It is widely assumed, on both Left and Right, that Hillary Clinton and her campaign made a grave error by responding to the criticism of her performance in last Tuesday’s Democratic debate by complaining of a “pile-on.” Bill Kristol, for one, called it a “foolish overreaction.” I’m not so sure. Whether intentionally or not, Hillary managed to change the terms under which the debate has been discussed in the days since. In its immediate aftermath, the debate was seen as a referendum on her policy slipperiness, and one in which she did not come off well. Now, however, the discussion of the debate has become something quite different.
What we’re talking about now is the extent to which it is fair to criticize her. The New York Times has a front-page piece today entirely devoted to that question, which features a gobsmacking quote from 1984 vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro:
“John Edwards, specifically, as well as the press, would never attack Barack Obama for two hours they way they attacked her,” said Geraldine A. Ferraro, the 1984 vice presidential candidate who supports Mrs. Clinton. “It’s O.K. in this country to be sexist,” Ms. Ferraro said. “It’s certainly not O.K. to be racist. I think if Barack Obama had been attacked for two hours — well, I don’t think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours.”
Lest one think Ferraro’s view is an outlier, note an even more ludicrously ominous version of it on The New Republic’s Open University blog by Linda Hirshman, a retired Brandeis professor of no reputation until she published a manifesto two years ago explaining that educated women should be attacked for staying home with their children because by leaving the workforce they are damaging the feminist cause. Angry with Barack Obama and John Edwards for ganging up on Hillary, she invokes, astoundingly, Pastor Niemoller: “Oh, and for you Obama and Edwards supporters, remember the story about the man who didn’t stand up to the Nazis when they came for his neighbors.”
The Ferraro-Hirshman school of thought — if thought is what you want to call it, is nothing but self-parodying feminism, so much so that it has earned scorn from other bloggers at the New Republic itself. Still, it has served a raw political purpose — pivoting the conversation to a topic more to Mrs. Clinton’s liking than her own failings in the eyes of Democratic primary voters.