With each Hillary Clinton presidential campaign comes the requisite language policing from her supporters. Before the 2008 election, some argued it was sexist to call her “Hillary,” a claim that lost most of its force when it became clear that Clinton herself wanted to use her first name. And now we have the latest attempts to rule out certain words or phrases: Hillary’s poor social skills apparently must not be named, especially with words like “polarizing.” But her supporters are doing her no favors.
In late March, a group calling itself Clinton’s “Super Volunteers” decided to let the media know they’d be watching coverage of Clinton and would push back on the use of any of the words they’ve decided are unfair:
So these words are now off the table: “polarizing,” “calculating,” “disingenuous,” “insincere,” “ambitious,” “inevitable,” “entitled,” “over-confident,” “secretive,” “will do anything to win,” “represents the past,” and “out of touch.”
The thinking here, of course, is that these kinds of words are attached to Clinton in a way that they wouldn’t be attached to male candidates — that people wouldn’t call Clinton “ambitious” if she weren’t a woman, that there is a double-standard for such traits.
Some are pretty funny: you can’t say “inevitable”? This is self-parody. What the members of the Clinton campaign’s Sea Org are actually proving is that accurately describing Clinton is itself a negative act because she has built a career on negativity and the ever-present air of corruption.
The Clintons are experienced practitioners of the politics of personal destruction. That nastiness can easily translate to being “polarizing.” But maybe, say some defenders, “polarizing” is unfair because everyone’s polarizing. That’s the case made in a New York Times Magazine piece. Here’s Mark Leibovich:
Initially, reporters said Clinton was “polarizing” because she was a transitional figure in the culture wars as they existed a quarter-century ago. She was a working woman and full political partner with (gasp) feminist tendencies. Among would-be first ladies in the early 1990s, these were exotic qualities. Today Hillary Clinton is a cautious and exceedingly diplomatic politician, perhaps to her detriment. (She is often criticized for being “calculating” and “robotic.”) If anything, her willingness to be deliberate, speak carefully and appeal to the political center was a big part of what sank her with liberal Democrats who opted for Barack Obama in 2008. If Clinton really were polarizing, wouldn’t the left be more excited about her? Wouldn’t people be roused from their “Clinton fatigue”?
Well, no. That’s not what it means to be polarizing in this context. Clinton isn’t polarizing because she’s liberal; she’s polarizing because she’s Nixonian. Richard Nixon was a political centrist, even liberal on some issues. According to Leibovich’s logic, that should make him less polarizing. I doubt many would agree.
With Hillary, a very common question surrounding each new revelation of her political activity is: How many laws did she break? This results in her having to rely on her most fanatical supporters, since defending rampant rule-breaking from someone who aspires to be put in charge of the American government is hard to do on the merits. It requires personally attacking critics and the press, which in turn only increases the polarization–again, with it originating from Hillary’s camp.
When people say Clinton is polarizing, they are largely indicting her by association. She has been a fixture of our political climate for so long that the climate defines her. But the political climate has not been made, or polarized, by mysterious outside forces. It is us. You could argue that the act of showing up at CPAC and cheering a red-meat speech from the likes of Ted Cruz is an act of self-polarization, or at least an indication that common cause with Clinton probably was not much of a possibility to begin with.
And what does a red-meat speech from Ted Cruz include? Does it advocate for destroying evidence wanted by Congress? Breaking government rules to hide your taxpayer-funded activities from the people? Putting serious and sensitive government intelligence at risk by making it easier for the Chinese and the Russians to see our files than the relevant congressional committees? Running facets of a parallel government, with an entirely private server and a private spy shop feeding you intel? Using your family’s private philanthropic foundation as a super-PAC for foreign governments and then using the internal grant process to bleach the fingerprints off those checks?
I could go on, but I think the point is clear. Hillary lives by one standard, one set of rules, one book of laws, and wants everyone else to have to live by another. This aspect of her political personality is, at its core, aggressively contemptuous of the American people. And that’s pretty polarizing.