Clinton really, really needs to kill her incoherent “When women are [fill in the blank], families are [same word; slightly different meaning] slogan. Really.
When women are strong, families are strong.
— Hillary Clinton, repeatedly
When women are healthy, families are healthy.
— Hillary Clinton, a few days ago
Good news. According to National Journal journalist Molly Mirhashem and h/t’d by Anna North of the New York Times, the Clinton campaign is no longer taking women’s support as a given. So Clinton’s been demonstrating her commitment to racial and economic equality. By mentioning that the gender wage gap is wider is wider for women of color (presumably meaning black and Hispanic women, not Asian or Middle Eastern women) than it is for white women.
In other words, the news is not all that good, after all. It’s just okay. Progress, but not much.
Mirhashem’s article is titled “What young feminists think of Hillary Clinton” and subtitled “It’s not quite what you’d expect.” That, though, depends on who the “you” is, since it’s exactly what I expected.
The above-quoted sing-song slogans marry two of Clinton’s hallmarks: First, her belief that simply using the word “women” constantly is her ticket to victory—after all, isn’t that what matters to baby boomer feminists? Well, that, and the fact of her gender itself? Second, her preference for incoherent slogans intended just to indicate generic policy positions. Shorthand. Because, well, this is after all, the age of Twitter. And all that matters is that Clinton lets us know, generically, which side of a policy issue she’s on. The ones she wants us to know, anyway.
My reaction to her slogan, “When women are strong, families are strong,” each time I’ve heard or read it, is to think of the millions of women who hold down two low-paying jobs, some of them traveling to and from the jobs using uncomfortable and sporadic public transportation. By definition, at least by the usual definition, of the word, these women are strong. But some of them have families that are not strong.
And women who are seriously ill, say with cancer, may have strong families.
Taken at face value, the two slogans are incoherent. They’re non sequiturs. You get the general idea of what she means, but why doesn’t she just say what she means? Sound-bite slogans are useful when they’re coherent and state something specific. Clinton has borrowed Elizabeth Warren’s very effective slogan that the game is rigged, changing it to “The deck is stacked,” which means the same thing of course. Both phrasings are effective because they say something clear and pointed; they don’t need to be translated into a coherent statement. They’re not sing-song-y, they don’t use a play on a word, and they don’t mention gender or any such trigger. They tie together two things into cause-and-effect: The tiny handful of people who pay for political campaigns are the ones who write public policy; their politician benefactors are just their proxies, their puppets.
I’m no longer as hostile as I was to Clinton and her commandeering of the nomination process; the Democratic Party and the potentially strong but demurring progressive candidates such as Sherrod Brown have acceded to it. And she’s clearly decided to become the non-Hillary-Clinton candidate that we progressives have wanted to see enter the race.
But she and her political and policy advisers and spokespeople need to stop condescending to progressives and to the public in general. I don’t understand how a candidate who has so very many highly paid message strategists believes that nonsensical and pandering slogans and statements is the way to victory in the general election. She really, really doesn’t have to preface the word “potential”—as in, having the chance to live up to his or her potential—with the word “God-given.” She can just say that she and her husband are “going to fight to make sure that everybody has the same chances to live up to his or her own potential.” She may think it’s politically necessary for her to insert “God-given” before “potential”. But it just sounds like what it is: gratuitous and patronizing.*
Someone who isn’t paid vast sums to advise her should tell her that. Because none of the folks who are paid vast sums to advise her will tell her that. But she, of all candidates, should studiously avoid pandering. At least that sort of pandering.
In truth, the way to victory for her in the general election is to run against a Republican. And since that’s what she will be doing, she should start, now, being a candidate who appears to have the moral strength to walk away from the 1980s and ‘90s political obsessions. We Democrats are entitled to a standard bearer who has that. We are. Really.
*The full quote is:
Bill and I have been blessed, and we’re very grateful for the opportunities we had. But we’ve never forgotten where we came from, and we’ve never forgotten the kind of country we want to see for our granddaughter, and that means that we’re going to fight to make sure that everybody has the same chances to live up to his or her own God-given potential.
Added 5/20 at 10:41 p.m.