Thursday, May 08, 2008

Why Hillary Should NOT Drop Out (yet)

I suppose it was inevitable that, when the results came back from North Carolina and Indiana, people would begin calling for Clinton to drop out of the race. I don't think she should.

I'm not going to appeal to the most obvious reason, which is that many of the superdelegates still remain uncommitted. (In the DNP, it really ain't over til it's over.) Although superdelegates are not bound by rule to vote for any particular candidate, I would be shocked if they overturned the popular will. (That said, I've been shocked before.) Nor do I really think that Clinton has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination at this point. (Because I can do math.) Rather, I think that her presence in the race is a necessary reminder of how far the "left" still needs to go in this country.

I must admit, if you had asked me two years ago which was more likely--a famale Presidential candidate or a black Presidential candidate--I would not have even hesitated to say that Americans would elect a woman before they/we would elect an African-American. That misjudgment on my part was strangely paralleled by my teaching experience this past academic year. In the Fall semester, I taught a course on Philosophy and Race (in Memphis), which I expected to be a bit of an uphill battle. Although the students were definitely challenged and sometimes resistant (especially on the subject of white privilege), I still found that, on the whole, they were fairly well equipped with both a vocabulary and an arsenal of concepts for talking about race. This past semester, I taught Feminist Philosophy, which was a horse of a completely different color (or, I suppose, gender). My experience was that students still struggle mightily with what are at this point decades-old stereotypes of females and feminism, and when pressed, most of them uncritically revert to biological essentialism to justify their values and evaluations. Perhaps most shockingly, I found that there is not the same sort of social sanction attached to being openly misogynist (or homophobic) as there is to being openly racist. And, further, I would say that this past primary season has demonstrated the same phenomena writ large.

I would definitely classify myself as an "ABB" ("Anything But Bush") Democrat, which means that I would have happily voted for either Clinton or Obama (or Edwards). After John Edwards dropped out of the race, I began to lean more towards Obama mostly in defiance of the 20-year Clinton/Bush White House dynasty. So, my support for Obama is less a direct rejection of Hillary Clinton than it is an objection to certain symbolic/structural trends in American politics over the last couple of decades. However, I have been deeply disappointed (and disturbed) by the anti-Clinton rhetoric coming out of the Obama camp, which tends to rely on a conflation of Hillary Clinton with her husband (as if Hillary really is the "second sex") and grossly reductionist, sexist stereotyping. One would think that supporters of an African-American candidate for President, supposedly cognizant of the deeply troubling social ontology of American prejudice, would know better than to resort to such pandering of the populace. One would think that, and one would be wrong.

Now, I don't think that that Hillary Clinton represents a truly "leftist" option in American politics.... but I do think that her struggle as a woman ought to remind us that we've still got a long way to go, baby. I don't think she should drop out of the race because I think we need to keep having this conversation. Maybe, hopefully, when the Democratic nomination is said and done, Obama will look back and see that it is his charge to comment on what his success both represents and defies about American "progress"-- that is, even in our most racially-progressive moments, we still aren't attuned to the women on whose backs this country continues to be built.


Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Dr. J.

Let me apologize in advance for anything offensive I am about ready to say; and let me also make the caveat that I have totally drunk the Obama Kool-Aid.

I agree with you that there has been surprising misogyny directed towards Clinton's campaign and that that is a very troubling thing. But I don't think that misogyny is the only reason to be extremely critical of her and of her candidacy, and not just ex tremely critical of her positions (which are, of course, virtually identical to Obama's and not nearly as far to the left as I would like to see in my fantasy-America).

One crucial question, as you point out, is the question of how closely she can be tied to Bill. While it isn't fair to assume that she is just an appendage of his or agrees on everything, in fact their political relationship has always been extremely close (this very fact was why the blue-collar white workers --- both women and men --- who are now her base excoriated her so much in the 90s). Moreover, she has made this tie crucial to her claim to the nomination by staking so much on her far vaster experience than Obama. In fact, she has a mere 4 more years in the Senate and less legislative experience overall. But she should be credited for her time in the White House, because she was extremely involved; she should be credited for it, but that also makes her accountable for what she did while she was there.

To me, the crucial point is that Hillary remains the candidate of the baby-boomer generation of the Democratic party: the generation that brought us welfare reform, the DLC and both the excesses of the war protesters in the 60s and 70s as well as the extremely ugly backlash to those excesses (To slightly change what Cartman said on South Park: "I don't hate women; I hate hippies (and the baby boomers in general.")

That generation of democrats have, I think been both moral and political failures.

In particular, Hillary's strongest support with the super-delegates remains among groups like the Old DLC, the DNC of the Terry McAuliffe years and groups like Rahm Emmanuel's committee to re-elect House Democrats. These groups have been pursuing a losing strategy for some time now, and had the audacity to get mad at Howard Dean after they first bought him off from running in 2008 by giving him the DNC Chair (which they thought of as just a fund-raising position) and then (when he launched an initiative to make the Democratic party relevant throughout the entire U.S. again) blamed him for the loss of a couple of seats where they had used their high-handed tactics to install unelectable candidates (Tammy Duckworth is the prime example). Oddly, they didn't give him credit for winning seats that they hadn't even looked at in places like Kansas and Kentucky.

One other thing that I long disliked these folks in general for, but Hillary in particular for is their penchant for secrecy and authoritarianism (while I am confident that Hillary would use these tools of our current president for better ends than our current president, I have always been uneasy by her unwilliingness to critique the very idea of the executive power as Cheney has wielded it).

So I was never inclined to be excited about Hillary's candidacy, and I think it's really unfortunate that she was the first viable woman candidate. If she had won the primary easily, I would have swallowed my objections and voted for her because I think she'll make a decent enough president while not changing any of the fundamental problems with our country or the Democratic party.

And I still will, since McCain is one scary man, but now I'm going to have to swallow more than my pride, like a fifth of gin.

If her tactics weren't tearing the party apart, I would think it would be fine for her to stay in. But her tactics have been tearing the party apart, and I do think that she --- or her camp at least --- is more to blame for that then the Obama camp.

Now, as I said, I have drunk the Kool-Aid. But I do really believe that Obama can be a transformative candidate in a way that no one else in the race (including Edwards, who I liked a lot) could have --- why? I don't know. It's partially a matter of personal qualities, but also partially a matter of positioning (I'm sure if I were a Foucaultian, I'd have more to say on this.)

I don't know that he will be transformative (and if he isn't, I'll never love again ...) but I'm pretty confident that Hillary can't be.

I think that, as much as anything else, explains both the evaporating support for her and also her own unwillingness to drop out and to use absolutely any tactic to win. In any other year she should have won easily; she can't understand why she hasn't and refuses to believe it (as the New Yorker recently said, her camp has now entered a mystical phase, since like you and I, they can do the math...) I'm not mystic but I am a Heideggerian, and I do think that 2008 is a little Er-eignissy. So maybe I should be more sympathetic to Hillary for her calculative reasoning, her playing by the rules of what I think is thankfully becoming an outdated epoch.

But I am not.

But oh well,


Christopher Long said...

Hey Dr. J:

While I too am concerned about the misogynistic dimensions of our current politics (and our society in general), I think that Hillary Clinton is practicing a very male, and therefore dangerous and divisive, sort of politics. I have written a about this on my blog and in so doing have linked to your post here.

Doctor J said...

Ideas Man: I agree with you that there are plenty of reasons to be critical of Clinton's policies (and politics), as well as the manner in which her campaign has been run. But, at the risk of souding cliche, two wrongs don't make a right. I have brought up these issues several times with supporters of Obama only to have them respond with something like "but Clinton's campaign has been racist in (x,y,z) way!" That response misses the whole point, in my view.

Chris: See above. And also, as far as I can tell, *everyone* is practicing a "very male sort of politics."

Of course, I hope you both know that I appreciate, respect, and for the most part agree with your specific criticisms of Clinton. That said-- and I also apologize in advance if this is offensive-- I think you both may have just made my point. The point being, of course, that we seem to be more concerned with having every other kind of conversation except the most obvious one.

Booga Face said...

I agree with you completely about the mysogeny directed at Clinton, and have had similar experiences in my classes as you have. (My own political stance on the democratic primary is the same as yours -- I don't really care which Democrat wins, so long as a Bush-clone doesn't win. And I like the fight that Clinton brings to the campaign.)

To add to what you've said, a few months ago, some of my first-year students giggled when Clinton's image appeared on the overhead projector. (The students were presenting on specific policies outlined in campaign statements.) I asked them why they giggled, and they said she is funny looking.... huh? Any funnier looking than any of the other candidates? I don't think so. Their giggle was way too nervous for that. What's going on there?

Students today do not want to be racists, but they are. And they don't want to be feminist either, but actually in some ways they are. They are kind of sexist, kind of feminist, kind of racist, kind of not. Ultimately, they don't want to be anything, so, they end up being deliberately unconscious about what they say and feel.

And so I want to quote Slavoj Zizek's beautiful rejoinder to Donald Rumsfeld's epistemology. As you know, Rumsfeld famously said "there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns." This was his rationale for attacking preemptively, since it's better to blow something up just in case there happened to be something there that we didn't know we didn't know.

Zizek's rejoinder, "let's finish that logic. There are also unknown knowns." In other words, there are things about our own selves, about our own participation in the shit that is this world, that we ought to know, but don't want to know -- that we repress.

So, when we criticize Clinton's rhetoric for being too masculine (as Ideas Man and Christopher both have), then what are we doing? We are criticizing withouth being circumspect.

So, thanks, doctor j, for reminding us to be circumspect.

Christopher Long said...

I think this is a very important discussion to have and I appreciate it. (No offense taken at all.)

I recognize that there are things about myself I ought to know by have difficultly hearing, that I operate under an "epistemology of ignorance." I have done some thinking about my "male politics" comment and think Dr. J. and Booga Face (and my wife) are right in holding me accountable for it.

I do not think it is helpful to characterize Hillary Clinton's politics in this way because it trades on a faulty, essentialist and counter-productive understanding of the male/female dichotomy. Also, it is particularly problematic to characterize the first viable female candidate for the Democratic nomination for president for practicing a "male" form of politics.

In the end, I would like to think about what a different kind of politics might look like, one that could not be characterized in terms of the traditional male/female dichotomy.

(In fact, I am beginning work on a project about patriarchal authority in which I hope to move in that direction. An initial attempt to articulate it can be read here.)

So, if I may, let me take back the characterization of Clinton's practice of politics as "male" and simply say that I am very critical of the dangerous bravado with which she speaks about "total obliteration," her repeated use of fear tactics and her appeal to racist stereotypes to drum up votes. I too, however, am critical of Obama for often practicing the very politics he is supposed to be criticizing and for conflating Hillary's politics and policies with those of Bill.

I recognize that both of these candidates find themselves determined in powerful, problematic and perhaps at times even liberating ways by their race and gender. Both of their candidacies are teaching us a lot about ourselves, our ignorance and our willingness to take a hard look at what we say, think and do.

Doctor J said...

Booga Face: Thanks for the comment, and particularly for the Zizek quote, which is quite good. I've also had some experience with the "I don't really want to be anything" phenomenon that you describe among your students. I spent a good part of my semester this Spring railing against what I called "lazy relativism" (of the I'm okay/You're okay sort). For all of the complaints that Ideas Man (rightly) makes about the baby-boomer's generational faults, this generation has its own special kind of apathy that I find very troubling.

Chris: Like you, I also spend a lot of time thinking/writing/teaching about what else might be possible in politics... especially in these times, when too many people (like the students I describe above) are disillusioned by the way in which "politics" seems only to provide *im*possibilities. I look forward to reading your essay!

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

A lot of interesting stuff that merits a lot of treatment, more than I can give on this brief break from the joy that is last-minute grading...

But for now, two quick things.

1) I want to apologize if I said that Clinton's discourse is too masculine. I have a lot of criticisms of her, but this shouldn't be one of them.

2) There, is of course an ideal solution, which I am no less fond of for its being impossible.

Hillary drops out immediately BUT

The House impeaches and the Senate convicts both Bush and Cheney posthaste.

We then have 7 months to enjoy President Pelosi before the beginning of the Obama's term.

(I might be wrong about the line of succession and Rice might come before Pelosi -- I don't think so, because the Sec. of State isn't a constitutional office, and so falls under the ambiguous catch-all for line of succession); If so, a case can be made to impeach her also, but it isn't as much of a slam dunk as for the other two.

Trott said...

I am not sure I agree withe the original claim, that Clinton should stay in the race in order to remind the democratic party how far it still needs to go. I'm not sure that her remaining in the race will accomplish that.

I would also like to note the continued condescension that we have toward Clinton when we regularly refer to her by her first name but to every other candidate or public official by his or her last name. I'll admit that even the Clinton campaign does this with its Hillary stickers and so forth, but perhaps that is its peculiar unknown known.

Certainly what we have seen with the Clinton campaign for the nomination is that men generally can run as candidates but women are forced to run as women. But what this has meant for the Clinton campaign is that it has been accused of playing the gender card while Obama has been generally praised for avoiding playing the race card (see this parody on SNL ). If Dr. J is right that it's more acceptable to be sexist than racist, we see a twist on that here where it is more acceptable for the media to accuse HRC of playing the gender card than to accuse Obama of playing the race card.

But what this has meant is that we aren't permitted to judge Clinton as a candidate. And I think her relation to Bill and the issues of dynasty and her way of running her campaign are all relevant here. But I think it is important to hold self-professed feminists responsible for their (our) contribution to the problem. On the one side, older feminists seem to say we must vote for her because she is a woman (regardless of her positions or capacity) and on the other, sexists commentators say we must consider her in light of being a woman (which seems to put her capacities in question). Of course, we knew that life was raced and gendered but we are doing a disservice to demand votes for a woman because she is a woman as much as to excuse her and call her shrill and pretend that we aren't sexist.

Doctor J said...

Bravo, Dr. Trott. Well said.

In fact, and this is one of the few times you will see this coming from me on this blog, but I think you said it better than I did in the original post.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

This post and the subsequent comments have gotten me thinking a lot. Lot's more I'd like to write about, but in the interest of time, let me just say that you all have convinced me I need to rethink some of my hostility towards Clinton's candidacy.

Which is too bad, because I really liked the old way.