Susan Matthews, who writes for Slate, is agonizing over why Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who just dropped out of the Democratic presidential race after consistently polling at around 1 percent support, didn’t do better.
According to Matthews, Gillibrand’s “lackluster performance” didn’t at all match up with what looked like her winning hand “centered on issues like paid family leave, reproductive rights, and fighting sexual harassment and assault.” Matthews speculates that Gillibrand went too far in her “overtly feminine self-presentation” and therefore “never caught on even among women.” She may have also identified herself too conspicuously with #MeToo issues, which have turned into “a moral, legal, procedural morass we are still fighting over nearly every aspect of how to think about—she refused to let us work around it.” And, oh, yes, both Slate and the New York Times maintain that Gillibrand was the victim of “sexism,” despite the fact that outspoken feminist Elizabeth Warren remains the near-frontrunner in the Democratic race.
Even if we ignore her jumbled syntax, it’s hard to see how Matthews at all shines a light on why Gillibrand bombed out so early in the presidential sweepstakes. It’s highly improbable that Gillibrand went too far in pushing the identity politics bandwagon. Almost all of the Democratic candidates have been falling over themselves “reaching out” to designated victim groups, a.k.a. Democratic primary voters. The former conservative Republican and present plutocrat Liz Warren calls for making war on Wall Street and the rich (presumably those other than herself), while the erstwhile immigration restrictionist Bernie Sanders calls for ending border controls and socialized medicine for illegal immigrants. Joe Biden has repudiated almost everything he once stood for.
Gillibrand was just following the same path as the others when she veered sharply towards the Left and away from positions she used to hold, like when she was in the House of Representatives and got a 100% approval rating from the NRA.
That said, Gillibrand does stand out as being hypocritical to a degree that no other politician of my lifetime has even come close to. Tucker Carlson characterized her as the “worst candidate to run for any office” on account of her “meanness.” This woman of great affluence, in an elegant dress and well-coiffed hair, actually lectured the poor wives of Youngstown, Ohio, factory workers (some of whom may have been unemployed) on the benefits of their “white privilege.” Apparently young black men were being arrested at a much higher rate in Youngstown than these women or their children, a situation that may be attributed to differential crime rates but certainly not to any “privilege” that Gillibrand’s audience enjoyed.
What is most offensive about Gillibrand may be less her “meanness” than her blatant hypocrisy and mendacity. Even in a field of dishonest panderers, she stood out as especially obnoxious. And her problems didn’t start when she threw her diamonds into the presidential race.
For years, Gillibrand served at the beck and call of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and when Hillary exchanged her senatorial office for a cabinet post in the Obama administration, Gillibrand was rewarded with her boss’s old seat. In all this time, she never expressed any concerns about Bill’s predatory behavior toward women, including his relationship with the young intern Monica Lewinsky. Yet she was outraged by the sexual predations of Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, helping to launch the #MeToo movement with great fanfare. Since the Clintons were no longer essential to her career, she now dared to suggest that Bill might have resigned following revelations about his affair with Monica. She turned on her fellow Democratic senator (and certified liberal) Al Franken of Minnesota for extremely minor (and recently revisited) sexual infractions, forcing his sacrificial resignation. She then predictably went after Trump as a supposed sexual predator. Her #MeToo movement was turned into a Democratic wrecking ball against the GOP.
Among Gillibrand’s party services as a supposed feminist was to blast away at Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, in September and October of last year. This action was taken in response to an entirely unsubstantiated accusation that in the 1980s Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a young woman (who had since become a very engaged Democratic activist). But it wasn’t until a second woman came forward to accuse Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault that Gillibrand called for his resignation. Not surprisingly, the standard of proof was infinitely higher for Democrats than for Republicans.
Gillibrand certainly wasn’t the only distasteful posturer in the Democratic primary race. But she was probably the most indigestible of all the hypocrites. Even hardcore feminists and abortion rights advocates didn’t much like her; hence why her poll numbers remained at zero. In her case, even that may have been overly generous.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.