Why Hillary Is the Way She Is

Let’s get one thing straight about Hillary Clinton — she has been shaped and sculpted and pressured and forced into boxes for decades of national political attention. She is the product of thousands of meetings and focus groups and opinion polls and strategy sessions. Much of the changes she has made to herself (clouding, probably, her true self and producing the phoniness everyone hates about her) are the result of America’s profoundly sexist culture, especially when it comes to women in positions of power.

With the impending release of her book this week, everybody’s talking about why Hillary lost. Of course she’s reflective of a spinelessness among Democrats in the 21st century. No one’s debating that. Of course she’s blaming Bernie for her loss when any child looking at this chart understands what the bigger problem was. Of course she has cozied up to Wall Street and demonized black kids and taken some atrocious positions over the years. None of that is in dispute, but neither does it change the core tragedy at the heart of Hillary Clinton, Politician.

Just look at her name — when Bill Clinton first became governor of Arkansas in 1978, she was Hillary Rodham. She was independent and strong, working to improve the health care of rural folks in the state. But many voters thought she was too uppity. She didn’t act demure or shy, like most First Ladies. In 1980 Bill Clinton was defeated by Republican Frank D. White, in part because conservatives attacked Hillary. When Bill ran to reclaim the seat, Hillary started calling herself “Hillary Clinton” and occasionally “Mrs. Bill Clinton”. He won his re-election bid in 1982.

Thus it has been for everything Hillary has ever done in the public spotlight. When she became First Lady of the nation, she was attacked for not baking enough cookies. She was attacked for working to improve health care instead of smiling for the cameras. She was attacked for speaking up about women’s rights in Beijing. And nothing she ever did in response to her husband’s constant sexual depravity has ever been good enough for The American People.

The American People are not always well-informed. They often vote with their guts, and their guts wear glasses thick with hostility toward powerful women. The American People often have mommy issues and male privilege and Queen Bee mindsets that make them hostile toward any woman trying to ascend ladders, especially those related to political power. So when someone like Hillary tries to relate to The American People, she can’t simply act on instinct the way Donald Trump can. She has to do whatever she can to appease their bizarre expectations. Like Trump, she tried doing that when she first entered politics. She was shot down with violent intensity. So she started adjusting her behavior, and she’s never stopped.

I don’t love Hillary Clinton, and I don’t even like her very much. She has made an ocean of compromises to further her legal, economic, and political futures. However, I need the world to acknowledge the unique kinds of pressures she has faced for decades, and start changing the way we discuss and critique women in the political sphere. They face particular kinds of scrutiny and prejudice, and no story of their rise or fall is complete without an appreciation of those factors.

That is all.