Coverage Of Hillary Clinton's Last Run Makes 2016 Looks Like A Feminist Utopia
No one will say Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential run has been completely free of sexist commentary — and since the Associated Press reported Monday night that she had enough delegates to be the presumptive Democratic nominee, I suspect there will only be more of it coming from her Republican counterpart. He has already lobbed such gems as claiming the former Secretary of State only has her current political standing because she played the "woman's card" and that she was an "enabler" for her husband's extramarital sexual behavior. Others will argue that her Democratic rival's "Excuse me" comment mid-debate was sexist — I am (very much) not of that camp. Still, whatever Clinton has faced this campaign is small potatoes in terms of the jabs and comments she faced the last time she ran for president.
Let's turn back the clock to 2008. Days after Clinton dropped out of the race in 2008, the New York Times noted in an article that there was a growing, retrospective "perception that sexism tainted coverage of the Clinton campaign," though the report also noted that it was "gaining ground more in political circles than in the mainstream news media." It cited how MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, then of MSNBC but now of Fox News, said of Clinton:
When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.
MSNBC's Chris Matthews simply called Clinton a "she-devil." Matthews also said during the same election cycle, "the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around." After receiving significant criticism, Matthews stood by the content of his remarks, but added, "Was it fair to imply that Hillary's whole career depended on being a victim of an unfaithful husband? No. And that's what it sounded like I was saying."
Unsurprisingly, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh blatantly ripped into Clinton's physical appearance when she ran first ran for president (because that's a terribly relevant qualification for the White House). "Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?," Limbaugh asked in December 2007, adding, "And that woman, by the way, is not going to want to look like she's getting older, because it will impact poll numbers."
Another conservative radio host, Lee Rodgers, quipped in June 2007 on San Francisco's KSFO's The Lee Rodgers & Melanie Morgan Program, "Even with her facelift or Botox or whatever she had done, do you think maybe Hillary's starting to wear a little bit thin, even for some of her Democrat fan club?" Charmingly, his guest, American Thinker contributor Peter Mulhern, responded, "Yeah. Well, maybe not for her fans but, you know, how many Yale-educated lesbians are there?" (By the way, Media Matters pointed out that Mulhern also questionably emphasized Barack Obama's middle name (you know, Hussein) during the same interview, suggesting sexism wasn't the only problem).
Many younger voters today — certainly, first time ones — may not remember that there was an entire brouhaha in 2007 over Clinton showing cleavage — or what could be considered cleavage, according to Washington Pos t fashion writer Robin Givhan. Analysis and debate over Clinton's cleavage took on a life of its own in a curious, crass way. According to Media Matters, MSNBC offered six segments in just one day to discussing Clinton's supposed cleavage display. Regardless of the actual opinions people had, such scrutiny over a presidential candidates body was inherently ugly because it was hard to imagine the same focus on a man running to be commander-in-chief.
While it certainly could be easy to parse through the 2016 coverage and criticism facing Hillary Clinton and find sexism, it's worthwhile to pause and take stock — and comfort — in realizing how much has improved since her first presidential run. That, in and of itself, is a victory of sorts, and it doesn't belong exclusively to Clinton.
Image: Bustle/Allison Gore