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‘Centrist Soft-Liberal Feminism’ - Presidentialising Hillary Clinton

A Guardian piece last month described: 'How September 11 revealed the real Hillary Clinton.'

While even supporters recognise that Clinton's campaign has been notably cold, passionless and bereft of conviction, 'The Clinton who emerges from the WNYC [New York Public Radio] tapes is passionate, raw and unrestrained.'

The Guardian quotes sources who reveal how Clinton 'showed herself to be a fighter', demonstrating a 'personal care' that 'made a profound impression'. She was 'kind and gentle', the 'most vivid memory' being of 'the senator's eyes'. Her behaviour was 'the mark of somebody who is sincere, who you want on your side'. All in all, 'she came across as an effective and empathetic leader'. Tragically, the public has seen little of this:

'I regret that sometimes she doesn't come across well in front of a crowd as people don't know her as so many of us do.'

This presidentialising of Clinton is a key, structural function of 'left-liberal' media like the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent and the BBC. Establishment candidates like Bill Clinton, Obama, and now Hillary Clinton are presented as awesomely benevolent, brave and wise. Even George W. Bush – derided as a buffoon both before and after he held office – was depicted as a calmly authoritative humanitarian. An ITN news report talked of Bush 'losing patience' with the president of crisis-hit Haiti. (ITN, 10:15 News, February 28, 2004) This was Bush as benign father figure, fierce in his determination to help the poor.

Propaganda of this kind exploits the human tendency to revere authority and celebrity. If leaders have an aura of benevolence, when their turn comes to 'intervene' with great violence in far-flung countries, few will be willing to question their good intentions.

In our time, this benevolence is often said to be indicated by a leader's alleged passion for gender and sexual rights. Why 'alleged'? Machiavelli explained:

'It is not essential... that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above, but it is most essential that he should seem to have them...' (Nicolò Machiavelli, 'The Prince,' 1513, Dover publications, 1992, p.46, our emphasis)

Gender and sexual rights are favoured because they can be presented as almost apolitical: a state-corporate executive can believe in gay marriage and bomb Iraq to smithereens; she can smash whole countries with bombing, invasion and ethnic cleansing, and support equality for women.

Writing on Clinton in June, senior Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee commented:

'This is a time to celebrate. At last, a woman leads a major US party to fight for the presidency.'


'Clinton is not some token woman who has inched into place by offending no one. All her life she has fought the feminist cause...'

Clinton, indeed, is 'a feminist with a long track record of standing up for the right causes'.

In September, Laurie Penny, contributing editor to the New Statesman, backed Clinton 'because she is a woman and a feminist, even if her feminism is unlike my own'. For Penny, Clinton is not just 'a proud feminist woman', she is a representative of something called 'centrist soft-liberal feminism'; a claim to which we will return.

Toynbee argued that: 'Rarely has any candidate so deserved their place.' Penny agreed:

'The presidency of the United States does not belong by right to anyone... If it did, though, it would belong to Hillary Clinton.'

Toynbee asked readers to carefully inspect their minds for traces of hidden gender bias:

'If you are naturally left of centre, especially if you are a woman, yet you find you instinctively dislike her, ask yourself why.'

Penny did the same:

'If you would truly prefer a Trump presidency to this... then you may want to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, truly, if you might not be a little bit sexist.'

Toynbee emphasised Clinton's credentials:

'if she wins, what an added bonus that, as the first woman to enter the White House, she will also step through the door as by far the most qualified and experienced arrival there for generations... this first woman would also be the safest pair of hands in decades'.

So did Penny, noting that Clinton has 'a career whose length and breadth would make her the most qualified presidential candidate in history'.

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