Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A symbolic Clinton victory will win you all kinds of symbolic progress

No, the stalled revolution for gender equity won’t be won by simply installing a woman in the White House. But it may help animate conversation, instill fierce female pride, and inspire young girls the world over. With our campuses roiled in debates about how to address rampant sexual assault and our reproductive lives seemingly constantly in need of controlling by over-reaching politicians; with our wages still unequal, our domestic labor undervalued and childcare still too expensive; and with our political representation still woefully disproportionate to our population, the effects of having a woman in that very male White House may just trigger some needed discussion and stir social movements. - Suzanna Danuta Walters
There's really no need to dispute this - let's just take Walters at her word. Vote for Hillary Clinton and here's what you get, at best:

  • animated conversations
  • fierce female pride
  • inspired young girls
  • discussion
  • stirred social movements
These are certainly excellent outcomes if you're a humanities professor who is deeply invested in cultivating discourse and enthusiasm about feminism, but it's worth noting that none of these are actually substantive achievements. Animated conversations are not going to end sexual assault, and fierce female pride is no substitute for higher wages.

It would be one thing if Clinton's supporters could clearly explain how her symbolic victory would - directly or indirectly - lead to actual, material gains for women; but as far as I can tell, all a symbolic Clinton victory has to offer is - potentially! - even more symbolism. Vote for Clinton, and you may very well get a White House panel discussion on equal wages or an awesome new hashtag to for your social movement, though no reason is ever given to expect anything more.
While Bernie’s redistributive economic policies might—in the long run—aid women more than Hillary’s more conservative ones, it is unlikely that most of them would ever make their way through a Congress beholden to Wall Street and corporate interests.
Walters is correct here, but I have no idea why she thinks this amounts to a case for Clinton. Republicans aren't going to let any of her legislation through, either. They have spent the past two terms making this abundantly clear. Their obstruction has zero to do with ideology and everything to do with tactical expediency. If they have any choice in the matter they are not going to cooperate. This has proven to be a powerful and exceedingly popular opposition strategy and they have zero reason to abandon it.

The question is simple: in those rare but inevitable moments of political advantage, when circumstances bless the president with leverage and she has the opportunity to move the ball forward, who do you want in control? The candidate who we all apparently agree would be better if and when he gets his way, or the one who isn't inclined to ask for much even if she has the chance? Even if progress under Sanders is a mere possibility, why would you trade possible progress for empty symbolism?