Last week, I was discussing the current presidential election with a group of other queer college students. The conversation was primarily centered around the group’s dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate and their desire to have another term under Obama.
I’ve found this sentiment to be extremely popular in my circle of friends and the young progressive community in general, and I happen to agree with many of the leftist arguments against Clinton’s policies. I think that it is important to continue to hold her accountable despite the danger her opponent poses.
There was one argument, however, made by a friend and supported by the rest of the group, that I just couldn’t get behind. Hearing the way that my group of LGBT peers railed against her, I found myself questioning the way that some progressives talk about Clinton.
The conversation had turned into a criticism of Clinton’s hesitant endorsement of marriage equality in 2013. It doesn’t take much research to see that Clinton’s position on LGBT rights has progressed from initial opposition to her present advocacy, a fact that every gay person in my circle of friends is acutely aware of.
“It just goes to show how dishonest she is,” said this friend. “How can we know what she really feels? She just waited until a majority of Americans supported marriage equality and then hopped on the bandwagon so she wouldn’t get left behind.”
I agree with his basic argument, and I would even take it further. I believe the same is true for many, perhaps even most, politicians who waited to endorse my community’s cause until it was politically advantageous.
This comment, however, sparked a cognitive dissonance in me because I distinctly remember having the same criticisms of President Obama when he finally came out publicly in support of gay marriage. My friends had seemingly forgotten that in his first election Obama was clearly opposed to same sex marriage, explicitly campaigning on the position that marriage was between a man and a woman.
It wasn’t until 2012, when he faced re-election, that Obama became the first sitting president to publicly endorse gay marriage. I remember the media coverage at the time celebrating Obama’s “revolutionary” statement. He was even featured on the cover of Time Magazine as “the first gay president”.
I felt angry that Obama was getting credit for only recently supporting our cause, credit that rightfully belongs to the vanguard drag queens of Stonewall and the early advocates of our community. Harvey Milk died because of his dedication to gay rights, yet Obama is heralded as a champion of our cause?
When I mentioned this fact, I thought that my friends would include Obama in their criticism, expanding the scope of their commentary to the entire democratic institution (which only recently adopted LGBT rights as a defining platform for their party). Instead, my friends rebuked the example, claiming that Obama’s progress on the issue is understandable because “sometimes you see the light and change your mind.”
When I pointed out the obvious hypocrisy in that statement, they responded that it isn’t the same for Clinton “because she literally lies about everything.” Although this statement is clearly an exaggeration, it is representative of the feelings many young progressives have towards Clinton. I remain critical of both Clinton and Obama’s delayed endorsement, but I believe the criticism is only valid if it applies to every politician who took their time expressing support for the LGBT community. To attack one and applaud the other is a logical fallacy that exposes the real issue underneath the surface.
I had been aware of the misogynistic double standard forced upon Clinton by the right, but until this conversation I had never given much thought to the underlying sexism that exists on the left.
After this exchange, the conversation turned to Bernie Sanders. The group communally mourned the defeat of their preferred choice. My mind, however, was stuck replaying the argument between me and my friends. Something about their dismissive, generalized response left me feeling unsatisfied. I decided to try and quantify their statements about Clinton’s dishonesty to see if perhaps I was being too easy on the Democratic nominee.
“Bernie or Bust” progressives: brace yourself. The fact you are about to read is true and will likely piss you off. I browsed a number of independent, political fact-checking sites that rank the truth of politician’s statements. I was surprised to learn that throughout the course of the Democratic primary, 73% of Clinton’s statements were ranked as partially true to completely true. Bernie Sanders had a truth ranking of 72%.
What is important about this is that even though she was marginally more honest than her rival during the primary election, the common sentiment among liberals who felt the Bern (and just about every person on the right) is that Clinton is a big fat liar. The biggest. The fattest. The lying-est.
Despite the fact that multiple unbiased reports regarding the truthfulness of each candidate proved Clinton to be equally, if not more honest than her opponent, she is continually labeled as a liar. When I brought up this point to my friends, they argued that Clinton is an expert at avoiding questions she doesn’t want to answer. They’re not wrong, but what politician isn’t? I challenge anyone who disagrees to re-watch the Democratic primary debates and honestly tell me that Clinton avoids more uncomfortable questions than Sanders. It just isn’t true.
Clinton may have avoided more questions involving her past remarks and stances on important issues, but Sanders avoided more questions about the specifics of his proposals. By completely ignoring the fact that Sanders and Clinton voted together 93% of the time while serving in the Senate, ‘Bernie or Bust” progressives have found themselves unintentionally reinforcing a sexist double standard.
If you can be presented with hard facts and still refuse to even consider changing your position, it might not be facts that are forming your opinion in the first place. It seems that my friends had their mind made up about Clinton. No matter how hard I tried to show them that, for all their differences, Clinton and Sanders tend to agree far more than they disagree, they remained steadfast in their assertion that Hillary Clinton sucks.
I’m not trying to convert people to become fanatic supporters of Clinton. I am merely offering some evidence that certain aspects of liberal criticisms towards Clinton are invalid. The same could be said for Trump, who is often criticized for his appearance. I don’t particularly care how big someone’s hands are or how orange their skin looks. There are many valid points to be made about Clinton that it is disheartening to hear the political discourse surrounding the current election be reduced to absolutes such as “she lies about literally everything”. Even Trump, who makes a habit of spreading false information, still manages to tell the truth 29% of the time.
I supported Sanders over Clinton because I felt that his vision for the future matched mine more closely than Clinton’s. After the primaries, both Clinton and the Democratic party as a whole adopted many of Sanders’ key issues into their platform. In fact, 80% of proposals made by Sanders at the convention ended up in the final platform for the Democrats. Sanders pushed Clinton further to the left on a myriad of issues, including college tuition and financial regulation. There are many progressives out there who are eager to overlook these advancements in favor of attacks that are less policy based and more personal in nature.
I disagree with people who claim that all critiques of Clinton are rooted in sexism. That argument does little to push the conversation forward, and most feminists would agree that dismissing valid concerns over her potential presidency as based solely on gender only solidifies the sexism that is already present.
It is imperative that progressives make the distinction between valid and invalid criticisms and work to deconstruct the double standard that is starting to run rampant in left wing political discourse. For a group of people who pride themselves on open-mindedness, many young liberals find it difficult to accept any new information that contradicts the picture of Clinton they’ve adopted post-Bernie Sanders.