Death by Caveat

In April of last year, I wrote this piece for BNR about then-candidate Hillary Clinton: INDOMITABLE: The Girl from Park Ridge Who Became Hillary Clinton. When I shared it at Shakesville, I wrote:
The scariest part of submitting that piece for me is that there are no caveats. No obligatory "I know she's not perfect" or "I don't agree with her about everything." These things are true, but I wanted to be able to write one damn piece where I can say I'm fond of and grateful to her without apology. Because I am tired of having to reflexively say that my candidate isn't perfect, in a way no one else is obliged to do for their candidate, just because the candidate I support is a woman who is held to unreasonable expectations of perfection.

Even when I include caveats, I get bad faith criticism. I'm a shill; I'm uncritical in my support; I only support her because we're both women; whatever. So fuck it. I'm not going to keep breathing life into the idea that there must be special disclosures to signal support for Clinton.

If people don't know or believe by now that I'm not a mindless cheerleader, they're never going to. And obliging me to constantly acknowledge her failures in order to defend myself, as the cost of saying anything positive about her, doesn't serve either one of us. That's a game I no longer want to play.
And I didn't. After that, for the remaining seven months of the campaign, I did not caveat my support for Hillary Clinton. I resisted the external obligation to reflexively insert stipulations and degrees of distance; to immediately undermine my advocacy and enthusiasm for her with some dogshit concession to people who were never going to support her, anyway.

You know who never felt compelled to acknowledge their candidate isn't perfect? Trump supporters.

They didn't waste their energy genuflecting to purists by compulsively disgorging dehumanizing codswallop in acquiescence to rigorous policing of his insufficient perfection. Instead, they showed up at rallies and screamed, "Lock her up!"

That observation should not be mistaken as a recommendation of such aggressive indecency. It is, rather, to note the abject failure of meeting that undiluted zeal with simpering apology for supporting a candidate of whom we had numerous reasons to be proud.

black and white image of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, smiling broadly
[Photo: Michael Davidson for Hillary for America.]

Fully a year before I wrote the pieces referenced above, I wrote this piece, about how bracketing one's support for Clinton with disclaimers about her failure to be perfect was a reflection of the misogynist double-standards to which we hold women:
I have no objection to examining Hillary Clinton's strengths and weaknesses; evaluating the efficacy and decency of her policies. That's what the media and potential voters should be doing.

But strengths and weaknesses is not the same as "perfection vs. flawed." The entire framing around Clinton is deeply problematic.

Of course she is not a "perfect" candidate. There are no perfect candidates. But here is an article, and it's one of many, that writes about Clinton being "flawed" as if that is somehow unique to her.

What's unique to Clinton is the idea that she could be—or should be—perfect. Her male competitors are not held to that standard. And thus there is no reason to discuss their "flaws," because it's taken as read that they will not be perfect, not be ideologically pure, not be magically capable of being equally and wholly appealing to every potential voter to the left of center.

...If you understand the very basic feminist tenet that women are held to impossible standards, for which there is no male equivalent, then you understand the dynamic underwriting articles that talk about Hillary Clinton's failure to be perfect.

Which is the same dynamic underwriting the reflexive need so many of us have to start even the most milquetoast endorsement of anything about Hillary Clinton and/or her policies with, "Clinton isn't a perfect candidate, but..."

No shit she isn't. No one is. But it's only Clinton who somehow warrants these incessant caveats about her lack of perfection.

Yes, let us talk about the positions Clinton holds with which we disagree, but let us also do it without the misogynist qualification about how she isn't perfect, thus upholding the profoundly misogynist narrative that women should and can be perfect. That women have to meet impossible standards for which no (white) male Democratic candidate is even expected to reach.
We ignored the cost of indulging this evident misogyny at our own peril—and, as has surely become clear now, if it weren't before—to the peril of the very nation, and its most vulnerable citizens.

As Hillary Clinton spent 18 months working herself to exhaustion to earn every last vote, each caveat from a supporter signaled doubt to the people she was trying to win over. Each qualified endorsement telegraphed there was reason for hesitation. Every equivocation communicated that maybe all those things they'd heard about her were true.

Maybe it wasn't worth showing up for Hillary Clinton, if even her supporters, who'd made up their minds, couldn't bring themselves to voice their support without couching it in a hesitating shame.

Every last one of those contemptible caveats reverberated in a chorus of doubt. They did not merely communicate a True Thing, that she is not perfect, a thing that is true about every human being on the planet, nor even that she was not a flawless candidate, a thing that is true about everyone who has ever run for office, but communicated something, in their echoing collective, that was manifestly untrue: That Clinton was icky.

Despite the fact that she was the most qualified candidate ever to run, despite the fact that her record was patently not more troubling than any Democratic candidate (and less than many), despite the fact that she had acknowledged and apologized for many of her positions for which she'd been criticized, despite the fact that she had become more progressive in her politics, despite the fact that she was competent and smart and experienced, despite the fact that she offered full-throated rejections of every bit of indecency proposed by her despicable opponent, there was still just something about her.

Icky. She was treated like a schoolgirl on the playground who's been tainted with cooties.

And I know, oh how I know, that people who insisted on their precious caveats will now insist to me that her gender had nothing to do with it. They will lay out their cases about how imperfect she was. They will contend that what they said didn't matter, and they will blame her, sniffing that she was a flawed candidate. Don't blame them for pointing it out.

But I do blame them. I blame every person who held Clinton to a different standard than her male peers. I blame every person who, even if they voted for her, couldn't bring themselves to offer unqualified support. Who couldn't find a way to disagree with her without indulging trash tropes about a woman's insufficient lack of perfection.

(It's possible, friends. I found a way to do it.)

I have heard, over and over, that to point out Clinton's insufficient perfection was a necessary act of conscience. Fine. I'm quite certain I cannot dissuade anyone to dismount that particular high horse. I will only say this: My conscience was satiated not by distancing myself from a presidential candidate who would have occasionally necessitated my criticism for positions with which I disagree, but by doing every goddamn thing I could to get her elected.

Not just because she was a fine candidate, but because she was running against a Russian nesting doll of character defects, whose platform was a turgid sack of rancid bigotries.

Donald Trump is not merely imperfect. He is a vile specimen whose authoritarian contempt for democratic institutions is outmatched only by his seething hatred of marginalized people. Shamelessly, he endeavors to obliterate the services of the federal government that aren't dedicated to state-sponsored violence, while his party abets his reckless destruction and proposes "healthcare reform" that will straight-up kill people.

That this is what his presidency would look like was patently evident when he was a candidate, from Day One. My conscience did not allow me to take a long gaze at this impending monstrosity and insert cringing caveats about his opponent not being perfect.

The point is, the point has always been, that she was better. By miles. By the distance of unfathomable galaxies.

But her presidency was derailed, in part, because of a ubiquitous, incomprehensible need to say that she's flawed. And to dismiss as a shill anyone who refused to unnecessarily undercut her strengths with conciliatory caveats about her weaknesses.

If we are ever fortunate enough to again have the possibility to vote for a Democratic female candidate who has managed to run an intolerable gauntlet of misogynist bullshit and emerge as a serious contender for the presidency, I hope we will do things differently. I hope we will remember that there is no need to stress that she is not perfect, because she is foremostly a human being, and thus imperfect as are we all.

Because, on the subject of imperfection, Clinton being a flawed candidate was not her biggest problem. It was her flawed constituency, who couldn't find it in themselves to vociferously support an imperfect woman.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus