This is the first of a multi-part series of posts that aim to correct the record about sexist and erroneous views held by some voters about Hillary Clinton, adapted from an essay published on my website: www.TheFeMOMist.com. To read Part 2 of the series, which examines the "likability factor," click here. To read Part 3 of the series, which discusses Clinton's ambition, click here.
My 14-year-old, apolitical daughter came home from school about a month ago and announced at the dinner table to me, my husband, and her 15-year-old brother: “[Insert name of female classmate] said that Hillary Clinton is a liar.”
Drop the mic.
We all looked at each other. My husband and I are Democrats, live in a blue state, and an ultra-blue county and I have been a Hillary Clinton supporter for years. My husband is not as diehard as I am but voted for her in the primaries.
Deep breath. . . . How to handle this. . . .
“Did your friend say why she thinks Hillary Clinton is a liar?”
My daughter’s response, “No.”
“Well, what did you say?”
My daughter: “Nothing.”
What could she say to that? It's one of a number of deeply engrained falsehoods started by Republicans in the early 1990's against Bill and Hillary Clinton when they were the quintessential power couple, as President and First Lady of the United States. Meanwhile, the GOP was mourning the end of the 12-year Reagan/Bush administrations and looking to seize back their power by any means possible. The ironically false "liar" label, along with others, persists to this day.
I found it troubling in part because I am pretty sure the classmate's parents are Democrats. But moreover, it bothered me that my apolitical daughter had no idea what to say in response to a slanderous label that finds no support in fact. My daughter did seem to know though that her parents weren’t going to be supporting a liar for President and she wanted to see our reaction.
It made me realize that there are probably a lot of people out there—a lot of young (and maybe even older) women—who don’t know what to make of it when they hear the distortions that come out about Hillary Clinton. Thus, I wrote this series of blog posts. I hope it helps women and girls feel more secure in challenging or dismissing these fallacies when they hear them.
Fallacy #1: Hillary Clinton is a liar. She is dishonest and can’t be trusted.
How It Continues to Arise: Donald Trump has taken to calling Clinton “Crooked Hillary” (most recently in a tweet following President Obama's endorsement of her) as if that makes it true. During the contentious primary season, Bernie Sanders repeatedly made reference to Clinton’s speaking engagements to Wall Street firms, and the large fees she received as a result. The point he was trying to make—often indirectly—is that by accepting these fees, she is corrupt, beholden to Wall Street interests, and part of a bigger problem in the U.S.
The Counterargument: Hillary Clinton—unlike Donald Trump—came from a modest middle class upbringing. She actually made the lion’s share of her “fortune” after she was First Lady for eight years. As recently as 2001, the Clintons were “dead broke.” Clinton has a track record of public service that dates back to young adulthood. Donald Trump’s sole purpose in life until very recently was to make huge amounts of money.
Trump has bragged that despite being a billionaire, he takes advantage of tax loopholes and looked forward to the real estate bubble bursting so that he could swoop in and get some bargains. He has filed for bankruptcy multiple times. Trump University has been labeled a fraud and a lie by its own employees, designed to fleece students who can't afford the high fees.
The common denominator here is that he clearly relishes taking advantage of the system in a way that enriches himself and hurts others. Trump also refuses to release his tax returns despite it being the standard course of events for presidential candidates to do so, prompting speculation about what could be in those returns.
Even more to the point, according to the political fact-checking website, PolitiFact.com, Hillary Clinton has made statements that are at least partially true 71% of the time, and completely true 22% of the time. By contrast, Donald Trump has made statements at least partially true only 24% of the time, and completely true statements a mere 3% of the time. He has received the aptly titled "pants on fire" designation a whopping 19% of the time, while Clinton received that designation only 1% of the time.
Crooked Hillary?! How about Crooked Donald?
Regarding speaking engagements, former presidents and other leaders command huge sums for speaking to groups who can afford to pay them. That is even when there is no prospect for them to run for office again. Get it? Bill Clinton and George W. Bush don’t make a fortune every time they speak to a crowd because they are running for the White House or Congress and the audience hopes to influence them in some way.
Likewise, no one accuses Barack Obama of being in the pocket of Wall Street bankers despite his acceptance of large contributions from the banks when he was running for president in 2008. Indeed, despite all that Wall Street money, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both in favor of the landmark banking law—the Dodd-Frank Act—which gives the power to break up banks if they become too powerful. Hillary has made clear during her campaign that she wants to enforce the law and give it teeth through additional regulations and rules.
Even saintly Bernie Sanders has taken advantage of support from special interest groups. The powerful gun lobby, National Rifle Association (NRA) helped him get elected to Congress, and then he turned around and voted in favor of their positions multiple times. Donald Trump likewise recently climbed into bed with the NRA and cozied up. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton has met multiple times with the mothers of victims of shooting incidents. She promises to make gun violence prevention a priority of her administration. I know who I trust most on the issue of gun violence prevention and it certainly isn't Donald Trump.
Finally, I would submit that there are elements of sexism at play here as well. Is it possible that we hold women to a higher ethical standard than we do men? One study found this to be the case. The next time someone accuses Hillary Clinton of being a "liar," ask if perhaps he or she expects a woman politician to be more or even far more honest than her male counterparts.