Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton's historic achievement*

In 2008, Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with an astonishing 85 percent of the vote from black Americans. The final totals for 2016 aren't in, but as it stands Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination with abysmal 37.8 percent support from women in the polls. This gap points us to a central difference between the two candidacies, hanging a massive asterisk on her victory and reminding us that Hillary Clinton, for all her symbolic value, remains a candidate of patriarchy.

The difference is simple. Barack Obama won in 2008 thanks in part to an unprecedented tidal wave of support from black voters. His victory reflected the undeniable ascendance of black Americans as a popular constituency that Democratic candidates can neither oppose nor ignore. Its significance was bigger than his race alone, because it directly expressed the collective power of all black Americans.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, will win not because of some popular mandate from women, but despite the majority's persistent opposition and apathy. The women who tried to stop her - who were, at various points, a plurality - failed. Clinton was also able to succeed without doing anything to win the support of the substantial number of women who refused to back either candidate. In stark contrast to the lesson of 2008, what Clinton has taught us is that women in America still exercise only severely limited control over the nomination process.

Clinton's partisans, of course, will try to deny and unskew this basic factual difference: necessarily, they'll have to do this by insisting that a majority of women in America don't speak for themselves. That's how patriarchy works.

Imagine what a victory comparable to 2008 could have looked like. By simply winning the support of a majority of women, Clinton's campaign would have expressed their power as a constituency. It would have proven that you can secure the nomination and still run on a platform that advances the interests of women, instead of one that neglects or opposes them. In this way, the symbolism of Clinton's victory would have been imbued with the democratic mandate of women throughout the country.

The day is coming when feminism will have that victory: a woman will run for the nomination, and a majority of women will lift her to victory because she earned their support. When that happens, history will place an asterisk by Clinton's name, and we will remember her as patriarchy's last desperate gambit to deny women their central role in our democracy. Let us hope that happens sooner than later.