Love Her, Love Her Not: Our complicated relationship with Hillary Clinton

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, a collection of essays edited by founder of The Broad Side and friend of AMERICAblog Joanne Bamberger. I read it; I enjoyed it; I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it because, like many of the authors featured in the collection, I wasn’t sure what to make of Hillary Clinton.

Those of you who have payed relatively close attention to what I’ve written over the course of the past year know that I’m somewhat conflicted about our likely Democratic nominee. There are a lot of descriptors that apply to her, and they don’t fit together in a neat package: Feminist. Devout. HawkCentrist. Liberal. Pragmatic. It turns out that Hillary Clinton, person that she is, is complicated. While some of the individual things she says and does can be classified as binary goods or bads, it is impossible to classify her, her candidacy or what she represents in such terms.

I revisited Love Her, Love Her Not last week, and now I know what to make of it: Delivered from the point of view of 28 women with a wide range of backgrounds, professions and ideological orientations, the book distills what have been the central themes of the Democratic primary race since I first read it, detailing the promise — and frustrations — posed by Clinton’s candidacy. The refusal to put Hillary Clinton into a “good” or “bad” box is what makes Love Her, Love Her Not so useful. It serves as a proxy for the considerations that millions of Americans are making right now concerning the woman who more likely than not will soon become the most powerful person in the world.

The narratives are personal. They are subjective. But hey, guess what? So is politics. Our considerations regarding who to vote for, and what our votes mean, are personal and subjective. That’s what makes them interesting.

Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, screenshot via YouTube

Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, screenshot via YouTube

Some of our considerations are material. KJ Dell’Antonia, for instance, argues that Clinton should champion paid family and medical leave on the trail in the vein of It Takes a Village to Raise a Child. Since the book’s publication, Clinton has since come out in favor of the policy, but against the way Democrats in the Senate (and Bernie Sanders) want to pay for it. Other considerations, however, are highly personal. In the first essay featured in the book, Deb Rox notes how important it is to her that someone who had to work “twice as hard under ten times the scrutiny” holds the highest office in the land. And while there’s a measurable debate to be had over whether funding paid family and medical leave through a payroll tax is better policy and/or worse politics than doing so through a high-end income tax, it’s really hard to put a number on just how important it is that women make the representational gains that Clinton signifies.

Much of the debate in the Democratic primary has turned on this precise question: How important are these representational gains relative to the material gains proposed by Bernie Sanders? Do hawkish foreign policies and at times vicious derision of the poor warrant withholding support from a supremely competent executive who represents a major step forward for the legitimation of women as men’s equals in society? It isn’t that controversial to say that, all things being equal, one should vote for a female candidate over a male candidate due to intangible representational gains, but all things are never equal. There are very real differences between Clinton and Sanders on core economic issues, and the two hold highly distinct understandings of politics and a different set of priorities. Democratic voters around the country who are inclined to lean to Clinton’s left on these matters have been forced to wrestle with the question of whether Clinton’s representational gains are enough to outweigh what edge they may see Sanders as having on the issues. As Lisa Solod phrased this frustration, “It is hard to garner much enthusiasm for a candidate who, despite her gender, seems an awful lot like everyone else who has ever run the United States.”

That said, as libertarian writer Emily Zanotti pointed out in her contribution to Love Her, Love Her Not, representational gains promised by Clinton aren’t at all insignificant:

[Clinton] is the reason that Republicans welcomed Sarah Palin into their loving embrace, regardless of whether Hillary herself considers that an achievement. She’s the reason that nomination short-lists today are full of female presidential contenders. She’s the reason that any female seeking elected office receives serious consideration. It may be the play of demographics—after all, fulfilling quotas is far from real feminism—but forward movement toward fair representation, no matter what’s fueling it, is a marked success.

However, while Hillary Clinton’s status as a woman is undoubtedly a significant variable in considering her candidacy, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t carry considerable privilege with her on her way to the White House. As Veronica Arreola reminds readers, Clinton may be a woman, but she is also a white and rich woman, and Clinton’s at times paternalistic consideration of issues lying at the intersection of gender, race and poverty — statements like “How do we make sure that pregnant women, particularly poor women, understand the nutrients they should take to support their own and their baby’s health?”  as if low-income pregnant women aren’t buying vegetables because they don’t know better — suggest that she has work to do if she wants to mean more than one dimension of representational gains.

Love Her, Love Her Not makes the case for Hillary, against Hillary and everything in between. It is a thoughtful debate with itself. It is well worth your time.

Get it here.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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