Election 2008

Open Thread: Seeing Sexism in the Clinton Loss


Seen at Clinton's concession speech, 06.07.08 Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images

On this morning's show, Rebecca Traister of Salon took on the question of whether sexism played a role in Hillary Clinton's primary defeat.

For me, the question hasn't been so much whether sexism caused Clinton to lose the Democratic presidential nomination as whether it affected the discussion about her while she was running — and especially as she lost. For Traister, that's a yes. "Clinton could have won, and we should still be talking about the sexism," she says.

So let's talk about it. You guys already helped us get started, with your take on our Clinton campaign obit.

Another NPR headline: Who Did This to Hillary?



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This is so ridiculous. If Clinton had won, people from the Obama team would be saying it was racism. This is what happens when identity politics eats itself.

Sent by Michael | 9:39 AM | 6-9-2008

Michael only says that because he's male. Clinton was treated differently by the media and the public because she is a woman. She was told to leave the contest rather than "undermine" support for Obama, something that has never been proposed when a male was running in opposition to another man. It's interesting too that the Obama camp threw allegations of racism, yet Hillary's campaign never played the "misogyny" card. No doubt gender prejudice did indeed play a part--only a man would assert it did not.

Sent by Peg | 10:51 AM | 6-9-2008

This is so not what people should be focusing on. Whether someone is a man, woman, black, white, pink, purple, doesn't determine whether they can lead. What about intelligence, common sense, integrity, vision? Those are the characteristics that make a great leader... Lets show our own intelligence for a change!

Sent by Donna | 11:00 AM | 6-9-2008

"She was told to leave the contest rather than "undermine" support for Obama, something that has never been proposed when a male was running in opposition to another man."

Yes, it has. Ted Kennedy in 1980, Ronald Reagan in 1976. Both mounted insurgent campaigns against incumbent candidates and both were hounded by party elders to get out of the race.

I'm not saying that Clinton and Obama weren't treated differently by the media, simply that your assertion that this has never happened before isn't supported by the facts.

Sent by Stewart | 11:24 AM | 6-9-2008

I don't think sexism explains why Hillary lost the primary. In fact, she won most of the states toward the end of the primary, including Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota, Montana, and (yes, I know it's not a state, but ...) Puerto Rico. I strongly believe that the overblown Reverend Wright story hurt Obama, so much that had the story broken in January, Clinton would be the nominee.

But there was a great deal of sexism in the media coverage of the campaign. I think the incomparable Katha Pollitt explains it better than I can:


And don't overlook this clip from the Daily Show:


Sent by Laura | 11:26 AM | 6-9-2008

I believe sexism did play a role, remember Glenn Beck's comments? "She could be saying, 'All right, Glenn, I want to give Glenn Beck $1 million,' and all I'd hear is, 'Take out the garbage.' Ah - they are bringing it up now, LOL

Sent by Piper | 12:12 PM | 6-9-2008

I don't believe Hillary lost the campaign because she's a woman anymore than I believe Barak won because he's black. The fact is, the better person in most American's minds, won - period!

I think it's time to bring down the walls of division over petty,unimportant matters and come together on the more important, and real issues we and our children face as a nation.

Sent by Lisa | 12:24 PM | 6-9-2008

Hillary sided with Bush and voted for the war in Iraq, which had developed into one of the largest and most expensive foreign policy debacles in US history. She did so because it was politically expedient for her at the time. Now that Iraq is a quagmire, she has tried to justify that vote- the single most important action of her political career - with any number of lame excuses.
She lost my support, and probably the support of millions of other voters, when she voted for that war. It's called accountability. She has to be held accountable for that vote. Don't blame her sex, blame her vote.
Now, I hope McCain will be held accountable this November for his support of the war.

Sent by JC | 1:14 PM | 6-9-2008

I don't think she lost the campaign because she's a woman, but the influence of nonsensical media certainly plays a roll. Take, for example Bill O'Reilly. He could not find a factual news story if it jumped up and down, screaming in his face, yet people BELIEVE the obvious non-factual "news" he spews. Similarly, I'm sure some IQ challenged voter saw Glenn Beck saying "..all I'd hear is 'Take out the garbage.'" when talking about Hillary. That voter was probably saying "Heck yah! I don't want no woman like that runnin' my country!" (this is obviously a gross exaggeration, but you get my point). I too hope that we as a nation can get away from the pettiness, but people just don't seem to really care anymore. They listen to the likes of Bill, Glenn, etc and take it as real news, and worse, believe it.

Sent by Piper | 1:26 PM | 6-9-2008

Has anyone thought about the fact that the sexism exprienced by Hillary was the entire problem? I think for her it was that she was such a divisive figure that the sexism was amplified. Do you think if it were another woman...Condi Rice for example..would have received the vitrol that Hillary tended to incite?

Sent by ES | 2:09 PM | 6-9-2008

In terms of pure policy, I think Obama ran the better campaign. The campaign had clarity, momentum just when it needed it, and most importantly, it projected the image of a man who sang a different tune. I had my doubts about Clinton in the beginning when I realized how freely she accepted health insurance companies' support, both money-wise and endorsements-wise. She always struck me as somebody who had her finger to the wind; she reminded me of Kissinger's "realpolitik" mentality- do what needs to be done to achieve a personal goal. Also, I think what clinched it for me were her comments on what she'd do as president should Iran attack Israel. I am simply not ready for another president so sure of himself/herself they'll say, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
Maybe we'll see her back on the podium in a few years with a more balanced, yet courageously progressive stance. Her intelligence and astuteness is not in question. For me, it was always whether her heart was in the right place, and I don't think it was this time.

Sent by Ninad | 2:11 PM | 6-9-2008

Sexism did play a role. The misogyny in this campaign was unbelievable. Were people yelling "Iron my shirt" to McCain or Obama? Was Rush Limbaugh complaining about watching McCain grow "pruny" in office? People, including those who write for the media, know not to criticize McCain (the POW), or make any comments about Obama (the black man). The way people were so careful to NOT appear racist made all crticial media pieces about Obama impossible. He got many, many free passes in the media. After his supporters said Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment was racist, no one touched him. Notice that? So, if you can't criticize the POW and the black man, who is left? Hillary. It was, and still is, acceptable for people to make comments about gender. It affected her coverage, and constantly made her reply to the coverage, as oppose to getting her message out. Did it make it difference in the end? I'd say yes. Voters still rely on media to learn about their candidates. It mattered.

Sent by MKN | 2:11 PM | 6-9-2008

I am sad to see that some of us still think sexism and racism are simply "petty, unimportant matters." Sexism and racism play a tremendous role in shaping all of the so-called "more important, and real issues" that we face as a nation. Ignoring these issues now will only make it increasingly difficult for "our children" to confront them later.

Sent by Chris | 2:16 PM | 6-9-2008

This is a question that people can only answer for themselves. My primary news sources are NPR, The Week Magazine, and the AP News Wire. I didn't see any them trying trying to either sell or degrade Hillary based on her gender.

When the campaign started I was fairly neutral towards Barack and Hillary, although I was a bit afraid of the Clinton negatives. As the campaign progressed, however, I became convinced that Hillary was a back-stabbing, front-stabbing, foot-stabbing, head-stabbing, take no prisoners, win at all costs politician whose only goal is power. This was never more clear than at the end with her ridiculous and ever-shifting positions on the Michigan and Florida delegates. Anyone who voted against Hillary merely because she is a woman seriously lacks imagination and insight.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 2:25 PM | 6-9-2008

Anytime a woman or an African-American tread into traditional white male territory, you will see sexism or racism. It's a fact; happens all the time. The issue with Clinton is how she chose to deal with it. Look, there was no way that Obama as a black man could cry racism as often as she cried sexism. He tried to studiously avoid race (until Wright raised his high yella head). She purposefully invoked gender. No, nobody yelled out "iron my shirt" to him, but did anyone call her "nigger" or wear a caricature of her as a banana-eating ape (as they did Obama)? No. Clinton is and always has been a divisive figure in politics and she has the unique ability to bring out the worst in good people. Her supporters should have known that from the beginning. If they did, maybe they'd be better at separating sexism from plain old Hillary loathing.

Sent by Smith | 3:10 PM | 6-9-2008

Hillary ran her campaign as the candidate with experience in the White House. She did a lot of work as a First Lady but she can't deny she got the job because of to whom she was married. When she constantly reminds us she is the wife of someone important, we tend to see her first as a woman and second as a presidential candidate.

Sent by amy | 4:00 PM | 6-9-2008

In this country of misguided individuals, Hillary Clinton, is damned if she does, and damned if she doesn't. She chose not to make gender a central issue, and yet, it's still hounding her after it's the nomination is over.
If she were a man, the aggressive side of her personality would be applauded.
She could've been Albert Einstein and the party wouldn't have gotten behind her, b/c they became blinded w/the celebrity starpower of Obama. He seems like a great guy, but he's young and inexperienced, and the opposition is going to put him to the test.
The proof is, Al Gore, in 2000 couldn't even win over George Bush, and the reason is corruption. Our country is in terrible need of voter reform, during both primary, and general election seasons. Why on earth, in this day and age, are superdelegates, or electoral colleges overriding popular votes? The best and brightest, will never have fair chance of making it into the presidency. Whether white, or female, black, or male, or any other variety, "Change" is sorely needed, however, Obama is squarely against tremendous odds.
I wish him the best.

Sent by Dominick | 4:19 PM | 6-9-2008

I'm an African American man and I must confess that I wasn't aware of the expansiveness or impact of sexism.

Honestly, part of the problem is that prejudice in it's subtle forms can be easily missed by people it's not aimed at. But the women supporting Hillary's campaign has made me much more aware.

I'd love for the Democratic party to address these concerns. I also hope women continue to voice their concerns and educate us about how NOT to be sexist. Sounds silly but I think miseduction part of the problem.

Sent by Mark | 4:31 PM | 6-9-2008

Well, if there were sexism in the media coverage, then it works both ways. Back at the beginning of the campaign some 16 months ago (yes, it was that long; it just feels so much longer), Hillary Clinton was treated as the presumptive nominee. Was that sexism, because the rest of the men weren't thought to have it?

When Clinton cried during the New Hampshire, was it sexism to treat that emotional as a sign of humanity rather than a sign of weakness ala Edmond Muskie?

I'm sorry, but, if you want to be treated as a man in politics, expect to be treated like, well, a man, which means that people will invade your space while debating, characterize as a wimp while crying, and treat you like garbage when down in the polls. If you don't like it, guess what? Men don't like it either, but we man up, and so should get yourself.

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 4:35 PM | 6-9-2008

here's a thought. Did sexism slow the nomination of Obama? We know the primary was close. We know the candidates had similar platforms. We know that a large number-easily into the millions-of women voted for Clinton because they wanted to see a woman in the white house. To me that sounds that sounds like gender bias. I don't know who thought it, but I never heard a man-as a man I do have male friends who speak freely about this stuff around me-say "I won't vote for a woman." Personally, I'd love to vote for a woman, just not Clinton. Sexism is real and exists, like racism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia and many other biases it has played a role in this election, but Hillary Clinton is an incredibly capable politician and a dynamic figure, chalking her loss up to sexism and gender bias is to sell her ideas and talents short as well as the american electorate who is probably a lot broad minded than the media would like to make us out to be.

Sent by Vincent Caldoni | 4:36 PM | 6-9-2008

"Why on earth, in this day and age, are superdelegates, or electoral colleges overriding popular votes?"

I see your point on the electoral college, but to clarify: although her campaign claimed that Clinton "won" the popular vote, it used fuzzy math verging on outright fraud to support that claim. More people voted for Obama than voted for Clinton.

Sent by Stewart | 5:11 PM | 6-9-2008

When I see or hear something that's annoying, I point it out. If not to others then at least to myself. I have no idea what it is but Sen. Clinton just annoys the crap out of me. McCain doesn't even annoy me as a person and I'm a democrat.

Sent by Sarah Lee | 5:45 PM | 6-9-2008

Of course there was sexism in the media's coverage of Clinton, but it was assumed to be OK because Hillary bashing had become an accepted form of entertainment. There is no way that equivalent commentary would have been made about Obama's ears, his characteristic stammer, etc. since the media was afraid of any appearnace of racism. Even NPR to my disappointment commented in March when Clinton was being urged to get out of the race because of Obama's "momentum" that "maybe she (Clinton) wants to show that she can play with the 'big boys'.

Sent by Kathy | 10:21 PM | 6-9-2008

Yes, sexism did play a role in Hillary Clinton's defeat. Her sexism. Who wants a president showing deep seated hostility towards half of the population (men)? Only those who are blinded by hostility: Older feminists and the frustrated working class. The rest looks for other options.

Sent by Ontore | 1:35 AM | 6-10-2008