Why No Hillary in 2016?

No Hillary in 2016I am now in a position to make a prediction: Hillary Rodham Clinton will not be the Democratic candidate for president in 2016.

Remember: you read it here first.

Why do I think that? Because I have been following the rants of the commentariat on the topic for the last couple of years, and I see where things are going. Only a year or so ago, the consensus was that Clinton was “inevitable” and that this was good. Pretty nearly everyone across all media chimed in to say that it was wonderful that a woman finally had a chance to be president of the United States – and a highly competent and experienced woman at that. Then, of course, the commentariat got to sit back and reflect on how very open-minded and non-sexist they were. They applauded Hillary, and themselves even more.

Early this year, as we drew closer to a 2016 dénouement, the narrative began to shift. Clinton’s candidacy was still described as “inevitable,” but that inevitability was now understood in a negative way: bad in itself, bad for Clinton, bad for the Democrats. This is not an unreasonable position. A candidate needs sharp primary opposition to shape up for the general election. I agree, but note that the commentators are moving away from their original purely positive position.

They then moved still further, no longer speaking of “inevitability,” but wondering what would happen “if she falters.” They tended to say that last word very cheerfully, and with “if” sounding a lot like “when.”

Right now, Clinton’s candidacy is being assessed in a wholly different way – far from “wonderful,” that augury of a post-gendered world, it is now recast as a terrible idea, and Clinton as a terrible candidate. In recent writings she is “bellicose” and “barbed”; “hawkish”; “truculent”; “disloyal”; “everything is calculation and calibration,” all from an op-ed by Frank Bruni.

Maureen Dowd has also weighed in: as usual, Clinton is nothing but preternatural evil. Dowd segues from the death of Robin Williams to her conversation with Williams in which she told him about her friend Michael Kelly to the fact that Kelly was the first reporter killed in Iraq to a strong implicature that Clinton was to blame for Kelly’s death because she had voted for the war – as if her vote alone caused the war to happen, and as if she – or anyone else – could have foreseen how disastrous that war would turn out to be. And as if she could have done otherwise, given who she was and the position she aspired to.

Bruni’s and Dowd’s criticisms are not without merit; it is seldom that we get to vote for a candidate in a presidential election who is pure as the driven snow and aligns perfectly with us. But intelligent voters know how to make appropriate compromises: you decide what qualities in a candidate are the most crucial for you, and you find the best match. You finesse the others as best you can.

For me, having a woman in the Oval Office is #1. I am willing to put up with a fair amount of other, less desirable stuff to make that happen. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I would vote for a Palin or a Bachmann, or even Joni Ernst, the Iowa hog-castratrix, were any of them in the running: in their cases, the negatives outweigh the positive too significantly. But for this voter, such is not the case with Clinton.

I have said in these pieces that I am a reliable dove; I believe peace is always the default, especially in a time where our resources are strained and better used otherwise, and in a region where we are despised and which we cannot understand. (On the other hand, I am becoming increasingly nervous watching the growth of power and influence of several really bad actors: Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and now ISIS. Perhaps something really needs to be done before it gets even worse, and in that case, we are the ones who will have to do most of it.) I was not happy with Clinton’s Senate war vote, nor am I totally behind her current “hawkishness.” But I understand why she has done what she has done.

Note, first of all, that when discussing a war/peace decision, there is no good way to speak of a woman who may be the decider: to call a woman “bellicose” and “hawkish” is to depict her as a scary harpy (as is not so with a man); to call her “dovish” is to suggest that she is weak and ineffectual (more than would be so with a man). Here, as so often, we have no positive or even neutral vocabulary to speak of a woman who aspires to power. She is bad, she is dangerous, she is no woman but not a man, either.

To have any hope of becoming president, a woman must act against gender stereotypes, but if she does she will be harshly condemned for doing so, the same old double bind of damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

Clinton had to vote for war in 2002 because she was a prominent senator from a major state, and was contemplating a run for the presidency. Obama delivered his famous antiwar speech as a new and unknown state senator from the much less major state of Illinois. It is the proverbial apples vs. oranges, and the comparison has always been unfair – the more so as we see Obama’s actions as president. She had to vote for the war also because she was a woman and didn’t want to be cast as an ineffectual dove. To have any hope of becoming president, a woman must act against gender stereotypes, but if she does she will be harshly condemned for doing so, the same old double bind of damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

To take another example to the same point, consider Bruni’s opening paragraphs:

The other night, a prominent Democrat I know made the craziest statement.

“I don’t think Hillary’s going to run,” he proclaimed, silencing the room. He might as well have said that he’d just spotted Bigfoot pilfering rhubarb from the White House vegetable garden or that Arnold Schwarzenegger was in line to play Lear on Broadway. (“Cordelia, I’ll be baaaaack.”) He was humming some kind of loony tune.

His evidence?

“She seems tired,” he said.

Just what is going on here? Can you imagine the “prominent Democrat” saying something similar about Biden? Or Martin O’Malley?

What’s wrong with the statement? Everything.

The p.D. is doing what men have always done when talking about a woman: interpreting her without evidence, becoming the boss of what she thinks and is. And yet, although Bruni (ironically) calls it “the craziest statement,” it doesn’t seem particularly out of line. But no woman can become president until it does.

First of all, how does he know whether she “seems tired”? This is the kind of remark that parents typically address to children who are getting out of hand: “You seem tired. You need a nap.”

Now, it is often legitimate for parents to make such interpretations to small children, and arguably doing so helps kids understand how they feel, how to talk about it and what to do about it. But when a man makes interpretations of a mature woman whom he probably hardly even knows personally, the game is less innocent: he is casting himself as the wise and superior adult to the woman’s perpetual child; as the person with the power to tell her who and what and how she is, when she cannot normally do the same to him. Unilateral interpretation of this sort has been used by men against women since time immemorial and is always destructive of a woman’s identity and self-possession.

And this is a Democrat? With friends like this….

And suppose that in fact she really is “tired”? Plenty of tired people have run and served as president. To make the assumption that there is a necessary linkage between seeming tired, being tired, and dropping out of contention takes both nerve and desperation.

Men, and male-identified women like Dowd, have recently come up against the very scary possibility that it could happen here. A woman could be elected to the presidency, sit in that chair in the Oval Office, and have more prestige, if not literal power, than any man on earth. Until the last month or two, they hadn’t felt that queasiness in the stomach, the sweaty palms and trembling hands that spell TERROR. Now that Election Day, 2016, is just over the horizon, the commentariat is getting really, really scared. What was inevitable must be reconstrued as evitable, and we must evit it. So the vocabulary is changing to one that makes it extremely hard for a woman to be taken seriously and harder for her to win, and the narrative is shifting to one that paints her as bellicose and irresponsible.

For those who are afraid, very afraid, of a female Clinton in the White House, the unflagging attention paid to the un-candidate offers an extra added benefit. In presidential primary campaigns, one big thing voters are looking for is freshness. They want someone they don’t know everything about, someone whose novelty creates excitement. A female candidate, like an African-American one, ought to be able to do that particularly well and carry that advantage into the general election (as happened in 2008).

robin lakoffBut Clinton’s premature ubiquity is working against that. In each of the last three days, the New York Times has run a combination of at least three front-page articles and op-eds in which she is the major topic. We are getting dangerously close to Clinton fatigue, and the election is still a couple of years away. It would be paranoid (wouldn’t it?) to suggest that Clinton’s omnipresence is part of a deliberate plot to render her unelectable, but it certainly gives aid and comfort to her enemies.

The boys and traditional gals are circling the wagons. This fight is one they must win, and win they will. Yee-haw.

Robin Lakoff
The Berkeley Blog


  1. RonF says

    Le’s face it. People are about as tired of the Clintons as they are tired of the Bushes. There’s no chance that Jeb Bush will win the Presidency, and there’s no chance that Hillary Clinton will either. The GOP has figured this out. We’ll see if the Democrats do.

  2. RonF says

    “But intelligent voters know how to make appropriate compromises: you decide what qualities in a candidate are the most crucial for you, and you find the best match. You finesse the others as best you can.”

    “For me, having a woman in the Oval Office is #1.”

    Which means that this is the most crucial quality that this voter looks for in a candidate. Why? What is so important about having a candidate of a particular sex in office that issues such as competency, etc. are overridden? Isn’t that … sexist? It would certainly be so labelled if someone were to say “For me, having a man in the Oval Office is #1.” And you give absolutely no reason as to WHY this is your number 1 concern, why it outweighs other considerations.

    “Clinton had to vote for war in 2002 because she was a prominent senator from a major state, and was contemplating a run for the presidency. … o have any hope of becoming president, a woman must act against gender stereotypes, but if she does she will be harshly condemned for doing so, the same old double bind of damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.”

    It seems to me that what you are saying here is that Sen. Clinton was entirely justified in voting against her convictions and principles in order to ensure that she would have a shot at being President. I say that what we need is a President to whom their morals and principles outweigh their political ambitions, and who will not lie to either us or themselves in order to gain office. Tell me; if this is the kind of person Hillary Clinton is, how can I trust anything she says while campaigning? How can I vote for someone who I cannot trust?

    “Men, and male-identified women like Dowd, have recently come up against the very scary possibility that it could happen here. A woman could be elected to the presidency, sit in that chair in the Oval Office, and have more prestige, if not literal power, than any man on earth.”

    And now the sex card. The race card goes back in the deck the minute that Pres. Obama leaves office – the card that says “If you oppose the President you must be racially motivated”, to be replaced with the one that says “If you opposed Hillary Clinton, that means that you must be motivated by sexism.” Do you really think this? Seriously? This is what’s going to sink Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Because her most vocal supporters are so convinced that she’s right that they cannot imagine that there is any rational opposition to her opinion – so they have to convince themselves that such opposition is irrational. Sorry. The vast majority of her opponents oppose her positions and policies, not her sex. And since you’ll be completely misdirecting your efforts, you’ll lose.

  3. Craig Dunkerley says

    I think it’s important to note a number of things about the “Authorization to use Force” which Hillary and many other Democrats voted for. First the context included all the grossly distorted information coming from the Bush administration about the threat Iraq supposedly posed. In addition, the resolution was also “sold” to the Congress as something the administration needed to give credibility to the threats of “consequences” they were espousing at the U.N. if Iraq didn’t allow inspectors in, the implication being that Bush didn’t really intend to use it and would only do so as a last resort. Finally, the authorization granted by the resolution was highly conditional, and virtually none of the conditions required of the Bush administration were ever met in good faith. There are undoubtedly legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at those who decided to support the resolution, but the oft repeated assertion that “_____________ voted for the war” does not do justice to these and other nuances that surrounded the resolution’s passage.

    • Jonathan Baker says

      Sorry. 23% of the senators and 31% of the representatives weren’t persuaded by the “distorted information” and voted “NAY” to the resolution. They felt strongly enough to buck the tide. Then Senator Clinton exhibited pack mentality and her propensity to be hawkish. I don’t think that she has changed since then and I don’t think that her being President would be good for this country, even though she is a woman.

      Robin Lakoff needs to explain why she feels that “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and now ISIS” are threats that need to be dealt with and that “we will have to do most of it”. Instead of us imposing our will around the world, we should see that action for what it is: supporting and following the lead of the military industrial complex about which President Eisenhower warned us. It behooves us to heed his warning and vote for the person who is not fronting for it.

  4. Adam Eran says

    Both commenters are right on the money about Hillary. When it comes to peace, she’s repeatedly revealed she’s unable to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

    One further comment: Hillary also is in the pocket of the financial sector. Not only did Chelsea marry an investment bankster, but in preface to the biggest financial disaster in history, Hillary was voting to tighten bankruptcy law to favor creditors. So now, students in debt can’t declare bankruptcy to be relieved of that burden.

    Thanks Hillary!

    I’m sure there would be some redeeming features of a Hillary candidacy, or even presidency, but she’s pretty far away from representing me.

  5. Rich Broderick says

    The claim that no one could foresee the disaster that would result from the invasion of Iraq is laughable. Dick Cheney, of all people, argued against such an invasion for precisely that reason — unfortunately, that was back in 1991, when he was Secretary of Defense. By 2003, he was Vice President, and former CEO of Halliburton and stood to gain millions from stock he held in that company if the country went to war. Furthermore, anyone who was not a fool or lying about it knew that the claim that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons (or the capacity to produce them) or ties to 9/11 was a flat-out lie. Only the year before — prior to 9/11 — the Bush Administration itself issued an intelligence report stating that there was no evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons development program in Iraq.

    Sorry, but anyone — anyone — and, in particular, any Democrat who voted in 2002 for the Authorization for Use of Military Force needs to resign from politics and devote the rest of their lives doing penance. Opposition to Hillary Clinton is not a question of anti-feminism. It is rooted in opposition to the miserable cynicism she demonstrated in 2002 as well as, for example, her recent dissing of Barack Obama, to her neo-liberalism and to her embrace of the militarization of American foreign policy. If the Democratic Party actually wants to win in 2016, it needs to nominate someone from what the late Paul Wellstone (who voted against the AUMF and was nonetheless on his way to reelection in 2002 — in fact his poll numbers soared after that vote — when he died in a plane crash) called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”; the wing of the party that Wellstone belonged to, as do Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio today.

  6. says

    Ms Lakoff,
    Political expediency is not the leadership the general American non-partisan electorate is looking for. Her expediency forebodes the same expediency William Jefferson was criticized for. That expediency negatively affected lives who paid the consequences for such.

    Worse of all, her statements reflect that she believes or intends to try and get away with the same tactics that made Obama and Edwards viable alternatives. Her only strong point is that Joe Biden is still mute, and Bernie Sanders seems to be playing Hamlet. Elizabeth Warren is playing a waiting game for 2020, if Hillary and the Democrats fall flat in 2016, which is highly likely with a disaffected independent vote split amongst alternative choices in protest to the no-choice of the GOP and the Dems (though Rand Paul may reconstruct himself enough to try to capture the libertarian and liberal social issue wings of both the Democrat and Republican parties).

    If Hillary can think with an eye to the ethical morality effects, rather than to political expediency, she could be a very good candidate for 2016. If not she is just mirroring the same kind of ineptitude of liberalism (and neo-liberalism) which 97 years ago was swamped by the more radical solutions for a non-responsive government ruling as the puppets of oligarchs and plutocrats in pre-Soviet Russia.

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