According to a leaked excerpt of Hillary Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices,” President Obama asked Clinton during the 2008 campaign to launch a political attack against Sarah Palin after she was announced on the Republican ticket. Clinton said no. “I was not going to attack Palin just for being a woman appealing for support from other women,” she wrote of the exchange with the Obama campaign. “I didn’t think that made political sense, and it didn’t feel right.”
Clinton elaborated on that decision during an interview with NBC’s “Nightly News,” noting that it was more a matter of timing and context than anything else. “The day she was nominated, the Obama campaign did contact me and asked me if I would attack her. I said, ‘Attack her for what — for being a woman? Attack her for being on a ticket that’s trying to draw attention? There’ll be plenty of time to do what I think you should do in politics, which is draw distinctions.’” Clinton notes that this was an example of the sexism that characterized the 2008 campaign — a scenario in which two women were reduced to token roles to boost both sides of competing campaigns.
But it seems that Clinton’s larger point is that she didn’t have enough information to go on yet, but that there would be plenty to criticize Palin over eventually. (Namely, being a garbage person with garbage person politics.)
“Today” ran an excerpt of the interview with the strange headline “Hillary Clinton: I refused to ‘attack’ Palin for ‘being a woman’ despite Obama campaign request,” which leaves one with the impression that the Obama campaign asked Clinton to attack Palin for “being a woman.” This seems unlikely for a number of reasons, the most important of which probably being that getting Clinton to say, “Can you believe this guy selected a woman as his running mate?” doesn’t make for great outreach for a Democratic nominee who was going to need — and eventually got — a majority of women voters to back him if he was going to win the election.
Now this isn’t to suggest that Clinton’s gender wasn’t the reason Obama tapped her to go after Palin. It obviously was. Obama had to walk a fine line throughout that campaign to not come off as a bully or a misogynist while criticizing Palin. (Remember the whole “lipstick on a pig” thing that was interpreted as a dig at Palin? And Palin did catch a lot of sexist bullshit while she was running, and then got really mad at feminists who came to her defense.)
But it’s pretty clear from the text and from Clinton’s follow-up statements that she didn’t receive orders to attack Palin based on Palin’s gender, but that the Obama campaign thought the attacks on Palin’s political credibility might go down easier if they were coming from another woman. It’s the same reason that the Republican Party likes it when Marsha Blackburn argues against equal pay laws and in support of sweeping abortion restrictions. Politics, am I right?
But Palin seemed pretty pumped on the idea that Obama was really gunning for her because of her gender, so she tweeted Monday, “Look who fired the 1st shot in the real ‘war on women’. Hint: it wasn’t the GOP. See this excerpt from Hillary’s book.”
Now this is the really funny part, about Palin and about the Republican relationship to the concept of the “war on women” in general. In the GOP worldview, the “war on women” doesn’t exist — except when it does. At CPAC this year, Palin dismissed Democratic campaigns criticizing the Republican assault on reproductive rights, social programs like Head Start and food assistance programs as scare tactics to win over women voters. In that context, and most other contexts, Palin and the GOP believe that the “war on women” is a massive liberal delusion.
But Palin is just fine with the idea of the war on women when she’s the woman in question, it seems. But running a political campaign against a woman who you think has shit politics — and saying so — is not the same thing as a party platform that refuses to vote on a minimum wage that would lift millions of women out of poverty, that refuses to acknowledge women’s reproductive autonomy, that refuses to provide even basic support for working mothers and families so that people don’t go hungry.
But why let small details like that get in the way of Palin tweeting out a real zinger?