This is the second of a multi-part weekly 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 originally published on my website, www.TheFeMOMist.com.
To read the first part in the series, which addressed the fallacy that Hillary Clinton is "crooked," and "untrustworthy," click here. To read the third part in the series, which addresses whether Clinton is "overly ambitious," click here.
So, a while back I got into a debate on social media with an acquaintance of mine, whom we will call Joan. Joan--a Gen X woman and mother of a boy and girl like myself--self-identifies as a Republican. I wrote something positive about Hillary Clinton and how exciting it was that she was running for the presidency. Joan commented that she never "liked" Hillary Clinton, but really didn't seem to have a concrete policy reason for her disdain, and further said she supported Marco Rubio, in part because we need a president who is "younger."
Fast forward to when Rubio dropped out of the race and Donald Trump began his slow but decisive march towards the GOP nomination. I received a PM from Joan saying that there was no way she could vote for a bigot like Trump and that she couldn't believe she was saying it, but was giving Clinton a chance. Joan subsequently watched George Stephanopoulos interview Clinton and PM'd me that she "dislik[ed] her less." Last I heard, Joan was leaning in favor of voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election.
There are a lot of women like Joan out there, who have been hearing that Clinton is unlikable for so long that they now believe it themselves and might end up not voting for her simply for that reason. Then, we end up with President Trump, who would be terrible for women. I propose that Republican women and Bernie supporters, many of whom are young women, take another look at Hillary Clinton with fresh eyes and an open mind and maybe, like Joan, see that in reality there is nothing inherently unlikable about Clinton. I have listened to her speak in smaller audiences and town halls, and she is smart, warm, and has a great sense of humor. Clinton cares about Americans and our problems, and genuinely wants to fix them through policy and by searching for common ground with her opponents. I "like" her a lot and so do a lot of other women who are Democrats and are old enough to remember clearly the Bill Clinton presidency when Hillary was both our first lady and first feminist in the White House.
Fallacy #2: Hillary Clinton is not likable. Even women don’t like her.
How It Continues to Arise: Commentators continue to observe this casually without any real evidence. The likability factor is a very nebulous one that is hard to pin down. If a voter doesn’t “like” a person running for public office, then all of his or her accomplishments, achievements, and solid policy experience and goals are somehow beside the point. Americans vote for someone they think they would want to sit down and have a beer with, right?
The Counterargument: Hillary Clinton has been voted the most admired woman in America 17 times in 18 years. Plenty of Democrats—women, minorities in particular—presumably “like” her as she does particularly well with those groups. She also garnered millions more votes in the primaries than her opponent, Bernie Sanders.
Rather than debating whether Hillary Clinton is in fact liked or not liked, let’s get to the crux of the issue: Why wouldn’t she be liked and why do we have to like a person for him or her to be our President in the first place?
David Brooks recently surmised in a New York Times editorial that Hillary isn’t liked because we don’t know anything about what she likes to do with her free time. In essence: does she have hobbies or does she just want to be the leader of the free world, dammit? As if playing basketball like President Obama or golf like many professional men would make all the difference.
There is a throwaway line in Brooks’ editorial, about Clinton being a grandmother. Aha! There it is! It’s not that she doesn’t have other interests—she is very outspoken about how much she loves being a grandmother, how she enjoys spending quality time with her daughter and granddaughter, and enjoys reading to little Charlotte, etc. Thus, it’s not that she doesn’t have other interests outside of public life—clearly she does—they're just not the right (read: manly) interests. If Hillary Clinton took up a hobby (and who’s to say she doesn’t have a hobby, by the way—maybe she just doesn’t talk about it), this would not make anyone like her any better. People would then be saying—why doesn’t she care about her family more? Nobody ever asks that question of a male politician. Ever.
Could it be that no woman running for public office is ultimately “likable”? Put differently, is it possible for a woman politician to be both likable and capable? That’s difficult to say, although if likability is in fact tied to how one spends his or her leisure time, it’s hard to imagine a woman who is doing an excellent job juggling a career and a family having the time to get her "likability badge." Sarah Palin seemed to have some interests outside of politics and family, but then again she famously failed the capability test during her run for vice presidency.
I personally would rather have a surgeon operate on me whom I know is smart and capable, instead of one that I hear is an awesome basketball player or enjoys playing golf. I feel the same way about our leader, and here's hoping I’m not the minority view on that one.
For more on the "likability" factor, watch this segment from The Daily Show, featuring the hilarious Michelle Wolf.
This post was edited to change the title to be more descriptive.