? Yes. But if Washington is broken, do we want someone who has mastered Washington to lead it? You have other options.