Not the women’s choice

September 8, 2016

Leia Petty reviews a collection of writing about why Hillary Clinton's record is anything but feminist.

Is this book sexist? No. The contributors are radical and feminist, and almost all are women. But sometimes even men write things about Hillary that aren't sexist.

Aren't you helping Republicans? Only if you think that even one person will read a book by a coven of left wing feminists, find it convincing, and conclude that she should vote for one of those misogynistic reactionaries.

Isn't this the wrong time? No. It's never too late or too soon to criticize someone who is about to become the most powerful individual on earth. If you think there's ever a time to withhold comment on such a person, you might be an authoritarian.

Don't you care about feminism? Yes. That's why we did this.

THIS IS the FAQ on the back cover of False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, a collection of 13 essays edited by Liza Featherstone. It is a refreshing read with a defiant tone and pulls no punches when it comes to the Clinton record, from the time she entered the corporate and political world up until her work as Obama's secretary of state.

Hillary Clinton speaks at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Washington, D.C.
Hillary Clinton speaks at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

The book's main purpose is to challenge the assertion that the fact Hillary was born with a vagina is enough to warrant the vote of millions of women in spite of everything she's done to undermine, impoverish, incarcerate and bomb women and children abroad.

The collection of essays does an outstanding job of counterposing the feminism of Hillary Clinton with a different feminism, one that must be intersectional, international and based on solidarity.

As Zillah Eisenstein writes in the last chapter:

Indeed while most feminisms in the U.S. and abroad over the last three decades become more complicated, more complex and more intersectional, actively anti-racist and anti-militarist, Clinton as president will be used to stop this radical evolution and disguise militarism with a friendly white female face to read as a feminist achievement...Anti-imperial feminists need to resolve to say, not in our name.

This is even more important as increasing numbers of military generals and strategists are getting behind Clinton's campaign. False Choices dedicates an entire section of the book to "Hillary Abroad," which includes a concise survey of Clinton's imperial policy by Medea Benjamin. She writes,

Let's call it what is: more of the interventionist policies that destroyed Iraq, destabilized Libya, showered Yemen with cluster bombs and drones, and legitimized repressive regimes from Israel to Honduras. A Hillary Clinton presidency would symbolically break the glass ceiling for women in the United States, but it would be unlikely to break through the military industrial complex that has been keeping our nation in a perpetual state of war.

ONE OF the best chapters, "Hillary Does Honduras" by Belén Fernández, provides the less discussed history of her role supporting a coup that ousted Honduras' democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya while serving as secretary of state. In consultation with Obama, the White House refused to deem it a "military coup" which would have triggered an immediate cutoff of U.S. military aid to the country.

Instead Clinton hired an old law school friend, Lanny Davis, to help justify their actions. Fernández rights, "In the aftermath of the coup against Zelaya, Davis was hired by the Latin American Business Council of Honduras to shill for the coup regime and whitewash the coup itself on Capitol Hill."

Since the coup, the U.S. government has increased military aid to the country to its highest level in history. This is happening as the country descends deeper in human rights abuses. Fernández continues:

The "freedom" that the U.S. so loftily purports to spread translates into freedom for capital, not for human beings; it's therefore not surprising that one of the crowning achievements of the repressive Lobo government was an economic conference...titled "Honduras Is Open For Business."

Interestingly, the whole section of Clinton's memoir on her role in the aftermath of the Honduran coup has disappeared from the paperback edition of her memoir Hard Choices.

THE BULK of False Choices is dedicated to Hillary's domestic record and history. Each of these nine chapters takes up specific issues ranging from abortion rights to economic policy.

It begins with a chapter titled "Hillary Clinton, Economic Populist: Are You Fucking Kidding Me?" by Kathleen Geier, which provides important early history of how Clinton's corporate ambition led to her current cozy relationship with Wall Street executives.

For many readers already critical of Hillary Clinton, some of what's included in these chapters won't be surprising as much as infuriating. For example, in 1977 she worked for Rose Law Firm, a corporate practice that included clients such as Walmart, Tyson Foods and Monsanto.

She once filed a lawsuit against a community-organizing group who passed a ballot measure lowering electricity rates for residents but not for corporations. She defended the corporations.

At Rose Law Firm, she also defended a canning company against a consumer who found rat parts in his pork and beans and later a logging company accused of negligence after an accident that maimed several workers. It was through Rose Law Firm that she began sitting on the board of directors of Walmart, a seat created especially for her.

This cemented her longstanding relationship with major corporations, many of whom are still connected to her through donations to the Clinton Foundation. The heads of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America all support her candidacy, and five of her top 10 donors are financial service firms.

Part of this relationship includes Clinton reaching out to Wall Street executives to preview her speeches on economic policy to ensure there is nothing that "would freak people out."

Her average fee for a single speech is $225,000, or more than four times the median household income in the U.S., and her speaking contracts also demand "luxury hotel accommodations for herself and her entourage, plus travel in a $39 million, 16-passenger Gulfstream G450 jet." The Clintons aren't just defenders of the corporate class, they're part of it.

Geier writes,

The Clinton's many apologists would likely shrug their shoulders at Bill and Hillary's deep ties to the global financial elite. They'd insist there is no alternative to Clinton-style neoliberalism and that resistance is both childish and futile. The only changes we can make, they'd argue, are incremental ones--nudges and tweaks...

But such pragmatism has shriveled the imagination of the left. It has defanged and demobilized a generation of activists and has ended up entrenching even more deeply the odious system it purports to reform.

This is one of the few passages that takes stock of more than just Clinton's record and begins a critique of progressives who continue to insist we vote for Democratic politicians who ultimately serve interests opposed to ours.

TWO OTHER chapters that stand out for their deeper analysis of the Democratic Party are Donna Murch's "The Clintons' War on Drugs: Why Black Lives Didn't Matter" and Megan Erickson's "Waging War on Teachers." Both provide valuable insight on the Clintons' history but also provide a critique of their role in bolstering a "personal responsibility" narrative to justify their neoliberal policies.

While their passage of the crime bill and destruction of welfare are well-known, the Clintons' longstanding role in waging a war on public schools, dating back to their rule in Arkansas, is far less discussed.

In 1983, then-Gov. Bill Clinton nominated Hillary to chair a task force that would determine the agenda for education reform for the entire state of Arkansas. The main outcomes were the introduction of statewide standardized tests for students as well as competence tests for teachers.

In order push through these policies, the Clintons chose to vilify the Arkansas State Teacher Association. Bill Clinton's campaign chair at the time said, "Any time you're going to turn an institution upside down, there's going to be a good guy and a bad guy. The Clintons painted themselves as the good guys. The bad guys were the schoolteachers."

As a result, the Clintons were invited, along with business leaders and Dick and Lynne Cheney, to a national education summit convened by then-President George H.W. Bush. The outcome of this summit was an unprecedented consensus to set national performance goals in education, the precursor to the disastrous No Child Left Behind.

This also marked the beginning of their use of "personal responsibility" narrative to help justify cutting welfare and increasing incarceration rates. Speaking about their attacks on public education in Arkansas, Erickson writes

This was not just cynical maneuvering on the part of the Clintons--it was and is fully in line with their principles. Hillary Clinton believed and continued to believe, along with corporate education reformers, that the biggest crisis faced in America, and in its schools, is a crisis of values, not a crisis of inequity.

A good example of this kind of victim-blaming politics is a 1993 interview, in which Hillary Clinton stated,

Society has extended too freely rights without responsibilities, which has led to great decline in the standard of behavior...Senator Moynihan argues very convincingly that what we have in effect done is get used to more and more deviant behavior around us, because we haven't wanted to deal with it. But--by gosh!--it is deviant. It is deviant if you have any standards by which you expect to be judged.

The racist implications of this language weren't lost on those who were at the other end of her disdain.

DONNA MURCH'S chapter on the "war on drugs" also provides much-needed analysis beyond Clinton's record. While the Clinton's role in destroying welfare and supporting mass incarceration is becoming more widely known due to the Black Lives Matter movement, Murch offers a necessary critique of the entire Democratic Party.

She details the escalation of the war on drugs in conjunction with Bill and Hillary Clinton's role in the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

In the late 1980s, the Democratic Party funded an extensive voter survey to determine how best to beat the Republicans in the coming election. The survey concluded that the Democratic Party needed to capture more white voters based on their finding that white voters' view the Democratic Party as the "give away party, giving white tax money to blacks and poor people."

The racist content of this research proved so embarrassing, according to Murch, that the authors suppressed its release and had nearly all copies of it destroyed. This, however, didn't stop the DLC's use of their findings for their party policy.

It informed Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign strategy of being "tough on crime" in order to win the white vote. Murch details the specific policies during his presidency which, "included monies for placing 100,000 new police on the streets, the expansion of death penalty eligible crimes, lifetime imprisonment for people who committed a third violent federal felony offense with two prior state or federal felony convictions, gang 'enhancements' in sentencing for federal defendants, allowing children as young as 13 to be prosecuted as adults in special cases, and the Violence Against Women Act."

The Clintons were able to achieve this while simultaneously creating a mirage of love and advocacy for Black people. Murch explains why: "At a deeper structural level, the constraints of the two-party system have resulted in Black America's political capture inside of the Democratic Party, in which no viable electoral alternative exists."

WHILE THE book is rich in history, it could use more of the analysis evident in Murch's chapter to help explain why the Democratic Party as whole embraces neoliberal policies. The Clintons were fundamental to this embrace but aren't the exception among Democrats.

Because of this lack of analysis, most chapters lack a way out of the "capture" of the Democratic Party. In fact, some of the authors in False Choices, such as Tressie McMillan Cottom, resign themselves to voting for Clinton, even after writing extensively about her terrible record.

And while they didn't include it in their essays for this book, other contributors, such as Frances Fox Piven who provides a piece on the Clintons' destruction of welfare, have later said that they will vote for Clinton because she is the only thing standing in the way of a Donald Trump presidency.

There is no mention by anyone in the book about Green Party candidate Jill Stein, as a feminist electoral alternative to the Democratic Party.

This demonstrates how much more debate and discussion is needed on the left about not just the individual Democratic candidates' records but the obstacle that the two-party system puts in front of activists who can't vote for what they believe in but are forced to support the lesser of two evils. In the end, the lack of an alternative independent of the Democrats makes our side weaker.

Some authors reference the need for post-election social movements and coalitions. Megan Erickson concludes,

What we need is a little more of the old politics. What we need is working-class men, women and children of all colors and ethnicities marching together in the streets. What we need is parents, teachers and children opting out of a system that is imposed on them, to build their own. What we need is not a woman for president; what we need is a movement.

False Choices offers critical history, especially for young women who didn't live through it, that will provide invaluable ammunition in the coming months against those who pressure us to accept the "lesser" evil. This book will give you the confidence to say: not in our name.

This is important not just in the coming months when the pressure to get behind Hillary will be strongest, but in the years ahead as we work together to build the type of social power that will be necessary to challenge Clinton's policies once in the White House.

The authors who contributed to False Choices provide us plenty of good company in the battles ahead.

Further Reading

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