February
20th 2010
U haz editorz at The Nation? (Or, is Maureen Dowd ghosting for Katha Pollitt?)

Posted under: American history, bad language, Gender, wankers, women's history

Katha Pollitt, in an article called “Whatever Happened to Candidate Obama,” writes this (emphases mine):

I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something–whatever!–men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place.Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan–which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness–for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

Now, I’m actually sympathetic to Pollitt’s viewpoint that “at least you can’t blame this on a woman.”  If we had elected Hillary Clinton President of the U.S., I’m sure she’d be getting even less credit for things that had gone well and even more blame for things that had gone poorly than President Barack Obama.  But–did Pollitt or anyone else proofread this paragraph?  As my professors used to say in cultural studies seminars in the early 1990s–there’s a lot of “slippage” here.

I’m sure everything will be so totally different when we have that perfect, unassailable, totally awesome female Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate!  Instead of that unstable freak Victoria Woodhull, or the dangerously radical Shirley Chisholm, or that crooked, incompetent Geraldine Ferraro, or that unserious, stupid “Caribou Barbie” Sarah Palin, or that old b!tch, Clinton.  (Or, as Pollitt calls her instead, “Hillary,” in a column in which she never refers to President Obama as “Barack.”  Not once.)  We’ll never, ever have to hear about that perfect fantasy candidate’s “voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something–whatever!–men have done since the Stone Age.”  Because that’s exactly how history operatesancient prejudices vanish overnight when a perfect leader appears to show us the way.  Thank goodness we’re all saved from having to see, read, and hear misogyny now!  It’s such a relief.  (At least I’m enjoying the break–aren’t you, too?)

And, I’m so glad that “fancy women writers” in prominent national magazines, for example, aren’t bothering to lecture us on “why they were right not to have liked [Clinton] in the first place.”  As Pollitt writes, “Whew!”

58 Comments »

58 Responses to “U haz editorz at The Nation? (Or, is Maureen Dowd ghosting for Katha Pollitt?)”

  1. Sweet Sue on 20 Feb 2010 at 8:41 am #

    So, fauxgressive, fauxminist Pollitt is admitting that she didn’t have the guts for a Hillary Clinton presidency and all that it would entail.
    I’m so very grateful that Clinton did.

  2. Susan on 20 Feb 2010 at 9:06 am #

    Well, I was thinking about this the other day, and — since I’m cynical enough to think that H Clinton would also have made compromises that I didn’t like, and pursued policies that I disagreed with — thought, oh, and then it would be because a WOMAN was not strong enough to stand up to Mitch McConnell.

  3. Historiann on 20 Feb 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Susan: I’m pretty sure as hell that Clinton would have stood up to Mitch McConnell! I don’t think Clinton had any post-partisan unity illusions about how she would have used the power of the Presidency. We’d be reading all kinds of stories about how ruthless and divisive she is as President now instead of stories about her being ineffective. But then, that’s all the press has ever written about her! (That’s my guess, anyway.)

  4. Sic Semper Tyrannis on 20 Feb 2010 at 10:17 am #

    Gee…. So instead of every day being a “festival of misogyny,” every day is a festival of subtle-and not so subtle-racism. Instead of discussions about wrinkles and laughs, we get discussions about articulate negros and birth certificates.

    Secondly, I can’t feel to sorry for Hillary after her and Bill played the race card the way they did during the primary.

  5. Historiann on 20 Feb 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Is this post about “feeling sorry” for anyone? Or is it about endemic misogyny and the unwillingness of Americans to broaden their vision of political leadership?

    Nice use of “Hillary” instead of “Clinton,” after I flagged it in Pollitt’s article, though. Very patronizing!

  6. Indyanna on 20 Feb 2010 at 10:41 am #

    “Played the race card” is a trope-too-trite to have much analytic value. It explains everything for some cases, and so little or nothing at large. The race card is the *house* card still, always on the table, sometimes face up and sometimes not. The Clintons were sometimes perhaps not as eloquent or even as angelic as they could have been therein, but it shouldn’t be allowed to go unchallenged into even the proverbial rough draft of history that they “played the race card.” As one of *my* old seminar teachers used to suggest, we need a little concept-clarification here, and a glossary better suited to a more acute “rhetoric of inquiry” [c.f. Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry, U. of Iowa, early 1990s].

    The whole deck belongs to the house, when you get down to it. Obama, for example, ineptly played the “class” card when sipping chablis in Marin that time, remember? and it blew up like crazy here in Pennsylvania and down the Ohio Valley from here as the spring went on. The cultural wild card/trump then got played, and it all got converted back into being “about race” by May of ’08.

  7. Indyanna on 20 Feb 2010 at 10:43 am #

    p.s. Plus the smothering of Florida and Michigan, not to put too fine a turn on the knife of memory…

  8. Historiann on 20 Feb 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Indyanna–very well said. Thank you. In my opinion, anything anyone named Clinton ever said was analyzed within an inch of its life for racism. But I never understood how “fairy tale” could reasonably be interpreted as a racist slur, or how her 3 a.m. phone call ad could be racist. Sadly, some Obama partisans became so eager to accuse anyone not in the OFB of “racism” that it lost its potency and meaning. So now, we have images of Obama made up and dressed like a witch doctor or like the Joker in “whiteface,” and Birther claims (still!), and no meaningful language with which to discuss these things.

  9. LadyProf on 20 Feb 2010 at 11:07 am #

    If you want to say that Hillary Clinton played the race card in 2008, then tell me how. I’ve decided to call out this nonsense every time I hear it, and–what do you know?–my interlocutor never has anything factual to report.

  10. Historiann on 20 Feb 2010 at 11:19 am #

    LadyProf: that’s because the “race card” is only played vis-a-vis the primary wars of 2008 when someone wants to shut down a discussion about gender, power, and misogyny!

    So, let’s talk about those things instead. It’s only feminists who are expected to address every other kind of social injustice BEFORE it’s OK to talk about their own issues. (It’s one of the ways that women are kept safely in their places.) At least, I’ve never seen this happen on anything other than feminist blogs:

    Feminist Blogger: Here’s an example of misogyny/violence against women being normalized.

    Derailing Interlocutor: You Western feminists never talk about Afghani women/Other women have it so much worse so STFU/Why don’t feminists talk more about racism and classism?

    Feminist Blogger: Those are indeed issues of great concern, but today I’m writing about this problem instead, which is a real problem.

    Interlocutor: Typical feminist! You can’t see your own privilege.

  11. Comrade Svilova on 20 Feb 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    The hypothetical exchange you describe between the Feminist and the Interlocutor is amusing because it’s so accurate — and depressing. And of course that exchange is the model for many conversations IRL as well!

    Thanks for the laugh … and the sigh that immediately followed.

  12. Emma on 20 Feb 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Great post. Great comments. Pollitt has always been a complete coward. And she’s spent her life trying as hard as possible to be one of the boys. Both of which require her to b!tch-slap any woman who dares to not give a damn what the boys think of her.

    I like Hillary Clinton. I like her a lot. And her conduct as secretary of state has proved to me that I was right support her for President. And Pollitt’s continued cowardice and craven currying of favor with the boys proves to me over and over and over that I was right to let my subscription to The Nation lapse.

  13. Historiann on 20 Feb 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    Emma: you and me both. Thanks. And thanks, Comrade Svilova. I’m sorry that it looks so familiar to you, too.

  14. Comrade PhysioProf on 20 Feb 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    So it’s a good thing Clinton wasn’t elected because misogyny? Jeezus fuck!

  15. cgeye on 20 Feb 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    *This* is playing the race card:

    Gee, I’m glad Dr. King never lived to seriously run for office, because he would have had so many more years of the government harassing him and allowing racist death threats to proliferate, instead of those few, clean bullets in Memphis that ended his suffering, right?

    Doesn’t a leader who really leads *expect* the rough times ahead? Didn’t FDR live with that hatred all of his political life, and what did he say? He *welcomed* it.

    Pollitt? What a weak sister. Suffrage is wasted on her.

  16. Historiann on 20 Feb 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Ha! Good one, cgeye. Are you saying that Hillary Clinton should have been assassinated like MLK and . . . Bobby Kennedy? Are you saying that??? ZOMG how awful!!!

    I don’t personally care that she votes, or how she votes. I care that someone who’s one of the few “professional feminists” who’s paid to write on women’s issues writes things like that paragraph above.

    I really think there’s something weirdly generational going on with the Clinton hatred that so many of her peers appear to harbor. Absolutely every decision she’s made in her life is held against her by women who are in their fifties and sixties, it seems. (At least, I see a lot of weird personal animus towards her in women that age that I don’t see or hear in other women as much.) It’s like Baby Boomer women can’t stand to see one of their own win.

  17. Sweet Sue on 20 Feb 2010 at 9:59 pm #

    I don’t know, it seems to me that it’s the fauxminists in their twenties and thirties that hate Hillary Clinton.
    They were the Obama girls from the get-go, no?
    Emma, I was hoping you’d show up in this thread.

  18. Historiann on 21 Feb 2010 at 8:06 am #

    Sweet Sue–the “Postfeminists” I heard from or read about in their 20s and 30s just thought Clinton was irrelevant, an unwanted reminder of the 1990s, etc., or they focused their ire on what they saw as Clinton’s sins in the Senate (voting for the 2002 AUMF, or pretending like DADT was her fault.) I didn’t detect the same level of animus and willingness to judge Clinton’s personal and professional life that I saw and heard in middle-aged and older women. It was people her own age (or slightly younger) who were still obsessed with her marriage, why she never left her husband, whether or not she was a good mother, etc.

    But, it’s a big country. Our experiences are all necessarily selective–what I saw and heard may be just due to where I live, who I talk to, and what I was reading at the time. I think it was younger men who were more vicious than the older men–men who were Clinton’s age peers were much more open to her than their younger cohorts. (This tracks with some of the nastyness and invective in the comments on this blog back in 2008, as well as with my observations in RL, but again–all experience are selective.)

  19. Brian on 21 Feb 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    I don’t understand all this venom toward Katha Pollit; disagree with her in this column, but a fauxfeminist and a coward, what evidence is there for these charges. Like many on the left, including the feminist-left, Pollit thought Obama offered a hope of a more progressive presidency. I was never as enamored with Obama as some were, but I did vote for him because for the most part he did run on a platform more to the left of Clinton. I do think the charges of Clinton playing the race card were overheated, but they were not made up of whole cloth. Her remark regarding “hard working white Americans” is not as easy to explain away as her remark of RFK’s assassination which always struck me as being unfortunate but not intended as the way it was construed.

    For me as a lawyer who represents welfare recipients I could never quite get over Bill Clinton decision to abolish a welfare system, that despite its flaws offered some support for low income women and children. Hillary Clinton openly supported this move and it was for pure political calculation on both their parts. This does not mean that Hillary Clinton was evil or that Obama had promise of being a savior, but what does seem missing from many former Clinton supporters is that many people, such as Pollit on the feminist left, supported Obama for reasons that were not based on misogyny.

    Katha Pollitt has had a long career as a voice of progressive feminism and she deserves better than being attacked for one paragraph in one column.

  20. myiq2xu on 21 Feb 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Katha Pollitt:

    Women Democrats have taken an awful lot of hits for the team lately. Many of us didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary because the goal of electing a woman seemed less important than the goal of electing the best possible president.

  21. LadyProf on 21 Feb 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Wrong, Brian. Here’s what HRC said. In May 2008, as it became clear that the Democratic party leaders were opposed to giving her the nominatoin, a reporter asked her who’d be voting for her:

    “I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

    That’s in response to being ASKED who her supporters were, after Obama had been boasting for months about his base among African-American and younger voters. So how’s that playing the race card? Clinton is first saying, in response to a direct question, that “working, hard-working Americans” are in her camp. Then she clarifies that she is NOT claiming that African-American voters support her.

    If she’d omitted the qualification about race, her detractors would have called her a liar and someone who doesn’t see black people.

  22. Historiann on 21 Feb 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    Brian writes, “Katha Pollitt has had a long career as a voice of progressive feminism and she deserves better than being attacked for one paragraph in one column.

    As the previous comment suggests, it wasn’t just one paragraph in one column–much of what she had to say during the 2008 Primary Wars onward was just highly weird and/or compromised. I agree with you that she has been a strong voice for progressive feminists, which is why I highlighted the paragraph in her most recent column. It just doesn’t make sense, either internally or as a theory of progressive or historical change. (i.e. “For maximum feminist progress, let’s not elect a woman president!!!)

    As a longtime reader, I’ve been disappointed by Pollitt. (Hell–I even read her memoir from a few years ago!) She’s one of the few feminists who writes about women’s issues in a national publication should be held to a high standard. All I can think is that the editorial board at The Nation swung really violently for Obama sometime in February 2008, and she figured that she had better get on board so as to secure her job. It’s really, really rough out there for newspaper and magazine writers, since so many people (like me!) are giving it away for free. Most of my friends in print journalism have left–some for academia, some are trying to figure out a way to make digital publications pay. (Pollitt’s in a very competitive business–and Maureen Dowd for example has done extremely well by engaging in gender-trashing and Clinton-bashing. It pays much better to be a conservative or antifeminist writer, so Pollitt is even more vulnerable than her peers.)

    But, never fear: I think she’s got a few more readers than I do! Anyway, thanks for your comments.

  23. Historiann on 21 Feb 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    LadyProf: thanks for the factual clarification. I didn’t even know that that’s why Clinton talked about “white Americans” in that comment about “hard-working Americans.” It sounds like a clumsy way of saying that “I’ve got working-class whites on my side.”

    (Do you have a link?) To be fair to Brian, he said that the Bobby Kennedy assassination stuff was clearly silly.

    Inartful on Clinton’s part, but not evil.

  24. KC on 21 Feb 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    She’s been doing a good job at the State Department, I think. And to be honest, I’m still mildly optimistic about Obama’s presidency in general. He hasn’t handled everything as well as possible, but who did in their first year? I suppose the post-mortems and comparisons were inevitable given the 2008 primary, but with the financial crisis, crazy obstructionist Republicans and Tea Partiers, two wars, etc. etc. it was never going to be easy for anyone, and anyone who took the job on was going to be vilified and attacked from many different sides simultaneously. Race and gender were always going to be factors in all of this.

    That said, Historiann’s OP is right-on: the “threat” of misogyny in our national discourse was and is a dumb reason to oppose Clinton, just as the threat of racism was and is a dumb reason to oppose Obama. I’d like to think there are still enough adults left in the room, although sometimes I have my doubts.

  25. KC on 21 Feb 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    Oh, and about Clinton’s inartful comments on “working class whites” and so forth: I just think the primaries went on too long, the data was parsed so many different ways that by March we all “knew” who the “real” Clinton voter was: some poor white (probably racist) person living in the Appalachian valley somewhere. And we all “knew” who the “real” Obama voter was: either a.) black or b.) some entitled, over-educated snob sipping lattes, reading The Nation, and listening to, oh, I don’t know, late-era Coltrane.

    This thinking was bound to filter down to the candidates at some level eventually, since it inundated the national discourse for months and months. It did for Clinton with her comments; and it did for Obama with his remarks about rural voters in Pennsylvania.

  26. dandelion on 21 Feb 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    I don’t know. Maybe Pollitt feels like I do these days. I was deeply involved in leftist politics in the 70s and in feminist politics, and it seemed then that the men I worked with, even if they still could act like sexist assholes, at least understood what misogyny was, they were open to the discussion, some of them even would sit down and read feminist thought — yes, a man, reading Simone de Beauvoir of his own volition! But these days, with younger political activists, it’s like feminism never existed except that now women can, like, get jobs and stuff. So it’s all cool. You say something about the tyranny of the male gaze and they look at you blankly. Then suggest that hey, women lust after men, too. These are people who can cite you chapter and verse about global warming, about the issues involving the Iraq War and the Middle East, who give at least lip service to issues around racism (the criminal justice system, the schools, immigration), who have somewhere in their lives read SOME political theory and at leat have an inch deep understanding of political history — but who know nothing whatsover about feminism and, more than that, don’t want to hear about it. AT ALL. You can be having a really spirited discussion about the bank bailouts, about cap & trade, about the healthcare system, and veer into some comment about sexism and it’s like you just farted something foul. All talk dies. Everyone looks away politely. Everyone MOVES ON.

    It’s weird, it’s tiring, and it’s disheartening to feel that everything — just everything we tried to do in the 70s with regard to that old term “consciousness raising” — is gone. And has to be done all over again.

    So maybe it’s just better to think — well, that’s something for future decades, future women, to deal with. And meanwhile try to protect a little sanity by not having to face the kind of tidal wave of misogyny that swept this country during the primaries, a wave gwe thought we’d at least partially beat back before, when we were younger and stronger.

    That said, yeah, Katha Pollitt during the primaries didn’t seem to hang on very well to those old notions that the personal was the political, or that sisterhood was powerful.

  27. LadyProf on 21 Feb 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    Talk about inartful (by me): this paragraph
    “I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”
    was pasted. It’s a USA Today story dated May 8, 2008:
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-05-07-clintoninterview_N.htm
    Wishing for Preview! I coulda caught my typo.

  28. LadyProf on 21 Feb 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    And agreed, by the way, on what must have been Pollitt’s motivation. I too am a former admirer of hers. She seems to have deteriorated overall in the last few years (starting around when she married Steven Lukes), not only when writing about the 2008 election.

    Does she really need her Nation gig, in this age of blogging when she presumably has income from her books–and, equally important, a goodly quantity of fame? Might have been a better career move for her to resign in protest, even though every woman I know of who backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama has been made to suffer for it.

  29. Historiann on 21 Feb 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    LadyProf–thanks for the link. (Sorry about no preview!)

    Every writer I know is pretty freaked out about the decline of print media. *We* think Pollitt is an important writer, but I don’t think she could move to Time or Newsweek or a major U.S. daily whenever she wanted to. Her Nation colum is only once every two weeks, right? So I don’t know that it pays her all that much. (I no longer subscribe, but that’s what I think it was.) And she doesn’t have a teaching gig like Patricia Williams to fall back on. (Although if she’s remarried, that’s a fallback plan, I guess.)

    Dandelion–thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I too wonder if this is how the feminists of the 1910s and 20s felt when they saw what happened in the 1940s and 50s, or what the feminists of the 1840s thought when they saw what happened in the 1870s. But each generation wakes up in America convinced that it’s all bright, shiny, and new, and that all of the problems have been solved, right?

  30. Brian on 22 Feb 2010 at 3:38 am #

    Ladyprof,

    Thanks for the link. You are correct in this context Clinton’s remark may have not been politically astute, but it does not appear as the racist pandering it was reported as and I accepted as true. I still think folks are being too hard on Pollitt, but on this point I was wrong.

  31. Historiann on 22 Feb 2010 at 6:55 am #

    Brian–fair enough. I suppose in a post about how Pollitt (and others) were “too hard” on Clinton, I should be modest (or reflective, anyway) about how “hard” I am on Pollitt.

    I’ll still read her and hold out hope that she emerges from the coma or magic spell that most Nation writers have been under for the past two years.

  32. Emma on 22 Feb 2010 at 9:46 am #

    Re: HRC’s alleged racism in the primaries: if you look closely, you’ll see that not a single allegation holds up. Not one. Every single accusation of racism leveled against HRC was made up and then widely spread throughout mainstream media — including by The Nation.

    Maybe I am being too hard on Pollitt. The Nation was a sewer of anti-Clinton hysteria during the primaries. She works there, ergo she got splattered with it in my mind.

    What makes me indescribably bitter, though, is that after all the blood spilt during the primaries, all the relationships fractured, all the party splits, all the vote-stealing and silencing, all the rules committee shenanigans, we got a president who sold women out immediately (low cost birth control out of the stimulus) and repeatedly (Stupak/Nelson, HCR doesn’t cover some basic women’s health services) and did it for NOTHING, no gain, no benefit to anybody, nothing. We got our throats cut so that Bud Abbott could be president.

  33. LadyProf on 22 Feb 2010 at 10:42 am #

    Thanks, Brian, I appreciate it. The 2008 election is a source of pain that keeps on giving, for the reasons Emma mentions. I keep waiting for the upside of Obama’s victory … and here comes Pollitt to give us the good news: If Clinton had been elected, we’d be listening to misogyny!

    And, Sic Semper, if you’re still here, the birth certificate smear of Obama isn’t remotely comparable to the abuses that Hillary Clinton endured. No mainstream media type gave birther nonsense the time of day, whereas most dudes on network and cable TV, along with most op-ed fellows along with Third Wave activists, contributed to the HRC pile-on during the campaign.

  34. fannie on 22 Feb 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    Historiann-

    I had to laugh at your hypothetical exchange as well, because it’s so true. And, not only do feminists have to address More Important Things Than Women’s Issues first, when we do address so-called women’s issues, we must first address those women’s issues that the male-dominated liberal movement deems to be the most important women’s issues (eg- the plight of Muslim women).

    And yes, this did just happen to me. I wrote a recent blog post criticizing a university’s victim-blaming Rape Prevention list when a liberal male commenter informed me that while discussing rape culture is a “noble cause,” there are “better things” for feminists to talk about. Like the Franken Amendment. Which, ironically, I and many other feminists had already written about.

    Under no circumstances are women/feminists allowed to set the political agenda or be the arbiters of what is important enough to talk about.

    The only good thing I can see about Clinton not winning in 2008 is that all of this would still be happening, but everyone- liberals and conservatives- would now be telling us that sexism and misogyny have been solved and that feminism is no longer necessary. Sort of like now, except worse.

  35. Historiann on 22 Feb 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Fannie–true ’nuff. I liked this especially: Under no circumstances are women/feminists allowed to set the political agenda or be the arbiters of what is important enough to talk about.

    The first privilege of speech or writing is deciding what to speak or write about. Ergo, the policing starts there.

  36. Lori on 22 Feb 2010 at 9:01 pm #

    In the late eighties/early nineties, I worked as a volunteer helping welfare mothers move off of welfare. Because of Reagan’s reform of welfare, making the transition from staying at home to going to work was almost impossible to do without breaking the law – and a lot of mothers here in Cali wound up in jail. More than once, I had a family camped on my living room floor for a few months while money was saved to get an apartment.

    That being said, I’m always astonished that there are people who consider themselves liberal who think Reagan, who bragged about how he was going to ruin the lives of welfare mothers, did a better job revamping the program than Bill did. After Bill’s reform, which was less than ideal, I no longer had to let people stay in my living room to avoid breaking the law. None of us are crazy about block grants, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d take Bill’s program any day of the week. At least their was some ability to move without risking breaking the law.

    But isn’t it weird that Bill reforms a law that Reagan set up to penalize welfare moms and so that means Obama, who looked the other way while his client Rezko let Section 8 tenants freeze in Chicago and has no record of progressive accomplishments, is more liberal than Hillary who actually has a long documented history – from writing Children Under the Law, to developing home schooling programs for pre-Kindergarten children who don’t have access to Head Start, to opening a legal aid clinic, to rounding up federal funds to build health care facilities in rural Arkansas, to helping develop and execute the sCHIP program and on and on – of making life better for ordinary people?

    Odd. Can anyone name anything Obama has actually done of his own volition previous to the White House that actually benefited others?

  37. Brian on 23 Feb 2010 at 3:02 am #

    Lori,

    Since I was the one that mentioned welfare, I assume the comment is meant for me. The claim that Clinton reformed Reagan’s welfare laws is simply incorrect. Welfare has been under attacks since the 1970′s after the expansion of welfare especially to African-American women in the 1960′s. Unfortunately, these attacks increasingly came from liberals as well as republicans. What Clinton did–and did purely out of political calculation–was support the abolishment of the AFDC program created as part of the Social Security Act of 1935 and replaced with a block grant program TANF. This meant that poor women no longer had a legal entitlement to basic cash assistance to support themselves and their children. In fact under TANF’s federal provisions it is virtually impossible due to work requirements for poor women to use education to get off of welfare, though individual states have some discretion. Since this is a historian’s blog, one book I would suggest you bread on the history of welfare is Linda Gordon’s _Pitied, But Not Entitled_, a wonderful book that focuses on gender and the history of welfare.

    Seriously, I am not a Hillary Clinton hater. She has done some very good work over the years. If her support for welfare reform disturbs me it is in part because in my mind it betrayed this earlier work. I believe her former boss, Marian Wright Edelman, the head of the Children’s Defense Fund expressed the same opinion. Edelman’s husband, Peter Edelman, a law professor long involved in anti-poverty work resigned from the Clinton administration because of this bill. For what it is worth, I would not be surprised if Obama faced with the same political situation may very have made the same choice.

    As for your remark about Obama connections to Rezko, this is the type of swipe that seems constantly replayed since the election between some Obama supporter and some former Clinton supporters and it strikes me as completely politically unproductive. Obama, like Clinton or any politician who has national ambitions, has some pretty unsavory connections. Although it was not a panacea, the campaign finance reform law recently killed by the Supreme Court offered some hope about how to get around the unfortunate truth that even so called progressive politicians are heavily in debt to forces of reaction.

  38. Emma on 23 Feb 2010 at 7:59 am #

    As for your remark about Obama connections to Rezko, this is the type of swipe that seems constantly replayed since the election between some Obama supporter and some former Clinton supporters and it strikes me as completely politically unproductive.

    More or less politically unproductive than a) calling HRC a race-baiter, b) blaming HRC for her husband’s policies, and/or c) calling Clinton supporters “former” Clinton supporters?

  39. Brian on 23 Feb 2010 at 8:49 am #

    Emma,

    Your remark strikes me as unfair. I did not call HRC a “race-baiter” and I do thinks charges against her on that were really overheated during the campaign. The one charge that I thought she went overboard was the “hard working white Americans”. Ladyprof pointed out the context in which that remark and I agreed that this remark to misreported. I do think it is difficult to completely separate HRC from her husband’s policies, especially on welfare reform which she openly supported. She played a different role in his administration than most former First Ladies and in most respects I admire that she did that. But I don’t think it is fair to say that though she played an important policy role in the Administration she can distance herself completely from those policies unless she specifically states that she disagreed with some–a position she did take on Nafta which I thought was strongly in her favor.

    As for “former” Clinton supporters, no denigration was intended as I was just referring to a campaign that ended.

    I do think Clinton was subjected to a lot of mysogyiny during the campaign and Obama probably could have spoken out on this issue more. I am less convinced as some people seem to have claim that he was personally responsible for every vile thing that was said about Clinton. For example, when I first saw the clip of Obama allegedly giving Clinton the finger that seemed quite outrageous. Yet if you lookat other clips of Obama speaking that seems to be rather bad tic he has and not intentional.

  40. Emma on 23 Feb 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Criticisms of HRC’s past conduct = eminently fair* but criticisms of Obama past conduct = politically unproductive. There’s something amiss there.

    *Even when they’re made without proof – hard working white americans = calling her a race baiter, even if you didn’t use the term.

    Criticisms of Obama’s past conduct certainly do have a place in politics, especially so when they point out the long-standing, continuing, and pronounced gap between Obama’s rhetoric and his actions and non-actions.

    Perhaps had more attention been paid to this disconnect, including vis-a-vis Rezko, the press wouldn’t have been able to annoint Obama as a progressive savior. And, had that been the case, I suspect that even if Obama had been elected his relationship to the left, for example, would be completely different.

    I have no problem with criticisms of HRC. But if past conduct is relevant, it’s equally relevant for Obama and Clinton. One is not a valid criticism and the other “politically unproductive”. Frankly, the most politically unproductive thing that goes on is the repeated bringing up of HRC’s past conduct (both real and imagined) to prove that the speaker was “right” for supporting Obama over Clinton. Which is exactly what you’re doing.

    But when people respond with “I was right not to support Obama b/c of his past conduct”, your response is that it’s “politically unproductive” and the campaign is over, anyway.

    You want to tell us how right you were not to support HRC based on her past conduct. Fine, then sit there and listen to how right we were not to support Obama based on his past conduct.

  41. Brian on 23 Feb 2010 at 10:39 am #

    Emma,

    This is not my blog and so as a guest all I can say I don’t think this conversation is productive.

  42. links for 2010-02-23 « Embololalia on 23 Feb 2010 at 11:04 am #

    [...] U haz editorz at The Nation? (Or, is Maureen Dowd ghosting for Katha Pollitt?) : Historiann : Histor… I’m sure everything will be so totally different when we have that perfect, unassailable, totally awesome female Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate! Instead of that unstable freak Victoria Woodhull, or the dangerously radical Shirley Chisholm, or that crooked, incompetent Geraldine Ferraro, or that unserious, stupid ”Caribou Barbie” Sarah Palin, or that old b!tch, Clinton…Because that’s exactly how history operates: ancient prejudices vanish overnight when a perfect leader appears to show us the way. (tags: hillaryclinton feminism) [...]

  43. chistorian on 23 Feb 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    Calling Rezko Obama’s “client” is untrue. Patron, sure. Client, no.

    http://www.suntimes.com/news/watchdogs/757340,CST-NWS-watchdog24.article

  44. Lori on 23 Feb 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    Brian,

    What’s coming across is that you are so used to having these ideas that you have validated that it’s never occurred to you that they’re bogus. I brought up Rezko because you cannot claim, as you did, that Obama was more liberal than Clinton, based on Clinton’s support of her husband’s welfare reform, when Obama has done nothing, nor took any policy positions that were, in point of fact, to the left of those Clinton had taken. Those are your impressions and they are entirely unhinged from the actual platform, accomplishments and voting records of the two. Obama is, and always has been, to Clinton’s right in every way. It’s always been obvious to anyone who actually looked at his voting record that he had a bad habit of not taking stands, he was incapable of developing substantial legislation and he is aggressively cynical about women and their political issues. I’m not even sure he’s the left of Palin.

    Please don’t condescend to tell me about welfare reform.

  45. Brian on 23 Feb 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Lori,

    I voted for Obama with some hesitation primarily because on foreign policy he ran on a platform that seemed less hawkish than Clinton’s. I have friends who voted for Clinton for some of the reasons you mentioned–more of a track record, Obama’s vague rhetoric, etc.. Was I wrong? Maybe, I am not certain. However, I have trouble taking seriously anyone who thinks Palin might be to the left of Obama.

    I have lurked at this blog often because I find the posts interesting and I don’t comment often, and probably won’t at all in the future. I don’t think anything I said indicates that I am use to having my ideas validated as if by entitlement. I am also not being condescending when I responded to your remarks about Clinton refroming Reagan’s welfare plan. Your remarks were factually false and, quite frankly, by not responding to any facts you are the one who seems to want to you want your ideas validated despite them being demonstrably false.

  46. Historiann on 23 Feb 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    Brian & Lori: Lori was writing from her experience in welfare reform in the 1980s and early 1990s. She may have thought your comment didn’t acknowledge her experience working in the field. No, she doesn’t have a link to “prove” what she saw in Reagan v. Clinton welfare reforms, but I take her at her word. (FWIW, as someone commenting on my blog whom I don’t know, of course, but I have no reason to suspect she’s b.s.ing us.)

    A lot of what Bill Clinton did with his presidency was to mop up after 12 years of Reagan and Bush–hence the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, the welfare reform reforms that Lori cites, etc. He got little credit from progressives for this, and was of course impeached for it by the right.

    I appreciate that everyone has kept the conversation here pretty civil. I think the lesson is that people who supported Clinton 2 years ago–many of whom were called stupid, “vagina voters,” and racist–are still pretty chapped, especially since Obama has turned out to be pretty much the guy we thought he was all along–inexperienced, rudderless, and likely to get rolled. (I can only speak for myself. I didn’t think he was a bad guy, when you consider all of the compromises and deals that need to be made in order to be a serious contender for POTUS, but that’s what I thought.)

  47. Lori on 23 Feb 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Here’s a quickly found link on Reagan’s welfare reform that Brian claims didn’t happen:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/poverty/whitmaf.htm

    The problem was the dollar in/dollar out provisions that meant for every dollar earned, a dollar was deducted from the grant. That meant that mothers couldn’t earn money to buy Christmas and birthday presents and in California, some went to jail for doing so. Ridiculous. But what was really difficult is that going to work involves buying new clothes and there are transportation costs, as well as child care expenses, so transitioning off of welfare, without breaking the law, became extremely difficult. Clinton’s welfare reform allowed women to work and earn money as they moved off of welfare. There was a far greater ability to transition.

    Now, we lost a lot as well. It became very difficult for moms to go to school. Some of the states developed incredibly onerous requirements in areas of even high unemployment that resulted in moms spending 15 hours away from home. That stuff was bad. But I still think that was Reagan did was far worse.

    As for Obama’s foreign policy rhetoric, nothing was more hawkish than his statements about bombing in Pakistan which resulted in riots in that tinderbox ally.

    What I see Brian, is that your repeating the marketing slogans that the Obama campaign developed for their followers just as the Bush campaign did for theirs. I don’t see any real difference between supporting Bush and supporting Obama. Liberals don’t invite homophobes on stage with them. Liberals opposed Prop 8. Liberals take a stand when their followers start using words like “whore” and “bitch” and worse, to describe female competitors. Liberals don’t reduce someone who has Hillary’s record to “tea with ambassadors”.

    yes, it’s a genuine question, now that Obama has embedded in bipartisan consensus, the worst violations of the Bush admin whether or not he is actually to Palin’s left. It’s hard to take you seriously if you don’t realize how far from the mainstream he is.

  48. brian on 23 Feb 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    Lori,

    I apologize if I came across as condescending. That was not my intent. I never denied Reagan’s attack on welfare. All I meant was the abolition of the AFDC program went beyond reforming Reagan but undid a New Deal, one of the only programs, however inadequate was focused on women and children.

    It is possible that I am harsher on HRC on this issue than she deserves. As a child my mother was on welfare and for the past 20 years welfare law has been the focus of my career as a legal services attorney and, at times, adjunct professor of welfare law. I say this to admit that maybe I focus too muc criticism on Clinton because of this.

    From the beginning of this blog thread all I meant was that, right or wrong, I think some people supported Obama for reasons other than women bashing.

    Again. I apologize if I stated things in a manner that came across rude or condescending.

  49. Emma on 23 Feb 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    Chistorian,

    Speaking as a lawyer, Rezko was a client of Obama’s firm, Obama did work for Rezko and billed him. Rezko was a client of Obama’s.

  50. Emma on 23 Feb 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    all I meant was that, right or wrong, I think some people supported Obama for reasons other than women bashing.

    I think that’s true. What puzzles me, and puzzles me still, is how anybody could support somebody who woman-bashed?

    I don’t mean to call you out, I really don’t, so this is not about what you’ve written here, but is a general statement of primary dynamics.

    I do the comparator thing: HRC was widely supposed to have race-baited during the primaries and, as a result, it was widely believed that she should have lost all of her support and that the only people who continued to support her were racists.

    Obama was less widely supposed* to have gender-baited during the primaries. But there was never any “as a result” for him and it was never supposed, much less baldly stated, that the people who continued to support him were misogynists.

    It bothers me. It will continue to bother me. And I’m not the least bit defensive or worried about it bothering me. And so I’ll continue to talk about it. And what would make me really, really happy is if me continuing to talk about it got one person to admit: “Hey, I know Obama gender-baited during the campaign. But I supported him anyway because other things are more important to me than gender equality.” At least then it would all be out on the table.

    *I believe he did. I believe he still does.

  51. Brian on 23 Feb 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Emma,

    I promise this is my last comment. For most of the people I associate with–and I’ll admit that in itself makes it somewhat of a skewered view–we come out of a background of community activism in areas including feminist activism, lesbian and gay activism, immigrant rights, etc.. These days many of us are professionals in areas related to our politics, though there are still some of us who do primarily grassroots organizing, either working for non-profits or as volunteers. I should be clear we were not all in support of O’bama.

    To borrow from the language of those who began the 1960′s and 70′s focus on social history, for many of us our politics were based on focusing from the bottom up. In Obama’s background as a community organizer, I think many of us saw someone whose background and rhetoric seemed more opened to listening to voices of those disempowered–including women.

    As for the sexism directed at Clinton I don’t think people ignored this, but unlike what think what you are saying, we were less sure this was coming direcetly from Obama and forces he controlled. For many of us the choice between a the first (of those who had a chance of winning) African American candidate and woman candidate this was a tough issue. I think we all struggled with this choice and most of the people I know came down on the side of Obama, but for reasons I sincerely don’t believe were for ignoring sexism.

  52. LadyProf on 23 Feb 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Well, Brian, during the campaign I kept a list of sexist remarks right out of Obama’s mouth. I didn’t save links because URLs are ephemeral, but maybe you remember the time Obama dodged a Detroit reporter’s question calling her “sweetie”? What man born in 1961 uses “sweetie” to a stranger in a professional context, except to insult her? He’s nobody’s senile great-uncle. How about his saying that periodically, when Hillary’s feeling down, her claws come out? Remember the time he shredded his Chicago mentor Alice Palmer?

    I could go on, but I’d just as soon stop now. Like Emma, I remain horrified that male and female liberals condoned this blend of sexism and opportunism. It was every bit as bad as racism.

  53. KC on 24 Feb 2010 at 9:07 am #

    Obama immediately apologized for using the term “sweetie,” it should be noted.

  54. Emma on 24 Feb 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    I think many of us saw someone whose background and rhetoric seemed more opened to listening to voices of those disempowered–including women.

    As opposed to the woman who was staff attorney for the CDF, worked on children’s health initiatives throughout her legal career, provided legal services to indigent persons as an attorney, helped pass SCHIP, gave a speech at the Beijing 4th World Conference on Women recognizing women’s rights as human rights, went to a women’s college, served as chair of the Legal Services Corp. (which provides free legal services to low-income folks nationwide), created, with Janet Reno, the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women office, worked with women in Northern Ireland during the succesful peace accords, spoke out against the Taliban’s oppressin of women in Afghanistan, and created Vital Voices to increase women’s participation in politics worldwide.

    Tell me, what was it *exactly* about Obama’s “background and rhetoric” that made him “seem more open to listening to…women” than Hillary Clinton?

  55. Emma on 24 Feb 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

    Yeah! Those damn socialists get to take the fall for this!

  56. chistorian on 25 Feb 2010 at 9:52 am #

    Speaking as a lawyer, Rezko was a client of Obama’s firm

    That’s not what my link says, Emma. What do you mean?

  57. KC on 25 Feb 2010 at 10:36 am #

    Did I step into a time warp? Is this 2008 again?

  58. Sexism at The Nation? Surely not! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 22 Mar 2011 at 11:01 am #

    [...] this is the same Katha Pollitt who wrote this paragraph last winter, too: I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every [...]