Like many progressives who support Bernie Sanders, I have been amazed by the capacity for Clinton supporters to defend her even in the face of overwhelming and damning evidence of her faults. During the course of the Primary campaign, much of Clinton’s history, her past deeds and positions have come to light, and yet the hard core base of Hillary fans are immune to any and all proof of her having adopted, promoted and defended very illiberal positions on health care, fracking, trade, foreign policy, and so on.
Moreover, I am continually astounded at the vehemence with which Clinton adherents dismiss the current FBI criminal investigations into her emails as just another “witch hunt” perpetrated by the “vast right wing conspiracy.” The fact that this is the Obama Administration, the Kerry State Department and the frigging FBI who are investigating is completely lost on them. The actions of the US Dept. of Justice under the aegis of a Democratic President – and one who had Hillary serve in his cabinet – are, in the end, no different to Clintonites than those of the slavering partisans in the GOP-controlled House committees.
Why is this?
I first attempted to describe this phenomenon in a blog post in which I talked about “RCDS” – or “Reverse Clinton Derangement Syndrome.” I believe that I correctly identified a major phenomenon of cognitive dissonance on the Left as regards Hillary Clinton, in that Clinton supporters are having to twist themselves into mental pretzels in order to claim a progressive mindset and yet support the clearly non-progressive policies of their candidate. But I could not explain WHY this was happening.
And then it hit me: what we are witnessing among Hillary supporters – especially women of a certain age – is sort of “Jury Nullification.” This is the act by which a jury finds a defendant innocent despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and even when they may privately recognise the culpability of the defendant. Jury Nullification exists in order to right previous wrongs or fight back against an unjust legal or social order by “nullifying” the law’s intended effect on a particular defendant. The phenomenon of Jury Nullification goes back a long time historically, but was most recently seen prominently in the case of O.J. Simpson.
In the Simpson trial, almost all those who were watching nationwide – especially white people – simply could not understand how Simpson could be exonerated. And yet for the mostly black jury, the trial was not so much about the guilt of one man as it was about the fact that the LAPD was an extremely racist organisation filled with sadistic cops who had been unjustly persecuting people of colour for years.
I think the same is true in Hillary’s case. The people who support Hillary Clinton most adamantly are those who admire her ability to have come as far as she has, done the things that she has done, but above all for having achieved them despite the many obstacles and hindrances that were placed in her path all along the way over the past 40 years.
I first started to suspect that Jury Nullification was at work when I looked at all the female Senators that had endorsed Clinton en masse. Among them were Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, the two Senators from the State of Washington. Bernie Sanders won the Washington State Primary with 73% of the vote, but these two Clinton Superdelegates refuse to even consider moving their support away from Clinton.
Likewise, I look at Claire McCaskill and Jennifer Granholm, one a Senator and one an ex-Governor, who have both been tireless and enthusiastic surrogates for Hillary since the beginning of her campaign.
All of these women were born in the 50’s, and so would have been in their 20’s when the term “glass ceiling” was first coined by HP’s Katherine Lawrence in 1979. According to Wikipedia’s definition, “A glass ceiling is a term used to describe the unseen, yet unbreakable, barrier that keeps one from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of qualifications or achievements.”
The concept of the Glass Ceiling was thus something very real and very important to them. The idea that women could not succeed or rise to a prominent position either in politics or business due to unfair biases, “old boys networks” and other structural prejudices was something that directly affected them and their contemporaries. Even today there is a large group of middle aged and even younger women who realise that the Glass Ceiling still persists in many areas of endeavour, and that women continue to be judged unfairly by both their male colleagues and the mass media. Female “baby boomers” were thus predisposed to combat and destroy this “invisible barrier” everywhere they found it. It was a quest, an ethos, a crusade like any other in the Civil Rights and the woman’s movement. Yes, the gutless politicians could not pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), but women themselves could certainly break those barriers in the private sector. But that still left Politics. And the greatest symbolic prize there was to elect a woman as President.
So when Hillary exhorts her followers to “help me break that last glass ceiling” she is speaking to something very deep-set and very powerful within this cohort of Democratic women. When Hillary talks about “breaking down barriers” (ass she did in her Super Tuesday victory speech), she is speaking to those ardent supporters who have been breaking down barriers their entire lives.
The Jury Nullification argument becomes even stronger when we look at the 2008 race, which was very contentious and hard- fought. Back then it wasn’t “Bernie Bros” but “Obama Boys” who were the sexist misogynists out to derail a worthy woman from her deserved destiny. The Corporate Media was also against her, and even the most energetic, vituperative and savage attacks by her husband against her opponent could not save the day.
When Hillary did concede, however, she gave a very definitive and pointed shout out to those who had watched her blaze a trail through what they perceived as a misogynistic, rigged system. She spoke in the plural and rallied her sisters thusly:
“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”
So there you have it: in 2008, Hillary declared that the “invisible barrier” was still there; she had done her best to break it, but it was not yet broken. To all those who listened that night, however, it was clear that she would be back.
And now she is back, and she is winning. And there is nothing that will stop her. That Glass Ceiling, that invisible barrier that has been blocking women for the past 40 years, will finally be shattered. And THAT is what is important.
Hillary may be an imperfect vessel; she may have faults, she may be a weak candidate and suffer the loathing and mistrust of a majority of Americans, but for that energized cohort of female Democrats who have themselves been butting their head against that Glass Ceiling for decades, it is not about Hillary Clinton per se. It is about electing a woman President of the United States.
Many Democrats, liberals and progressives would also like to see a woman in the White House – “just not that woman”. I have been on many blogs and website comments sections where Sanders supporters or Hillary detractors defend themselves by saying that they would have loved to see Elizabeth Warren run for President. Indeed, it is widely believed that had Warren run, Sanders would not have thrown his hat into the ring. But that misses the point. Warren is NOT running, and Hillary is. It is Hillary Clinton that can gain the nomination and then go on to be elected POTUS.
The foibles, the scandals, the failures, the faults and the suspected criminal activity that pertain to the specific person of Hillary Rodham Clinton are irrelevant. She could be sitting in a jail cell and there would still be people trying to get her elected, because she is the last, best hope for a female President in 2016 and, after coming so close in 2008, after having put those “18 million cracks” in the Glass Ceiling, it is more important than anything else right now to finish the job, to break that invisible barrier, to achieve what so many have fought so hard to make happen.
Ulysses S. Grant was a horrible person, and a man of many faults. But he won the Civil War, and that was what counted. Democratic femmes d’un certain âge. and many of their younger sisters see Hillary in much the same light, I am sure. And like those jurists in the O.J. Simpson trial, they are willing to give the defendant a pass in order to strike a broader blow for the common good.
My take-away from all this? Do not try to reason with a true Hillary supporter. Anything you say will only come across as you telling them that the Glass Ceiling is still there, and it will not be broken. For them it is all about the message, not the messenger. Hillary is not just Hillary, she is all women who have faced that Glass Ceiling, who have had to live in that rigged system, who have struggled against the sexism that does surely still exist among their colleagues. And any words against that messianic cause will be received by them as a personal affront, as if you’re saying “it’s not yet your time.” And they have waited too long to be denied again.