Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Letter to Bernie Sanders Supporters from an Angry White Woman who Supports Hillary Clinton

The Ada County Democratic Caucus in Boise, Idaho
Dear Well-Meaning Bernie Sanders Supporter:

I am not writing this letter to change your mind. I am writing this letter to help you understand why you won’t change mine.

In 1992, I voted in my first presidential election. Much to my Democratic parents’ chagrin, I’d grown up loving Ronald Reagan, but in college, I was disillusioned with Operation Desert Storm and unimpressed with George H.W. Bush’s lackluster economic policies. Like many people my age, I found myself intrigued by the sax-playing, wise-cracking young governor from Arkansas, with his “outsider” ethos and rags-to-riches American Dream narrative.

But what impressed me most about Bill Clinton was his wife.

From the start, it was clear that they were partners who considered each other equals. Hillary Clinton was smart, capable, and she didn’t stay home and bake cookies all day. She was the kind of woman I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember asking a friend, “Why can’t we have her for president?”

And my friend said, “Be patient. We probably will someday.”

In 2008, Clinton had proved her worth, working long hours as a senator, with a voting record nearly as progressive as Bernie Sanders.

Then another charming young man with a compelling rags to riches story came along, promising hope and change. Hillary Clinton got a consolation prize: Secretary of State. Watching President Obama finally reach his stride in the last days of his presidency, I wonder how things might have been different if their positions were reversed—if she had won the presidency in 2008, made him her Vice President, and he had learned the leadership skills he seems to be finally acquiring.

(Note: Obama’s presidency has been mostly a disappointment to me).

Instead, now we’re watching Hillary Clinton, the most qualified, intelligent, articulate, compassionate, pragmatic presidential candidate, get taken down again, this time by loud white men.


In 2008, I was willing to concede that hope and change were compelling. But now, in 2016, I can come to only one conclusion about why Hillary Clinton is still struggling to connect with many American voters: It’s because she is a woman.

It’s sure not because of her impressive resume:
  • She has the most foreign policy experience of any candidate. 
  • She is respected by leaders around the globe and is the most admired woman in the world. 
  • She is progressive but pragmatic.
  • She knows how to listen and to compromise
  • She basically invented universal healthcare in the United States.
  • She works harder than anyone else in the room.

I don’t think it’s because of her policy proposals either. I like Hillary’s specific, detailed plans to address a number of issues that concern me:
  • Campaign Finance Reform: Hillary would work to overturn Citizens United. Enough said.
  • Climate Change: Hillary wants to make the United States a leader in the energy revolution, creating millions of new jobs while also working to preserve our planet.
  • College Costs: As a college instructor, I am not a fan of Bernie Sanders’s free college, for many reasons. I support Hillary’s plan to control college costs and manage student loan debt so that any student who wants a college education can work for one.
  • Criminal Justice Reform: This is probably the single most important issue to me, and Hillary’s very first speech addressed the hard facts of race and justice inequality. I wish she were better on mental health issues, but I think she’ll come around to that piece of the mass incarceration problem as well.
  • Economy: Hillary has a smart plan for growth that includes addressing our nation’s critical infrastructure needs. I also support her tax relief for families plan, as well as her plans to address income inequality and corporate tax loopholes. Her husband presided over a period of economic prosperity, and I think that her centrist economic policies will be similar to his. As for the charge that she is in bed with the banks because she was paid speaker’s fees? Would we level the same charge at a man—i.e., negotiating a favorable contract and getting paid to do a job?

While Senator Sanders has some attractive ideas, there is absolutely no evidence that he has any interest in compromise or consensus building, nor has he given any realistic estimate of how he would pay for his massive social programs (“Tax the rich” really isn’t a comprehensive economic policy).  And he is from Vermont, a state about as lacking in diversity as my own state of Idaho.

If Hillary Clinton were a man, she would be the most popular candidate in the race. But it’s been shown time and time again that the qualities we admire in men—strength, decisiveness, intelligence—are the qualities we detest in women.

Even other women don’t like her. Women my mother’s age generally give two reasons for their dislike of Hillary: 1) She’s a liar; and 2) She stood by her man when he had an affair.

The first criticism is demonstrably untrue. Though all politicians have truth-bending skills, Hillary Clinton has been the most honestperson in this race, even compared to Sanders (72% of Clinton’s 125 evaluated statements have been evaluated as half true or better; 70% of Sanders’s 52 evaluated statements were half true or better; 77% of Donald Trump’s statements were mostly false or worse). When I pointed this fact out to a woman who told me Hillary was a liar, the woman replied, “Well, I just feel like she is a liar, even if she isn’t. You can’t trust her.”

Why? Because she is a woman.

The second criticism—really??? Really??? I’m not going to touch that one.

At least my son understands!
Younger women’s reasons for supporting Bernie Sanders are even more confusing to me. They seem to think that we’re in some kind of post-feminism utopia where a political candidate’s gender doesn’t matter. These same young women will wear, without a hint of irony, a t-shirt that reads “A Woman’s Place is in the House…and the Senate.”

(Meanwhile, women are 19% of House of Representatives, 12% of governors, 20% of Senators, 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs—and 0% of U.S. Presidents.)

Then there are women of a certain age—my age—who have grown up with Hillary Clinton, and who have experienced, on much smaller but equally painful scales, the rampant institutionalized misogyny that is currently threatening to deprive this country of its most qualified presidential candidate.

I am one of those angry white women. It makes me uncomfortable to write this, because I was raised to believe that anger was not an acceptable emotion for women. I was taught to believe that nice girls finish first.  

But I know I'm not alone. You don’t hear too much about angry women like me, mostly because, as you might expect in a country rife with institutionalized misogyny, all the focus is on the angry white men who support that pseudo-candidate with the fake hair and small hands.

When you do hear about us, it’s because someone like former Secretary of State Madeline Albright points out the obvious: this country needs a woman president. Then Hillary Clinton has to apologize for being the most qualified, experienced, and smart person in the race—because of her gender.

(Meanwhile, Trump doesn’t have to apologize for anything, but that’s another story).

I’m an angry white woman, because, like Hillary, I’ve been the most qualified person for a job—and lost it to a man. I’ve found out I’m being paid 25% less for doing the same job as a man. I’ve joyfully announced a pregnancy at work, only to be told by my boss, “I guess we can’t count on you for anything.” 

Like Hillary, I’m a smart, capable woman, and like Hillary, I’ve paid dearly, both personally and professionally, for having qualities that are considered “leadership traits” in men. When a woman has those same qualities, people use another, less polite word. One that is also applied to female dogs.

“But wait!” several of my white male friends have told me. “I’m a feminist. I don’t support institutionalized misogyny. Bernie Sanders’s policies are better for women. And anyway, I don’t really see this misogyny you’re talking about.”

Of course you don’t. You are not a woman. And while most Bernie Sanders’s supporters are polite and reasonable, there is a small but vocal minority of white men, sometimes called the BernieBros, who rival Trump supporters in their vicious attacks on people who disagree with them. Like all women expressing support for Hillary on Twitter, I’ve personally experienced the BernieBros’ brand of “Feel the Bern.” 

You know what’s better for women that Bernie Sanders’s progressive policies? A woman president.

Hillary Clinton has survived years of vicious gossip and Washington vitriol, all the while working hard to serve Americans. Has she made mistakes? Of course she has. But she has been accountable about them, unlike many men I can think of, her husband included.

Hillary Clinton is a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She is still the person I want to be when I grow up—but more importantly, I want my children to see that a woman not only can grow up to be president, she can be an awesome president.

Hillary Clinton speaks to my head—and to my heart. I’m hoping this time, she’ll get her well deserved chance to make history.


An Angry White Woman


Anonymous said...

Well said!!

ConcernedThirtySomething said...

Sadly, I have to admit that as a woman, and an educated liberal, I do not find your arguments compelling. It feels like you're cherry picking your data (frankly I don't know if I believe your efforts to characterize other people are totally unbiased). And by the end of your letter you concede that you are, if we're being honest, making this choice not based on policies but on the candidate's gender. This is problematic because it is exactly what your reported "BernieBros" are doing.

If vocal minorities of people are hating on Hillary Clinton, that's not entirely concerning to me. There are vocal people on both sides, but being vocal often overshadows the actual proportion of these folks to rational people who don't wag their politics about (for whatever reason). I get it. I get both (all?) sides of it. People are varied in their feelings and their knowledge about politics, but that doesn't change that it affects all of us.

That's why it's important to stick to the policies and not the demographic data for a candidate.

Nancy Davidge said...

Every vote for a man is gender politics. We expect politicians and other leaders to be men because that is who we primarily see in these roles. I'm tired of hearing the 'gender card' (you should look for best qualified rather than...) being played every time I express support for a woman candidate or state my opinion that if we want to bring about real equality in the USA then, as a country, we'll only nominate qualified women (and they are out there) to things like judgeships, corporate and nonprofit boards, etc so that the new normal represents the ratio of men/women in this country. Yes, a few years may be 'women only' but what is that after 200+ years of 'men only?'

As long as the default position for who gets picked or elected is a man, women will continue to be second class citizens. As feminists, as concerned citizens, do we have the will to change this?

One of Those White Males You Hate said...

Did you just come out of a 20 year coma? As a typical middle class white male I can tell you that we really don't give a crap what race, sex, color whatever the next President is and neither should you. What is deciding the next President is what people want for a President. I wouldn't vote for Clinton because to me she represents the stereotype of a politician. Her experience is her worst enemy. If you want the traditional dirty politician vote Clinton. If you want the dreamer vote Sanders. If you want the loudmouth vote Trump.

KHB said...

Well said!

Also, I wanted to respond to your son and let him know that they weren't alone, but that we were just in the other building. And then I realized that as much as I might like to believe it, we're no longer under 30. Ha! Can I get a "close enough"?

Alex's mom said...

I had such an I'm not in Kansas anymore moment that I unsubscribed from your blog when I first read it. I go elsewhere to discuss politics. This is the only blog I felt addressed advocacy for our children who struggle with mental illness. I signed back up after taking a very deep breath I will not get into my own political views to back up my comment to surprise anyone. But I would advise you to continue what you set yourself to do and do so well.

Unknown said...

Thank you for articulating so many of my thoughts and feelings. We share the experience of caregiver and I wish you the best. My younger son sounds much like yours, but older at 34. My lifelong roommate. My heart. My hero.

Unknown said...

If Anger can be focused it CAn be very useful; I don't do well with anger it brings out all of my worst features. I practice radical acceptance and life goes much smoother for me.

I think Hillary is the best qualified presidential candidate ever. However, I voted Bernie because his policies are better for all of the addicts and mentally ill patients I treat everyday. Of course I will vote for Hillary in November as she has a virtual lock on the nomination and I do like her. However, should Kasich somehow win or Trump successfully uses his acting skills to morph into a liberal she is vulnerable.

But the chances are she will be the next president!

theleenbean said...

I came across this belatedly, but just wanted to say I appreciate your perspective, and agree with you wholeheartedly!