History Lesson For a Young Sanders Supporter

sen. hillary clinton  speaks at ...
sen. hillary clinton speaks at ...

I am one of those "over 65" women who belong to the faceless, aging "demographic" with a Hillary sign on my front lawn. For weeks I've listened, fists clenched, while 19-year-olds and media pundits alike lavish praise on Bernie Sanders for his bold, revolutionary message and scorn Hillary for being "establishment."

He is "heart" and she is "head"--a bitter irony for those of us familiar with the long history of philosophical, religious, and medical diatribes disqualifying women from leadership positions on the basis of our less-disciplined emotions.

He is "authentic" in his progressivism while she has only been pushed to the left by political expediency--as though a lifetime of fighting for universal healthcare, for gender equality, for children's rights don't pass the litmus tests for "progressive" causes. He is the champion of the working class while her long-standing commitments to child care, paid sick leave, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and narrowing the wage-gap between working men and women are apparently evaporated by her accepting highly-paid invitations to speak at Goldman-Sachs.

As I witness Sanders become the gatekeeper of progressivism, while in the interests of his own campaign allowing a generation of twitter-educated kids to swallow a sound-bite generated portrait of Hillary, I am amazed at all that has gotten eclipsed by the terms of the current debate. The continuing virulence of racism in all its forms. The assault on reproductive rights. And, oh yes, that still inflammatory little "ism," Sexism. Bring it up nowadays and you will get accused of "playing the woman card." On the other hand, if you suggest that the election of Hillary to the Presidency would be a strike against business-as-usual, you will be reminded that she is not really a woman but one-half of that mythical unity, "The Clintons." She even gets blamed for Bill's infidelity--a tactic cooked up by Trump but taken seriously throughout the media, as pundits actually debated whether she should be held accountable for being "an enabler."

Sexism and Hillary-hating are old comrades. When she was a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2008, the media coverage of the primaries often seemed like a re-run of the relentless punishment she endured for refusing to stay in her place as first lady. Hillary's early transgressions--requesting a West Wing office, making health care (rather than, say, charity work or refurbishing the White House) her priority, not caring enough about fashion, and seeming to denigrate cooking-baking housewives--had made her "The Lady Macbeth of Arkansas", "The Yuppie Wife From Hell"; a New York Post cartoon pictured Bill Clinton as a marionette, with a ferocious Hillary pulling the strings. For a time during his presidency, her husband's bad behavior won her some sympathy, and her productive but low-key (Carl Bernstein called it "deferential") performance as a senator earned her praise. But then--oops--she started leaning in too much once again, trying for the Presidency, and the "hellish housewife" (as Leon Wieseltier called her) was reincarnated: Hillary was ""satan" (Don Imus): "Mommie Dearest," "the debate dominatrix" and "Mistress Hillary " (Maureen Dowd.) And it wasn't just the right wing. Chris Matthews (who in 2016 has thankfully changed his tune) saw her as a creature from the bowels of hell: "witchy" and a "she-devil." He wasn't the only one. You all remember, don't you? Don't you?

If you are a 19-year-old Bernie supporter, you probably don't; you were 11 years old. But Bernie Sanders remembers, and he remembers, too, that his isn't the first mass-movement of young people filled with anti-establishment fervor. A lot of us were "socialist" (or some version of it) in those days. But some of us, too, were women. Women who were charged with making coffee while the male politicos speechified. Women who were shouted down and humiliated for daring to bring up the issue of gender inequality during rallies and lefty confabs. Women whose protests were seen as trivial, hormonally inspired, and "counter-revolutionary." Women who were told, over and over, that in the interests of progressive change, we had to subordinate our demands to "larger" causes. Some of us could see that those "larger" issues were thoroughly entangled with gender; we would ultimately develop ways of understanding the world that couldn't be reduced to a single "message" but demanded complex analyses (and action) that looked at the intersections of race, gender, and class. In those days, though--before the women's movement--we often found ourselves simmering and stewing as our boyfriends and husbands defined what was revolutionary, what was worthy, what was "progressive."

So it's somewhat déjà vu for me all over again, as a charismatic male politico once again is telling women what issues are and aren't "progressive." I can only assume that those of you who booed Hillary at the Iowa caucus when she described herself as a progressive have no idea of either how the women's movement was born or Clinton's contributions to it. Ironically, the women's movement, along the struggle for racial justice, is one of the true revolutions of the 20th century--a revolution that you benefit from every day of your lives, and that is far from fully accomplished.

The boo-ers have no idea, I can only assume, of the price Hillary has paid for being openly and vigorously feminist, for daring to fight for health care (yes, it was called "Hillarycare" in those days) before there was a movement to clap for her, for speaking her mind about what she accurately described as "a vast right-wing conspiracy" aimed at her husband (and now at Obama.) Instead, through some perverse and unconscious collusion between the decades-old Hillary-hating of the right, the headline-hunger of the media (which never tires of exploiting the latest faux scandal) and now, cruelest cut of all, the Bernie Movement, you have decided that she is simply "the establishment."

I was born in 1947, the very first year of the post-war baby boom. I was a young teenager at the dawn of the sixties, just a few years younger than Bernie and half a year older than Hillary. I know how intoxicating it is--particularly now, for a generation numbed by a culture that has given you snapchat in place of community--to feel yourself on the side of "revolution" and to find yourself, shoulder to shoulder with like-minded others, with a cause to fight for. And I, too, am charmed by Bernie's scruffy white hair and unmodulated passion. I understand, I do. Do not make the mistake of thinking, though, that Hilary's caution is a sign of her "inauthenticity" or conventionality, rather than the price she has paid for attempting to be an effective public servant in world that has allowed men the privilege of political passion and labeled women "strident" and "shrill" when they did the same. Please remember, too, that while a "clear message" may make for a good political campaign, complexity--which doesn't lend itself to sound bites--is what the real is made of. In that complex real world, income inequality is not merely the product of Wall Street greed but survives only through the happy collusion of other inequalities that have been with us long before Goldman Sachs opened its doors.

Susan Bordo is Singletary Chair in the Humanities at University of Kentucky. She is currently writing a book on how facts became obsolete in American culture and politics.