Vogue: No, Hillary Clinton, the First Woman to Win a Major-Party Presidential Nomination, Does Not Need to Shut Up About It
By Michelle Ruiz
Hillary Clinton will release her election memoir, What Happened, tomorrow, and as is the case with pretty much everything she’s ever done, some people—including those in her own party—are pissed about it. Democrats are “dreading” Clinton’s book tour, according to Politico, with one Democratic representative saying the attention around What Happened is being met with a “collective groan.”
They’re mad that she’s looking backward; what they call “re-litigating” the 2016 election. “Enough, already, with the seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding postmortem,” bemoaned a Washington Post column entitled, “Hillary Clinton, Smash Your Rearview Mirror.” Pulitzer Prize–nominated columnist Ruth Marcus goes on to say that Clinton’s failure to “go gently” is hurting the Democratic party as it smarts from her loss, a sentiment echoed often by pundits of both parties. “What Democrats crave most is not wallowing in theories about the defeat,” Marcus writes, but “a template for resisting Trump now.”
They’re angry Clinton is assigning blame, including to her former opponent Bernie Sanders, for what she says were his egregiously harsh primary attacks on her. In comparing What Happened and Sanders’s new book, Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution, Salon offers a character analysis: Sanders, as ever, is the noble one, with his “forward-thinking guide for the young,” while Clinton is “naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and cashing in.” Which, yes, brings us to another thread of criticism: That in writing this book at all, for which she certainly collected a hefty advance (her last book deal was reported to be in the tens of millions), Clinton has dollar signs in her eyes. And, last but not least, of course, some critics allege Clinton is just playing the ol’ woman card again when she posits that misogyny factored in to her defeat, writing in What Happened that some people are still “much more skeptical and critical of somebody who doesn’t look like and talk like and sound like everybody else who’s been president.”
There’s some truth to at least one facet of this new Clinton backlash: For many people, these are indeed dark times and the Democratic party does need to get its act together and focus on resisting and defeating Trump. But for the most part, the criticism of Clinton’s book is just more sexist drivel from the never-ending well of misogyny and sexism that’s been being hurled in her direction during her long career of public service. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to go out “gently”—or be otherwise schooled on how she should or should not handle her particular, unprecedented situation. She’s the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination in American history; she definitely doesn’t have to shut up about it, not now, not ever.
The attempts to silence Clinton are in fact just more proof that the misogyny she writes about in What Happened was not imagined, and is still working against her. There has been an avalanche of hot takes and postmortems about the 2016 election—true story: there are still Fox News segments about Clinton’s emails, not to mention the president still tweets about “Crooked Hillary.” But the one analysis that at least some segment of the public, including members of Clinton’s own party, don’t want to hear is that of the person who could practically feel Trump’s breath on her neck on the debate stage? I know the news cycle moves pretty fast, but even 10 months later, it’s insane to suggest that Clinton’s assessment of what happened is extraneous; technically, it’s everyone else’s that is. And yet, gallingly, critics still manage to deem her somehow unqualified to share the ultimate behind-the-scenes view of how this dumpster fire went down, as if there is some better person to process it all.
“It’s essential to understand what went wrong in 2016 and to call out the bad actors,” Marcus wrote in the Washington Post. “Clinton is just the wrong messenger.” Salon goes as far as to note that, “If anyone should be writing a ‘what happened’ memoir, it is Sanders, not Clinton.”
So much for the respect Clinton should be given as that historic major-party nominee—and one who won the popular vote by an estimated 3 million more than the sitting president (and more than any other losing candidate in history). Never mind that, love her or leave her, she’s one of the most accomplished public servants of our time: a former First Lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state. Our culture looks upon her contemporaries—elder statesmen like Sen. John McCain, former Vice President Joe Biden, and, clearly, Sanders—as folkloric political heroes. If Clinton were a man, she’d be lionized, too. Instead, people roll their eyes and basically say, “STFU and take a (literal) hike back into the woods.”
Curiously, the impulse to banish Clinton has not applied to male presidential runners-up, as noted in The New Yorker’s hilarious satirical essay “It’s Time for Hillary Clinton to Gracefully Bow Out of Public Life, Taking All Other Women With Her.” Writes Daniel Kibblesmith: “No recent failed presidential candidate has ever had such a prominent public role post-election, with the possible exceptions of Al Gore, who produced and starred in an Oscar-winning documentary; Senator John McCain, who is a constant television presence; and Mitt Romney, who—you gotta admit—seemed like a pretty good dude in that Netflix movie.”
The dismissal of Clinton’s book is sadly not dissimilar from the way Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have recently been all but shushed in Congress. There’s something about a powerful woman using her voice—and in a way that is not gentle or measured but bold and pointed—that still doesn’t sit well with the general public. (See: Clinton openly threatened with cries of “lock her up” to this day at Trump rallies; being called a “nasty woman.”) In spite of her achievements—and likely because of them—Clinton has always been seen, as then-candidate Barack Obama quipped in 2008, as just “likable enough.” During the 2016 campaign (and long before), she was lambasted for being rehearsed and robotic—a policy wonk, lacking in natural charisma. (By the way—what we wouldn’t give for a policy wonk in the White House today . . .) But now that she’s speaking freely and frankly, the sexist little secret is being laid bare: People didn’t want Clinton to change her manner of speech; they wanted her to stop talking altogether. Consider that while people want Clinton to be quiet, noted white nationalist political mastermind Steve Bannon got the mainstream sit-down treatment on 60 Minutes last night. Or that on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week, Sanders all but belittled Clinton’s book as “silly,” a statement that felt like the equivalent of a husband calling his wife “hysterical.”
“Look, Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country—and she lost, and she was upset about that,” Sanders said. “I understand that.” Even so, he added, “I think it’s a little bit silly to [keep] talking about 2016.” (One Democratic donor similarly chided her with condescending language, anonymously telling Politico, “I think she should just zip it.”)
The history of sexist animosity against Clinton makes it hard to see the dismissal of her book as anything but more of the same. Though she’s a convenient and familiar scapegoat, Clinton isn’t hurting the Democratic party by sharing her account of history—it happened, after all—nor is she a roadblock to its moving forward. Must she enter the witness protection program or move to the Italian countryside and pull an Under the Tuscan Sun for Dems to be able to craft a compelling message for 2018 and 2020? (For one, they can’t blame her for that corny “Better Deal” slogan.) Instead of willing her away, her party should probably read What Happened and try to learn from her mistakes. As for the cries that Clinton is “cashing in,” please refer to the Amazon listings for books penned by Obama, McCain, Biden, Gore, and Romney. If Clinton is cashing in, she’s in good company.
But most hollow of all may be the argument that Clinton isn’t doing the women and girls she appealed to in her concession speech any favors by speaking out. “Clinton’s behavior doesn’t help would-be glass ceiling-crackers,” the Washington Post wrote. “Publicly calling out misogyny is probably not the best strategy for combating it, or for encouraging other women to run for office.” On the contrary, condemning misogyny whenever and wherever you see it, in a forum as public as possible, is the precise way to fight it. Hence why, after Clinton’s loss, a record 16,000 women have reached out to Emily’s List in 2017 about running for office. Clinton doesn’t have to keep quiet—and neither do they.