Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bernie, Hillary, Sexism, Authenticity, and Elizabeth Warren

It is undeniable that, as a woman, Hillary Clinton faces a sexism that makes campaigning tricky. Pundits will obsess over stupid things like her hair and dress, they will scrutinize her actions as a wife in a way male politicians are never scrutinized for their marital conduct, they will look for signs of "womanly weakness" at every turn.

That being said, Clinton is not struggling to beat Bernie Sanders because, as Catherine Rampbell suggested in the Washington Post, Sanders' maleness allows him a freedom to seem authentic that Clinton doesn't have. Sanders, windblown and loud, can express passion; Clinton, constantly under watch by a sexist media, must be meticulous.

But its' not Sanders Brooklyn accent and mussed hair that make him seem authentic, nor are they the key to his popularity. And to see that, all one has to do is look at Elizabeth Warren.

With all due respect to Bernie, he was not most progressives first choice for president. Warren was the one every ultra-liberal democrat pictured taking the White House. Because Warren, with her kempt hair, midwest accent and pricey blazers, exudes exactly the passion and authenticity that Rampbell says sexism prevents Clinton from attaining.

One pundit suggested that Clinton's problem is we have cast her in the role of a grandmother, and when she raises her voice we feel we're being scolded. But Warren raises her voice all the time. She admonishes her foes with great force.

The difference is who is being admonished. If Warren is a grandmother, she is one who will see kids teasing another kid and run outside and chase them away with a broom. When she admonishes, she admonishes for you.

Hillary is something different. Like Warren, she can get angry, but often she's angry with all of us. She's angry because we keep throwing her vote for the Iran war back at her, angry because we asked for an explanation for her private email server, angry that people keep choosing dreamers like Obama and Sanders over a practical, sensible woman like herself. Hillary is the grandmother who tells you that you're a bad child if you don't eat your broccoli.

Hillary's authenticity problems are not because she can't be seen with messy hair. Her authenticity problems are because she's inauthentic. She answers questions with an evasive lawyerliness. She makes unsupportable claims, as when she said that being a woman makes her a true establishment outsider when her resume is remarkably insider-ish. She seems inauthentic because she switches positions and then says, oh no, I never really said I supported that, I just said I was open to it.

Authenticity isn't a male/female thing. Romney seemed inauthentic. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, comes across as passionate and authentic, even when she's being crazy and incoherent.

I'm not saying we should choose our political representatives based on that indefinable thing called authenticity. There are slick, talking-point-driven politicians like Nancy Pelosi who seem phony but still do a terrific job, and it's possible in the end that Clinton's experience, wonkiness, and nuts-and-bolts practicality would make her a better president than Sanders - I'm having difficulty making up my mind who to vote for.

What I'm saying is, if Elizabeth Warren were the candidate instead of Bernie, she would have the same fans, receive the same big crowds, and be attacked in the mainstream press for many of the same reasons. But no one would say she was doing so well because of sexism.