Hillary Clinton’s supporters should be happy. Her lead over Donald Trump has expanded, and the Republican Party has imploded in the last week as the GOP nominee’s campaign imploded over his Twitter tirade and the fallout from the release of an “Access Hollywood” tape in which he boasted of sexual assaults. But Clinton’s cheerleaders in the media and popular culture are still not satisfied.
It’s not enough that the former secretary of state seems headed to an inevitable victory next month by virtue of the fact that more Americans think she is the lesser of two evils than those who believe Trump is the least awful choice. They are still upset about the fact that so many Americans don’t seem to like her and consider her untrustworthy. They think the only possible explanation is sexism and that means they believe America not only owes Hillary the presidency but also an apology for handing her the prize in a half-hearted manner.
That’s a theme we’ve heard throughout the election year even as she cruised to the Democratic nomination and then was gifted by the GOP with an opponent that is the only person in politics—and in the history of polling about presidential candidates—who is more disliked than her. That the New York Times chose to revive the discussion of sexist prejudice against Clinton today, just as the election appeared to become a foregone conclusion is curious. But it is nonetheless important. It is likely to become a constant theme in the next four years as criticism of Clinton’s conduct, not to mention her credibility, will be slammed as sexist even more thoroughly than critiques of Barack Obama were put down as racist.
Is there any merit to the charge of sexism against Clinton critics?
As long as the main argument is between Trump and Clinton, sexism is a legitimate topic for discussion. We didn’t have to listen to that tape to understand that Trump is the walking, talking embodiment of contempt for women (as well as other humans). But it’s also true that women in politics are subjected to criticism for their appearance, dress, and even demeanor in ways that men don’t generally have to deal with.
That’s why those critics of Clinton who can’t resist commenting on her appearance, or whether she is smiling enough or too much, or if she’s being–as Barack Obama memorably put it in a nasty crack made during one of their 2008 debates–“likeable enough,” need to reassess their language. The “do you want to have a beer with him” test is often unfair to women since it’s harder for women to pull off the “one of the guys” routine without being bashed for not being ladylike.
But even if we concede, as we should, that these are legitimate concerns when evaluating the way women are discussed, none of this explains why so many Americans–male and female—feel they way they do about Clinton.
Clinton’s problems boil down to two words: inauthentic and dishonest.
The inauthenticity stems from her clear lack of core principles and identity. It makes itself manifest not only in the sort of verbal gymnastics that have allowed her to flip-flop on issues like trade, the economy, and foreign policy with a dexterity that puts her in the same league as the equally unprincipled Trump. But it also comes out in small things, like the way she begins to affect a southern drawl any time she’s south of the Mason-Dixon line. If she comes across as a phony, it’s a function of her chameleon-like personality, not her gender.
As for the honesty factor, that doesn’t require much explanation. A year and a half of lies about emails should suffice to provide backup for the evaluation if her falsehoods about Benghazi weren’t enough. And if that wasn’t sufficient then the latest Wikileaks document in which she speaks of having public and private positions on the issues—and her willingness to blame that confession on Steven Spielberg’s movie about Abraham Lincoln—should do the trick.
So Clinton’s supporters should spare the voters who consistently give her low ratings for favorability and honesty the guilt trip. Get ready to hear this excuse repeatedly endlessly in the next four years, but it will be just as much of a lie as so many other things Clinton has said.