Clinton’s politics are a threat to the ideology of the modern Republican party, but so is her presence on the public stage
The fight over Hillary Clinton’s continued presence in public life is about more than her “likeability” or the fissures in the Democratic party. Clinton attracts such vitriol because she stands at the place where two conflicting political ideologies clash.
Republicans today control all branches of the federal government and are poised to put their ideology of radical individualism into reality. But at this very moment of their apparent triumph, Americans are rejecting the Republican vision and demanding instead an active government that promotes the general welfare. It is a major political realignment, and women are key to it.
The extremism of the Trump administration has galvanized women to push back against the political system that has disadvantaged them for a generation. Clinton is the symbol of this political nexus. Hated, dismissed, and denigrated for a quarter of a century, she nevertheless remains smart, able, popular … and, crucially, will not be silenced.
Clinton’s politics are a threat to the ideology of the modern Republican party, but so is her presence on the public stage. Clinton maintains that the government must expand its protections for children and families, and make it possible for men and women of all backgrounds to prosper.
She sees the nation as an interdependent community – a village, one might say – overseen by a government that advances the interests of all. In essence, Clinton is calling for the expansion of the New Deal state. It is an inclusive vision; it assumes that government policies should treat all Americans equally. Since the 1930s, a majority of Americans has agreed.
But the modern Republican party does not. It wants to destroy the New Deal state. Republican leaders loathe government regulation and the taxes required to fund the social welfare programs and infrastructure that people like Clinton support.
Since the 1950s, extremist Republicans have warned that such government activism amounts to socialism. In its stead, they promise to slash government and restore rugged American individualism.
But their vision of individualism is not Clinton’s inclusive one, and this is why her public presence makes her particularly irritating. Their vision privileges white heterosexual men as the only significant actors in American life. White men are the cowboys, the heroes, the silent majority, the middle Americans, the forgotten men, the Trump voters, who work hard and want nothing from government.
In contrast to them, Republicans argue, are minorities, organized workers, and women, who demand government policies that can only be paid for with tax dollars sucked from white men. In this vision, the government must protect the true American individualist, the hardworking white heterosexual man who orders his affairs as he sees fit without interference from the government.
In the individualist ideology, a man is responsible for his wife and children. This relegates women to domestic roles as wives and mothers protected by their menfolk, or silences them as special interest harpies demanding government benefits that will destroy individualist men.
“Family values” advocates like Phyllis Schlafly insisted that women who wanted to work outside the home and who wanted federal social policy – women like Hillary Clinton – were undermining the individualist vision. In 1970, Time Magazine noted that “a surprisingly large number” of conservatives blamed the era’s crises on “the fact that so many mothers have gone to work.”
Ronald Reagan rose to power with his image of the Welfare Queen who gamed the welfare system to live in luxury, and by 1984, when Walter Mondale tapped New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro to be his vice-president, 60% of voters thought he did so not because she was well qualified (she was) but because he was under pressure from women’s groups who wanted government benefits.
As Schlafly put it when she vehemently opposed an exemption for poor families in the 1986 tax reform act, such an exemption was “anti-growth” and thus “anti-family” by definition.
By 1987, Rush Limbaugh was electrifying radio audiences with his diatribes against “femi-nazis” who wanted to harness the government to their own deranged interests. In 1996, when Clinton advanced the argument that it takes a village to raise a child, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole retorted that it does not take a village, “it takes a family.”
The government’s job, according to modern Republicans, is not the protection of equal opportunity for all Americans, but rather the protection of male breadwinners.
This ideology has stripped away the identities of American women as independent actors in favor of their idealized roles as wives and mothers. Since 1980, women’s economic security has been erased, their control over their own reproductive health weakened and their public voices silenced as government policy has increasingly shored up the power of white men.
Now, President Trump has laid bare exactly what it means to have the ultimate individualist in charge of government. He is openly destroying the government’s protections for most Americans and using it for his own benefit. And he boasts of dominating women.
But women are fighting back. Hillary Clinton’s refusal to go quietly away is a potent reminder that her vision of American government, a vision that defends opportunity for all and accords woman an independent role in American society, is mounting a powerful challenge to the Republican vision.
American women are rejecting both Trump and the Republican system he epitomizes. January’s Women’s March was the biggest protest in American history. Women so swamped town halls that Republicans refused to continue holding them: “Women are in my grill no matter where I go,” Virginia congressman Dave Brat complained in January. Women are calling their representatives. They are organizing, and they are running for office.
And in their refusal to be silenced, Clinton herself has become a symbol. Women note that Clinton was the most qualified presidential candidate in American history, that she endured Trump’s debate stalking and taunts that she is a “nasty woman,” and that she is now being told to sit down and shut up while former losing presidential candidates were welcome to pontificate.
Both politically and personally, Hillary Clinton represents a clash over political ideologies, and women are leading the charge against the Republican regime. America is in the midst of a major political realignment, and women are reclaiming their time.