The calculated attack on our first female major party nominee’s honesty is genius – and could only have worked on a woman
Hillary Clinton has been the target of many so-called “scandals” throughout her career – ranging from the salaciously overblown to the thoroughly debunked to the downright deranged. This campaign season even brought us cough-gate, pneumonia-gate, and other increasingly bizarre health-related conspiracy theories that cynically play to our implicit gender bias.
But the overarching drumbeat narrative in this election cycle is a sneaky one, and is staggering in its breadth – and has not only dogged Hillary Clinton for decades, but has been blighting women for millennia: “untrustworthiness.”
To be clear: politicians lie. Whether it is an exercise in self-serving grandeur or simply placating pander, lawmakers have famously had a murky relationship with the truth. Socrates once said, “I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live.
Notorious dances with imprudence have stretched from the roundly-mocked convention promise of “No new taxes,” to the sobering weapons of mass destruction claim that cost thousands of American lives. Yet even with a full chronicle of political mistruths from the mundane to the monstrous, history has catalogued these men not as “liars,” but, rather, as men who have lied – sparing them the whole-cloth characterization of an individual undeserving of trust.
But with Secretary Clinton, it’s different. Irrespective of PolitiFact finding her one of our most honest politicians (with over 70 percent of her statements scoring between “true” and “half true,” and having earned higher marks than any of the 10 Republicans and three Democrats in this year’s presidential field), her political missteps seem to have been turned up at high heat and fused with her personage until there is no distinction between the person and the deeds – creating a notion of something you just can’t seem to put your finger on, a sort of nebulous unease of “I just don’t like her” and “I just can’t trust her.”
And this broad-based, thoroughly-invalidating character assassination could only have worked on a woman.
The lore of the “conniving shrew,” the “cunning wench,” the “lying jezebel” – this embodiment of “untrustworthiness” in female form has been carefully crafted over history, and is genius in its simplicity: gut the credibility, remove the voice.
And in a country such as ours with stronger Judeo-Christian ties than any other Westernized nation, it is particularly compelling – Eve giving Adam the apple is a powerful illustration of the cultural casting of a woman caught in her penchant for treachery, complete with a faith-based otherworldliness that makes it irrefutable by design.
This caustic trope has been reliably reincarnated in the Salem Witch, the women’s suffragist, the second-wave feminist, the modern-day “gold-digger” – all in an attack on veracity that deliberately seeks to cast doubt on a woman’s intentions and actions – and succeeds in nullifying her words before she can even speak them.
Make no mistake – this line of reputation assault has been spectacularly forged specifically for a woman for one reason: because it would work. I admit that I, too, grappled with a muddled mendacity and indistinct duplicity – completely unaware that I was playing into a relentless social construct with its roots in a historical campaign of disenfranchisement.
And it is precisely that long history that charges Hillary Clinton in a kind of diabolical credibility – not as a resolute public servant, but in the role of wicked queen, methodically manipulating her way to a public coronation.
To be sure, all politicians lie. But there is only one “liar.”