Home > Election 2008 > The Why of Clinton Supporter Anger at Obama

The Why of Clinton Supporter Anger at Obama

June 2nd, 2008

The best that I can come up with in explaining what we see in the news is the idea that those Clinton supporters are the extremists, or perhaps the almost-extremists (the real extremists are the ones who, Scaife-like, claim that Obama was a drug-addicted murderer), and that most ardent Hillary supporters are not like the ones we usually see put forth in the media.

At the office where I work is a woman who fits the profile of a strong Hillary supporter–and older woman, a Democrat, a feminist and member of the civil rights generation. I asked her how she felt about the election. Her answer was instructive; not that I understood it fully, but it gave me a better idea of how some Hillary supporters feel.

Her primary reaction was anger at Obama. She surprised me by saying that the anger was for Obama just running against Hillary in the first place. But not for the reasons you might assume. My own thinking had been that Hillary supporters were angry at some slight they imagined coming from the Obama camp, but that wasn’t it. It was the idea that Obama is an upstart, an underachiever with little more than charisma, who has come to a race that was Hillary’s to win. Not that she was entitled because she is a woman, but rather because she had worked for so hard and for so long, and deserved the candidacy because of all that she had done, all the advancements she had fought for so hard. Furthermore, she is an icon of her generation, a representative of sorts for all the people who, like her, fought for civil rights, for women’s rights, and for the ideals of the party. This was to be Hillary’s time, her reward for all that she had worked for in her life–and this unknown guy just walked up and snatched it away from her with some smooth talk and a well-oiled campaign machine.

So the idea of Hillary’s entitlement was not one of “she’s a woman, so she’s entitled,” though for many that probably is an important component. It was not even so much that it was Hillary’s “turn”; the idea is that if someone else had worked harder and longer–or even if it were more close–it would not have been so much of a disappointment that Hillary lost. But Obama is a brand-new face, someone just out of state legislature, who hasn’t paid his dues or gained the necessary understandings or perspectives. He hadn’t sweat much for the party, but claimed the title nonetheless.

To my friend, it was like someone working hard and diligently in an office setting for decades, striving to reach a top management position; after so many years of labor and sacrifice, the position was almost in reach–only to have some new guy with charisma swoop in and get awarded the position because everybody liked him so much. That it was a man taking it from a woman is probably an added sting to the general insult. While my friend insisted that this was not about Hillary being a woman, I find it hard to shake the idea that this is not an important component, at least for many women.

Now, I say that I understand this a bit better than before, having heard this explained to me by someone I know and respect. But I do not understand it fully. True, in an office situation, I would join in the outrage; were Hillary such a worker and some upstart came in and took the position just like that, I would be crying foul just the same. The thing is, I never saw political nominating processes as being like that. My friend asked, “why shouldn’t they be?” and I had no good immediate answer. All I can say is, “because they’re not.” Politics simply doesn’t work that way. Had it been, Bill Clinton would not have won over George H. W. Bush. Fine, you might say–inter-party you can’t expect that, but what about intra-party? Well, again, there were others more qualified–Jerry Brown had political positions for a longer time than Clinton had, in a more important state, and had championed Democratic principles, the environment in particular, certainly much more than Clinton had. Yet Clinton blew past Brown. In 1988, Dick Gephardt had more experience than Michael Dukakis, and Jesse Jackson has more civil rights and general liberal credentials than Dukakis.

None of these cases are as striking a contrast as Obama and Clinton, but I think that a case can be made. Though perhaps the counter-argument would be, it wasn’t fair in those cases, either–and perhaps not. But my point would be that, for better or worse, the party does not entitle a candidate for service or seniority. These help, but they are not deciders.

The key point: this is not an appointment, it is an election. Potentially lesser candidates do not simply step aside out of respect for seniority or service. They run campaigns, and voters vote for them. The idea is to find the person who runs the best campaign, who appeals to the party members the most, who represents that ideas and the character of the party voters, and who stands the best chance of winning for the party, based on a wide range of variables, experience and service being just a few.

In an election, the millions of members of the party decide, based at least in part on who is capable of putting up a better fight. If it were even mostly about seniority and service, then there would be no need for an election–those properties would simply choose the candidate–but they do not. And though Hillary supporters say she put on a better campaign, the fact is that Obama won the fight–despite getting more negative media coverage, at that. The point is, this is not the way an office chooses a leader–that is not up to a vote, it is decided by a calculus where seniority and service do matter. An election simply is not like that.

And if your candidate loses the election, you are disappointed, but you understand that this is how it works; you don’t get bitter and divisive, you just forge ahead under the new banner. That’s why I don’t understand the anger; had my guy been the one with more experience, serving the party over a lifetime, and had been unseated by an upstart with charisma, I would have been disappointed, maybe even upset that my party made the wrong choice–but I would not be angry.

Even with this explanation from my friend, although I have a bit of a better understanding of the underpinnings of the resentment against Obama, I still do not fathom the intensity of the anger involved. My friend suggests that this is because I am not of that generation, I do not see things from that perspective. Maybe so.

Near the end of our conversation, my friend insisted that sexism hurt Hillary more than racism did Obama, and we could have debated the point, but I was not there to debate and it was late to boot–neither of us wanted to get into that right there. You have heard my reasoning on this before.

My friend will vote for Obama in November–no way she’s voting for McCain. I know that she’ll genuinely fight for Obama to win. But she’ll still be angry. And I’ll want to understand that better.

Categories: Election 2008 Tags: by
  1. ykw
    June 3rd, 2008 at 01:49 | #1

    I think the super’s are going to tell Hillary it is over after the last primary, and that will be the end of it for her. Then, the question is, will H and O join forces?

  2. Alex Kane
    June 3rd, 2008 at 02:39 | #2

    The key point: this is not an appointment, it is an election.

    This line really drove your point home for me. Good post.

  3. Eric
  4. Tim Kane
    June 3rd, 2008 at 11:32 | #4

    Come to think of it, something along those lines occurred to me when I first came to Korea.

    I had a date with a Canadian women who had just come to Korea. We taught in different towns so we met in Daegu at a Starbucks in late November or early December 2006. She was between 38 and 43 – and quite attractive I might add, and very genteel, almost or maybe persnickety. . While she was Canadian, she had just spent the better part of the last decade in the United States at a small college earning degrees related to Political Science or some such thing.

    She had no ideas of my interests. But she assumed I had only pedestrian knowledge of my own country’s politics. Not unusual given the nature of Americans. She might have also assumed I was more Republican than Democrat – lots of people assume by my looks and my upbringing that I am.

    Anyway she started to tell me, as if in the know, that the democrats were about to do a very courageous thing, that they were going to take a great risk in nominating a women to be their party’s candidate.

    Now I was shocked, on several levels when she said this. First she was assuming she knew more than I did about American politics. She also suggested it was a done deal.

    Now in 2006, I was still a big, big, big, Edwards fan. But I also knew, even then, that Obama was more likely to get the nomination then Edwards – he was already getting big money from donors and he was getting tremendous buzz.

    I can’t recall exactly how the conversation went. I think I had mentioned that the process was only just beginning and that anything could happen. I mentioned that I was an Edwards fan but that I thought the odds were against him. Back then I thought it would be hard for Edwards to beat Obama (not Hillary mind you – because I thought more people hated Hillary). I am sure that I mentioned Edwards to her, but she didn’t even seem to hear that or find it was of concern. Then I am sure that I mentioned to her that Hillary was hated by more people than she was liked (implying she still had to win real elections – and every American I knew on a personal level, and even a few democrats though she was the B-word, inother words everyone I knew either openly hated her or was silent about their support – so I didn’t think it likely she’d survive a national campaign). That statement didnt even register whith her. I think in her mind, many people might not like Hillary but her support was far greater.

    I was trying to convey to her that it was an Election – not a done deal. Anything could happen. People won’t role over and play dead for her because she’s got name recognition that sort of thing.

    I Then I said, “but what about Obama. He’s got tremendous political skills”. Back then I used to talk about him as having great natural political skills – the booming voice (I was conscious of this because that was one of the attributes of Tom Eagleton, the former Senator from my state – that local commentators always mentioned), great speaking skills and lots of Charisma at the time his convention speach of 2004 was on my mind – I saw it and was enormously impressed and I wondered, didn’t she see that speach? Wasn’t she aware of his natural political skills?.

    The mention of Obama’s name did resonate with her. And she immediately broke character and started to babble on, almost like a child. “Obama” who’s gonna vote for someone with a name like Obama. She made fun of his name. Her argument against him was the sound of his name.

    At this point I let it go. I didn’t like watching her break her composure like that. It was obvious that she was mature in her reasoning wasn’t going to let go. I also thought that she doesn’t know American politics very well. This isn’t parliamentary political parties. People vote for the strangest choices. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton all came out of nowhere.

    But theres was something else about the way she talked that disturbed me. At the time I just chalked it up to her being Canadian, maybe naive and her window into American politics was narrow and dominated by a couple of Professors she might have been close to.

    But in retrospect, and in consideration of what you posted, there seems to be something else. And this is what disturbed me. What if it wasn’t the fact that she was Canadian? I mean Canadian’s aren’t unfamiliar with America.

    It seemed to me, and now I’m wondering, if she wasn’t exposing me to an entire dialog that has occurred largely underground. Perhaps there’s a vast network of women dialed into this network that I’m out side.

    The views she was communicating to me did not come across as reasoning that begins to occur at the beginning of an analysis, but more like the reasoning that occurs closer to the end of an analysis – at the mature state of a discussion.

    For want of a better word, I think there’s a kind of Woman’s underground (not in the term of negative, but in the terms of not visible to the public) universe where these discussions have been going on and for a long, long time. And that woman’s underground had already determined by November 2006 that Hillary was going to get the Democratic nomination. It was a done deal. The primary campaign was almost farcical, as the out come had already been determined.

    In the corner of my mind I thought that maybe there was a 10% that this is where she had been and gotten her opinions from. But I really didn’t believe it.

    I was thinking in my mind, and wondering how she could discount, all the millions and millions of people, the workers and the laborers, who vote. They are the ones who determine this election. I am an economic Democrat – and at the time I thought it was they would determine who could best advance their cause.

    She dismissed all of this. I thought that was because she was Canadian and didn’t know how the processed worked, and that the voter’s voices still had to be heard.

    She was truly offended at the notion of Obama taking it and thought it was impossible, because she thought it had already been determined. And she acted like she had heard it from the highest sources.

    There’s some kind of women’s underground out there – a community of women who discuss things, that thought Hillary was their candidate and they thought they had it in the bag.

    I don’t think it has to do with Hillary’s years of service so much as they thought they had it. This Canadian women I talked to, I thought, maybe was a little extreme because she was Canadian, meaning she might of thought it was a parliamentary process whereby John Major gets to take over after Margret Thatcher steps down – that sort of thing. Maybe she did think like that.

    But I now realize that there was a whole community of women – a sort of underground community, meaning not recognized – that thought it was already their’s and that is was already in the bag back in November 2006.

    So now comes the reckoning.

    Hillary lost. And really, by quiet a slim margin. I know people are saying that Obama won because he was better organized, had better strategy and had better charisma and oratorical skills. These are all true. They all contributed to his candidacy. But the size of the margin between the two, is in my mind directly correlated to Hillary’s stance on the war versus Obama’s.

    I would tell those die hard women out there that Hillary lost, mostly because of her stance on the war.

    The decision on war is simple. War is fundamentally wrong in almost all situations where there is a choice. The people expect more from their elites on fundamental questions then they do on others. The people, especially the young have to go a clean up these messes and have to pay for them for the rest of their lives. Hillary made a political calculation that turned out wrong. She should have stayed with the fundamentals: war is wrong.

    Obama was fortunate enough, not because he opposed the war, which was common sense, but that he opposed it enough publicly to go on the radar and be recognized for having opposed it – not easy because he was just a state politician at the time.

    The young people that organized and worked for Obama – they are the ones that are most affected by Hillary’s war vote. They won those caucus states for Obama.

    I would say to women, I am sorry, but Hillary lost. She did much better than I ever imagined. I am truly impressed. But she lost. And the real reason she lost was the stance she took on the war. The margin of her loss is equal to the detriment her stance on the war caused her. That stance represents the narrow margin of her loss to Obama. That stance motivated you people to flock to Obama in droves. They did the rest.

    And that’s how politics goes. A life time of achievement is thrown out the window. Just ask Howard Dean or a million other politicians.

    There will be a women president some day. Probably in my life time. Maybe it will be Claire McCaskel from Missouri, or Sebelius from Kansas, or someone else we don’t know of yet.

    In the mean time we have got a great candidate and an historic opportunity on multiple levels. So take some time to mourn the passing of your candidates viability, and then when that’s done, come an put your shoulder to the wheel.

    That’s what I would say.

  5. Tim Kane
    June 3rd, 2008 at 16:42 | #5

    I want to apologize for my rambling writing. That’s how I write before my morning shower. I will say, your post really set off a light bulb in my head in remembering that conversation.

  6. Paul
    June 4th, 2008 at 19:16 | #6

    The idea is to find the person who runs the best campaign, who appeals to the party members the most, who represents that ideas and the character of the party voters, and who stands the best chance of winning for the party, based on a wide range of variables, experience and service being just a few.

    The most important part is that it is, all too often, a popularity contest. You can be by far more qualified, but if the sound of your voice makes people want to barf, you’re not going to win.

    We’ve all seen elections go this way, I’m sure. And as much as I’m an Obama fan, I have to say that just the plain old popularity contest factor might be a reason why he won- and why the Clinton folks are so upset.

    It’d be one thing if they were beaten by someone who was truly more qualified AND popular. But to get beat by some junior dude? And not because of his positions (which are, after all, more or less like Hillary’s in many/most ways) but because he’s just plain the popular kid in the class?

    That’ll piss people off for sure.

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