Barbara Streisand’s singing a familiar tune: Just sexism stands in the way of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Most people will want to tune out such an out-of-touch, 1970s-style remix, but plenty of Democrats will mouth this refrain during the rest of campaign season.
On one level, Streisand’s charge has some truth. Clinton’s sex does play an outsized role in her candidacy. Streisand just has it exactly backward. Clinton’s candidacy depends entirely on the appeal of seeing the first woman in the oval office. If she were a man, Mrs. Clinton would never have made it this far.
In her article in the Huffington Post, Streisand claims “voters should weigh the substance of what a candidate has to offer: his/her policies, his/her agenda, his/her experience, knowledge and demeanor in dealing with world leaders.”
Yet it’s on all of these measures that voters are judging Clinton and finding her lacking. More than 40 percent of Democrat primary voters so far have cast their votes for Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s only real opponent, even though the Democrat Party machine has done everything possible to marginalize Sanders and make Clinton’s nomination inevitable.
Streisand’s defense of Clinton exemplifies the muddled case for her candidacy. Streisand cites the impressive positions that Mrs. Clinton has held, but doesn’t offer any evidence that she was particularly adept at pursuing them. Streisand isn’t the only Clinton supporter to struggle to name accomplishments she achieved while secretary of State or senator.
Nothing to See Here But Sexism?
The reliably liberal Streisand insults Republicans (no surprise) and praises President Obama’s record, overlooking that it isn’t just GOPers who question Obama’s supposed successes. Candidate Clinton has carefully avoided fully embracing the Obama administration’s legacy, lamenting our economic woes, growing wage inequality, the president’s missteps overseas, and even his health-care law.
Rather than considering candidate Clinton’s real weaknesses, Streisand prefers to see the public—apparently even Democratic primary voters—as Neanderthal sexists who just can’t stomach the idea of female leaders. The public shouldn’t be “afraid of women,” Streisand intones.
The public isn’t. In fact, a recent study by Pew Research found that voters overwhelming support the idea of female political leaders, and, on many measures, remaining gender biases work in women’s favor. Pew explains: “When it comes to political leadership, Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say that women do a better job than men on each of the attributes tested in the poll. …Republicans are…more inclined to say there isn’t any difference between men and women.” In other words, Democrats still struggle with biases about sex—they just are prejudiced against men. Republicans are equally open to both male and female political leaders.
Being a Woman Benefits Clinton, But Not Enough
Americans’ willingness to vote for a woman president doesn’t mean that the sexes are treated equally in the political arena. Certainly, women face different pressures when running for office, some undoubtedly outgrowths of lingering sexist stereotypes. Female candidates, including Mrs. Clinton, probably hear much more about their dress and looks than do male candidates. The public may view women’s reactions—anger or emotionalism—less favorably than they do men’s. That’s certainly not fair. The media can help neutralize the impact of these biases by raising awareness of how such preconceptions can obscure the real issues.
Yet in talking about sexism, it is grossly inaccurate to imply—as Streisand does and as countless other feminist leaders are sure to parrot—that being a woman is an anchor dragging Clinton down. In reality, the benefits Clinton receives from being a woman—potentially the first to reach the Oval Office—far outweigh the drawbacks associated with her sex. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem go so far as to suggest women are obliged to vote for Clinton based on her sex alone, and somehow such calls for blind gender loyalty aren’t called out as sexism at its worst.
If Mrs. Clinton had a stellar record, if she weren’t notoriously ethically challenged, if she hadn’t evaded transparency laws and compromised classified materials on private servers, if her family hadn’t sopped up millions in questionable payments from Wall Street, if she were able to articulate a compelling vision for the country, she’d have locked up the nomination months ago. Sexism—the strong desire among many to get a woman into the presidency—is Hillary Clinton’s biggest asset.