Hillary Clinton: Perfidy? Misogyny? Or Jealousy?

If Hillary Clinton is elected, it will be women that won it...

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump,

Image: David Goldman / AP/Press Association Images

Almost one hundred years after women finally won the right to vote, America could elect Tuesday its first female President. Yesterday, however, Sid Miller, a Republican who is Texas Agriculture Commissioner (one of the state's few powerful electoral offices) sent out a tweet quoting figures from a (spurious) poll from Pennsylvania saying: Trump 44% Cunt 43% Go Trump Go! Miller quickly deleted the tweet, but it was too late.

He first blamed hackers, then claimed it was an inadvertent retweet, then blamed his staff. But in the end the spotlight fell brightly on an elected official making vulgar public comment about the presidential candidate of the rival party. Were that candidate a man, it's hard to believe Miller would be so quick or so specific with his insults.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, it will be women what won it. Nate Silver, whose predictions have been spot on in the last two elections, says if only women voted, Hillary Clinton would win 480 electoral votes. Whereas if only men voted, Donald Trump would take 350 (270 are needed to win the election).

It's a sexy statistic, but it may hide more than it reveals. National polls do suggest the election may be closer than it would have seemed just two weeks ago, but how much of that can actually be attributed to the innate misogyny among the Sid Millers casting their ballots? Nationally, Clinton's lead among women was 15 per cent; Trump's among men only 5 per cent. Compare that to the 2012 election, when Barack Obama won the female vote 55-44, but lost the male vote to Mitt Romney 52-47.

Race in that vote was much more of a factor: Romney took white voters of both genders 59-39, while Obama won 93 per cent of the black vote and 71 per cent of the Hispanic.

If the male vote is not swinging toward Trump by any significant difference than it did towards Romney, it would suggest America was less ready for a black President than a woman.

We need, however, to look at the question another way. Trump's popularity polling among voters has always been more than 60 per cent negative (in August he was polling zero per cent among blacks). But in Clinton, he faced an opponent whose figures were also negative—somewhere around 54 per cent. In other words, Trump was running against virtually the only candidate whose unpopularity was comparable to his. The question is where Hillary Clinton's unpopularity arises.

Trump's campaign against Clinton has focused on her alleged perfidy. As he did in the Republican primaries, he used a nickname as shorthand: she became 'Crooked Hillary'. For a man whose companies have filed for bankruptcies six times, has sued or been sued more than 3,000 times, faces questions about his tax returns, has failed in notoriously corrupt businesses like construction and casinos, who faces charges of fraud relating to Trump University, not to mention a dozen charges of sexual assault, this has to be seen as a 'swift boating' tactic: attacking your opponent on the grounds of your own weakness. And it has worked.

The constant barrage of attacks about Hillary's private-server emails, subject to two years of investigation without charges, has negated Trump's own history. And despite the charges of sexual misconduct, even among women Trump's approval rating is now up to over a third.

Attacking misogyny is a card Clinton herself has not played in this campaign (though the false flag of woman-hating 'Bernie Bros' did stain the primary and echoed the 'Barack Boys' in 2008), but perfidy is an accusation she has been facing for a quarter of a century.

The Clinton presidency was dogged by scandals which the Republican opposition refused to let die, and which put Hillary squarely in the front line of attack. She was the brains behind the Whitewater deal; she had Vince Foster 'murdered' to cover up their affair; her standing by Bill in the face of his own accusations of sexual assault was and still is portrayed as her smearing victims of sexual violence.

When Bill Clinton was elected President he, like another southern governor, Jimmy Carter, was a true Washington outsider, and like Carter he got no free ride from the press. And Clinton quickly put Hillary in charge of his Health Care Initiative, the 1990s equivalent of Obamacare in terms of vitriolic response from the right.

The opprobrium heaped on Hillary might be written off to her 'overstepping' her role as First Lady, but it wasn't unprecedented. Eleanor Roosevelt ignited the hatred of the Washington establishment for her refusal to 'know her place', but also to stand aside from her 'liberal' views and from her obvious influence on her husband Franklin, already despised by the right as a class traitor and a dangerous socialist. Eleanor gave her own radio speeches, went out on the stump, and even stood up on issues where her husband couldn't, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The misogynistic assaults on Eleanor Roosevelt have been echoed by those on Hillary. She was dismissed as ugly, rumoured to be a lesbian, reviled for her politics and said to be at odds with her husband, an acknowledged ladies' man. But our level of acceptable public discourse has declined since the 1930s, and the rise of talk radio, cable news, and the internet has let rumour and innuendo become accepted as fact by those who wish to believe.

Eleanor Roosevelt never looked out on tee-shirts saying 'jail the bitch' or slogans more profane. Her husband never ran against a man so willing and able to encourage this misogyny in his followers. Sexual politics has always been about power, and there is an undoubted connection between the feelings of powerlessness among Trump voters and their willingness to metaphorically lurk over Hillary just as Trump did in their debates.

But while the political campaign against the Clintons used misogyny as a tool, it was founded on a very basic jealousy. Bill Clinton's 'third way' outflanked a party which had moved far to the right under Ronald Reagan. While taking the conservative centre-right, and holding on to the 'liberals' (in Bill's famous words, 'where are they going to go?') Clinton virtually forced the Republicans to move even farther right, to adopt a policy of obstruction which opened the door for today's Tea Party.

This year's 16 other Republican candidates all needed to appease and appeal to the Tea Party; only Trump was free to play the game by his rules. As much as Tony Blair's adoption of a similar strategy in Britain won him three elections, it also created the fragmented opposition that allowed the Conservatives to win a majority in Parliament with only 36% of the vote.

Hillary can still call on that 'soft' right, America's independent voters, and she is likely to hold on to most of the Bernie Sanders supporters who really have nowhere else to go. If anything, her campaigning has been low-key, resisting the temptation to trade accusations with Donald Trump.

In the debates she let Trump do her work for her. As she once told an interviewer, 'I had to learn as a woman to to control my emotions, and that' a hard path to walk.' It's a path Donald Trump has rarely trod. And it raises an interesting question, whether an appeal based on what might be called an old-fashioned interpretation of gender can work in an election where Hillary's gender has not been an obstacle to the presidency as much as a license to villify her even more brutally as a person.

Speaking about the internment of Japanese-Americans, Eleanor Roosevelt said 'a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are'. Tuesday's election will show us just how much better, or worse, Americans are.