Now and then some weird alchemy of anthropological curiosity and masochism drive me to listen to right-wing talk radio, a pastime that has convinced me that Hillary Clinton is the single most hated person in the world by a large swath of the American public. To hear them tell it, Hillary is a cross between Shulamith Firestone, Malcolm X and Joseph Stalin. A quick Google search under “Hillary Clinton communist” yielded about 1.5 million hits.
A reasonably typical comment comes from Cliff Kincaid, who describes himself as a journalist and Clinton as “a radical feminist with a background in Marxist dogma and Communist connections.” He says that she is pushing “her international Socialist agenda, and the transformation of the United Nations and its agencies into a global state.” I assure you that such attributions are anything but idiosyncratic.
On the other hand, to hear the recent Clinton-for-president crowd tell it, she is a cross between Gandhi, Abe Lincoln and bell hooks. Clinton is described as a feminist icon, a progressive champion of the poor and oppressed, a defender of gay rights, an alternative to masculine politics. The Washington Post has run several op-eds in the last few months by Clinton supporters suggesting that the only reason anyone could fail to support her was sexism.
What is striking of course about the popularity of these positions is that both are absurd and not remotely backed up by Clinton’s record.
In reality, she is an utterly mainstream politician in terms of positions, style and political strategy. On Iraq, she supported the Bill Clinton administration’s sanctions regime that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. In the Senate, she supported the war, strongly and vocally, and continues to endorse a permanent U.S. military presence. She has never come out in favor of major arms reductions, against the insane military budget, nor endorsed a rollback of U.S. troop levels throughout the world.
She didn’t resist Vice President Al Gore’s efforts to block the use of generic AIDS drugs in Africa, a policy not unrelated to pharmaceutical support of the Democratic Party. She endorsed the Defense of Marriage Act. She has been one of the most vocal supporters of the ongoing Israeli destruction of Palestinian society. Her voting record on the environment is a bit more liberal than the middle of the Senate but in the most moderate third of Democrats.
On civil liberties, the Bill Clinton administration continued the Reagan push to imprison more people and undercut civil liberties protection. One little-discussed but deeply oppressive piece of legislation was the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Hillary Clinton did nothing to stand in the way of this trend. She also supported legislation written by Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) that, for the first time, extended the death penalty to nonviolent offenses. She voted for the Patriot Act. In the U.S. Senate, she has a 75 percent lifetime and 67 percent 2007-08 rating from the American Civil Liberties Union.
She has been pretty solidly in the middle on immigration. She supported her husband’s dismantling of welfare. She supports moderate gun control. She has been a supporter of health care for all, but nothing like the fully socialized systems in Canada and Europe.
In sum, her record puts her pretty squarely in the mainstream of conservative parties in Europe and Canada. She is a bit right of the Tories on social issues (gun control, civil liberties, death penalty, health care); a bit left on economic issues; and a bit more militaristic in foreign policy.
In short: a mainstream Democrat. And one that is as closely tied to mainstream Democratic strategy and strategists as one can be. Early on she was the choice of the major Democratic power-brokers and closely tied to the Democratic Leadership Council, which has been pushing the party to the right for over a decade.
So what in the world leads both supporters and detractors to so utterly misrepresent a completely mainstream politician? In a word: sexism.
That this is the explanation for Republican Hillary hatred hardly requires argument. Denunciations of Hillary in the right-wing media amount to a caricature of misogyny. Though she has neither said nor done anything radical, the very idea of a forceful, well-spoken woman attacking any aspect of male supremacy from the White House sends a certain segment of the U.S. population into paroxysms of fear. So, when a male politician engages in self-interested political calculation, changes positions for political gain, etc., it is seen as what one has to do to get ahead. When Hillary does the same, she is a manipulating, evil b.
But if the image of Hillary in right-wing America is a reflection of deep-seated misogyny, her image as a fearless challenger of the downtrodden is that same reflection bounced around a funhouse mirror, for so much of the support for Clinton swallows hook, line and sinker the right-wing terms of debate. If they denounce a woman as a radical feminist, it must be a radically feminist statement to support her. If they say she’s a Commie Socialist, we must be supporting genuinely progressive ideals by voting for her.
The reality is that virtually no authentically feminist voices are allowed in either party, just as progressive views on civil liberties, war, gay rights, economics or foreign policy are systematically excluded. Dennis Kucinich tried to bring a few of these issues into the election, and he was declared a non-candidate before the race started.
There are genuinely feminist, anti-war voices at both conventions – Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, and many others – but they are outside, on the streets, protesting the politics-as-usual that cause so much death and destruction around the world, calling for health care, housing and education for all people, calling for an end to all wars and to offensive military spending, for a foreign policy based on justice and international law. It is, of course, detestable that the right-wing machine has done so much to demonize Hillary Clinton, but far sadder is that so many who claim to be progressive have taken the bait and allowed her to become the issue.
ark Lance is a professor in the philosophy department and a professor and program director in the Program on Justice and Peace. He can be reached at lancethehoya.com. COGNITIVE DISSIDENT appears every other Friday.