A Historic Nominee Faces Historic Double Standards
The common criticisms leveled against Hillary Clinton don’t hold up.
The Democratic primary is now finally, mercifully, over. On June 6th, Hillary Clinton received the amount of delegates required to clinch the Democratic nomination — her position was reaffirmed with big wins in the two biggest delegate prizes remaining, New Jersey and California. This past week, she was officially named the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
Officially accepting the nomination is meaningful because until that point, even after her wins in New Jersey and California, Sanders did not immediately drop out and many of his supporters insisted she had not yet won. In 2008, Obama’s victory was declared by media outlets once superdelegates helped him clinch the nomination; there was no major outcry that said superdelegates haven’t voted yet. Indeed, Sanders himself recognized Obama as nominee before superdelegates had “actually voted” either. This inconsistent standard for when the race is “over” reflects a recurring theme in this election: many Americans seem to be holding Clinton to different standards than those faced by other Democratic candidates both in this election and in previous ones.
Additionally, despite Sanders having now repeatedly stated he supports Clinton and that he feels it is necessary for every liberally-minded person to vote for her to continue to move this country in the right direction and prevent the damage and existential threat of the Trump admiration, many of his supporters are not so convinced. Indeed, a large segment of Sanders’ supporters have been arguing that they will never support Hillary, and will stay home in November or vote for a third party. This is not altogether unprecedented, and most supporters of the losing candidate typically come around to support the nominee; the majority of his supporters have already expressed their intention to vote for her. What is unusual, however, is the number of Sanders’ supporters who believe that Hillary Clinton is no different than a Republican.
I find this both troubling and misguided.
After examining her record closely, she is very credibly progressive. She spent her time before politics working in law and supporting a variety of liberal groups and social causes. Both her voting record as a Senator and her public statements as rated by OnTheIssues marked her as one of the most liberal senators in office — even more liberal than President Obama. Clinton and Sanders voted together 93% of the time that they were in the Senate together, which is not what you would see for a centrist, much less a conservative. So how is she “practically Republican?”
One way this claim is made by Sanders supporters is to find a handful of votes or actions that they view as particularly egregious, disqualifying her from claiming the mantle of liberal. The issue here is that these standards are often not met by universally-acknowledged liberal icons, such as President Obama, Joe Biden, and even Sanders himself. And in trying to determine the explanation for the multitude of double standards she has faced, I keep coming back to one explanation: It is because she’s a woman.
The most common complaint given is her vote in favor of the Iraq War. Hillary has come to admit the vote was a mistake, and to be fair, Sanders did vote against it. However, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Harry Reid also voted in favor of it, and they are still heavily respected among Democrats.
Another large criticism is her late flip-flop on marriage equality, which Clinton only publicly supported in 2013. It does seem dangerous to me to permanently condemn an individual for reaching the right position a little late — I would much rather have someone in office that took a little longer than me to support LGBTQ rights than one of the Republican candidates still promising to actively strip them away. But the greater point that is often overlooked is that as late as 2006, Bernie Sanders was actively opposed to marriage equality in his home state of Vermont, saying that it was too “divisive” and that he viewed civil-unions as sufficient. Now, granted, Sanders did come around by 2009. But he has hardly been a lifelong champion of LBGTQ rights — and his position “evolved” only four years before Hillary’s. Obama only began supporting it only one year prior to her.
What’s particularly maddening about this issue is that she is the only one accused of changing her position for political calculations. To make this accusation against her alone is disingenuous — especially because Obama actually flip-flopped on this issue multiple times (supporting it in Illinois but dropping his support to avoid alienating voters on the national level) whereas Clinton did not. This accusation is less based in any particular set of criteria and more based in the stereotype that women in power are cold and calculating and will do or say whatever is necessary to get to the top.
These negative views on her character are widespread. She is seen as manipulative, calculating, and dishonest. If you type into Google “Hillary more”, one of the first few autofill suggestions (based off of what has been searched) is “Hillary more like Chillary.” These are, unsurprisingly, all common negative stereotypes for women in positions of authority. She has faced undue scrutiny for her voice and her appearance. Sanders can be extra appealing because his unpretentious appearance makes him seem relatable, and his fiery yelling makes him seem passionate. Hillary does not have the privilege to present herself that way without facing even further criticism. For those still unconvinced, it says a lot that other Congresswomen have come out and said they can see Hillary is facing sexism they themselves have a great deal of experience with.
These attacks on her character have been repeatedly reinforced in the media. While Sanders supporters felt their candidate was not receiving enough news coverage, the coverage he received was more positive in tone than that of any other candidate in either party. The analysis by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center shows that Clinton received more negative coverage than any other candidate, the equivalent of millions of dollars worth of attack ads against her. Perhaps this explains why so many voters seem to predisposed to believe she is corrupt; they are constantly hearing accusation after accusation against her, and even when it turns out that they are regularly without basis, the damage is already done. She is viewed as a serial liar despite having the fewest false statements of any candidate in 2016.
In addition to the Iraq War vote and the statements on marriage equality, Hillary is often also blamed for many of the actions of the Bill Clinton administration. This is disingenuous, as there are many records of the administration revealing that she was a constant voice actively pushing her husband to the left, with her work on health care reform being the most widely-known example. She has also made more liberal policy statements and had a more liberal donor base than her husband throughout her entire career. Aside from being misleading, holding her responsible for the mistakes of her husband is also obviously problematic. She is her own person and has had a distinct policy career with distinct positions, and is not just a parrot reiterating what he did during his time in the White House.
Policies aside, many Democrats feel they can’t trust Hillary because they believe she is in the pocket of Wall Street. Once again, this seems like a massive double standard. Previous Democratic nominees Al Gore and John Kerry had Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and JP Morgan among the biggest donors to their campaign. Obama set (and still holds) the record for most money raised by a Democrat from the financial sector in a Presidential campaign. What differentiates their taking of Wall Street money from Hillary’s? Why is she the only one to face concerns about being a “corporate shill” in Wall Street’s pockets?
Nor are the Clintons the only ones being paid large sums to give speeches. It is quite common for those who were in (or almost in) the White House; President Bush, Al Gore, and even all-around amazing human being Jimmy Carter receive large sums for speaking engagements. Bernie Sanders has taken almost no money from the financial sector; I find it commendable, and it is very understandable that so many people were excited to vote for the first serious candidate that didn’t accept Wall Street Money. However, if you trusted Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Carter, and Clinton is the only candidate you do not trust to act with integrity, you are acting needlessly more skeptical of the one candidate that happens to be a woman.
Indeed, Clinton’s record shows she has certainly not treated Wall Street with kid gloves. In early 2007, just as we were beginning to see indications of problems in the financial sector, she gave speeches warning about problems in the mortgage crisis and the need for stronger protections for consumers, as well as the need to more heavily regulate use of derivatives. It is true that Sanders has long been talking about the need to more closely regulate Wall Street, but to accuse her of stealing his platform denies her credit for her work and ideas that she has demonstrated across her career.
Hillary Clinton’s identifying of the risks of unregulated derivatives is particularly interesting, because in 2000 Bernie Sanders voted to deregulate them, in what was one of the laws that most contributed to the financial crisis. Bernie Sanders’ major talking point, Glass-Steagall, would not have prevented the financial crisis, as both Politifact and NPR agree. Likewise, in this campaign she has been mentioning shadow banking much more often than Sanders has and providing a concrete plan to regulate it. Liberal economists like Paul Krugman have repeatedly come out and said that her plan better addresses the real risks to the American people. And yet, Bernie Sanders is perceived to be staunchly and consistently tough on Wall Street, and Hillary is not trusted.
Whereas Hillary is condemned as a Republican in the pocket of corporate interests for her flip-flops and deviations from liberal orthodoxy, Sanders is given a free pass. He is viewed as authentic and consistent in spite of his vote to deregulate derivatives and previous opposition to marriage equality. On two particular issues, he has very significant shortcomings.
First is gun control. Bernie Sanders voted against every version of the Brady Bill, which mandated background checks and a waiting period for gun purchases — two of the most widely-supported and common-sense gun safety proposals. Even more troubling, Sanders voted for the PLCAA — a right-wing NRA-backed bill that protects gun manufacturers and sellers from being sued or having any liability, even if their failure to take proper care about who they provide weapons to leads to the loss of innocent lives.
Secondly, immigration, where Bernie voted against the best chance to pass immigration reform in recent years — the Ted Kennedy and John McCain sponsored bill in 2007 with a Democratic-controlled Congress capable of overriding a Republican filibuster, that the Bush Administration was willing to pass. When asked about it in the past year, he used the justification that he viewed the provisions for guest workers as being “semi-slavery,” where they would have had few legal protections. This seems to be a respectable, ethical reason to oppose an immigration reform bill. However, this was a politically manufactured excuse to cover up a dark spot on his record; in 2007 when he voted against the bill, he appeared on television to say that he didn’t believe we needed to allow guest workers in to take away jobs from Americans. He was less concerned with the treatment of immigrants than about turning more of them away.
We have seen Sanders taking very right-wing positions on two issues that progressives care deeply about, with real impacts on people’s lives. In the latter case, we have an outright lie. There are other instances of this — progressives are rightly critical of Hillary for supporting the 1994 tough on crime bill which contributed to the problem of mass incarceration. However, Bernie Sanders actually voted for the bill. And while he now defends the vote by saying he supported the assault weapons ban and protections for women included in the bill, this appears to be another case of politicking, as he voted for earlier versions of the bill that did not include these provisions.
And yet Bernie Sanders is not considered a closet conservative, nor is he marked as dishonest and untrustworthy for putting a false progressive face on his illiberal actions. And on the various issues mentioned above where they have both taken positions most liberals today would oppose, only Hillary continues to face denouncement.
I’m not suggesting it was wrong or sexist to support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. I’m not suggesting that she gets a free pass for her hawkish foreign policy or comments on the crime bill, or that Bernie’s refusal to take Wall Street money wasn’t a perfectly legitimate reason to prefer him. What I am saying, however, is if you continue to view her as uniquely untrustworthy or illiberal, that you consider: Maybe you’re holding her to a different standard than other political figures you have a favorable view of. And maybe you should consider why it is that the first female Democratic nominee for President is the one being held to that standard.