Hillary Clinton and the Crisis of Liberal Feminism

The exclusionary version of feminism reflected in Clinton’s politics contrasts with more holistic and robust feminisms practiced around the world


by Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra


Source: Against the Current


Assuming Hillary Clinton runs for President in 2016, much of her popular support will be based on her image as an advocate of women’s rights. During her 2008 candidacy, the National Organization of Women (NOW) endorsed Clinton based on her “long history of support for women’s empowerment.” A group of 250 academics and activists calling themselves “Feminists for Clinton” praised her “powerful, inspiring advocacy of the human rights of women” and her “enormous contributions” as a policymaker. Since then, NOW and other mainstream women’s organizations have been eagerly anticipating her 2016 candidacy [1]. Clinton and supporters have recently stepped up efforts to portray her as a champion of both women’s and LGBT rights [2].

Unfortunately these depictions have little basis in Clinton’s past performance. While she has indeed spoken about gender and sexual rights with considerable frequency, and while she may not share the overtly misogynistic and anti-LGBT views of most Republican politicians, as a policymaker she has consistently favored policies devastating to women and LGBT persons. Why, then, does she continue to enjoy such support from self-identified feminists? Part of the answer surely lies in the barrage of sexist attacks that have targeted her and the understandable desire of many feminists to see a woman President [3]. But that’s not the whole story. After a brief survey of her record, we suggest that feminist enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton is reflective of a profound crisis of U.S. liberal feminism, one that lays bare that tradition’s longstanding embrace of corporate capitalism, racism, empire, and even heterosexism and transphobia. To the extent that Western feminists choose that exclusionary vision over a more inclusive and holistic feminism, genuine women’s and LGBT liberation will remain out of reach.


Something That Might Have Been Called Neocon

All issues of wealth, power, and violence are also women’s and LGBT rights issues. After all, it is usually women, gender and sexual non-conforming peoples, and children (particularly the non-white ones) who suffer most from wars, natural disasters, and the massive displacement, immiseration, and sexual violence that inevitably accompany them. Neoliberal economic policies of austerity and privatization disproportionately hurt women and LGBT individuals, who are often the lowest paid and the first workers to be fired, the most likely to bear the burdens of family maintenance, and the most affected by the involuntary migration, domestic violence, homelessness, and mental illness that are intensified by poverty.

Hillary Clinton’s decades of service on corporate boards and in major policy roles as First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State give a clear indication of where she stands. One of Clinton’s first high-profile public positions was at Walmart, where she served on the board from 1986 to 1992. She “remained silent” in board meetings as her company “waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers,” an ABC review of video recordings later noted. She recounted in her 2003 book that Walmart CEO Sam Walton “taught me a great deal about corporate integrity and success.” Though she later began trying to shed her public identification with the company in order to attract labor support for her Senate and Presidential candidacies, Walmart executives have continued to look favorably on her, with Alice Walton donating the maximum amount to the “Ready for Hillary” Super PAC in 2013 [4]. Walton’s $25,000 donation was considerably higher than the average annual salary for Walmart’s hourly employees, two-thirds of whom are women.

After leaving Walmart, Clinton became perhaps the most active First Lady in history. While it would be unfair to hold her responsible for all her husband’s policies, she did play a significant role in shaping and justifying many of them. In her 2003 memoir she boasted of her role in gutting U.S. welfare: “By the time Bill and I left the White House, welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent”—and not because poverty had dropped. Women and children, the main recipients of welfare, have been the primary victims. Jeffrey St. Clair notes that prior to the welfare reform, “more than 70 percent of poor families with children received some kind of cash assistance. By 2010, less than 30 percent got any kind of cash aid and the amount of the benefit had declined by more than 50 percent from pre-reform levels.” Clinton also lobbied Congress to pass her husband’s deeply racist crime bill, which, observes Michelle Alexander, “escalated the drug war beyond what conservatives had imagined possible,” expanding mass incarceration and the death penalty [5].

Arguably the two most defining features of Clinton’s tenures as Senator (2001-2009) and Secretary of State (2009-2013) were her promotion of U.S. corporate profitmaking and her aggressive assertion of the U.S. government’s right to intervene in foreign countries. Reflecting on this performance as Clinton left her Secretary post in January 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek commented that “Clinton turned the State Department into a machine for promoting U.S. business.” She sought “to install herself as the government’s highest-ranking business lobbyist,” directly negotiating lucrative overseas contracts for U.S. corporations like Boeing, Lockheed, and General Electric. Not surprisingly, “Clinton’s corporate cheerleading has won praise from business groups” [6].

Clinton herself has been very honest about this aim, albeit not when speaking in front of progressives. Her 2011 Foreign Policy essay on “America’s Pacific Century” spoke at length about the objective of “opening new markets for American businesses.” The article contained no fewer than ten uses of the phrases “open markets,” “open trade,” and permutations thereof. A major focus of this effort is the Trans-Pacific Partnership involving twelve Pacific countries that is now being negotiated secretively with the assistance of over 600 corporate “advisors.” Like Bill Clinton’s NAFTA, the deal is intended to further empower multinational corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, and the environment in all countries involved. Lower wages and increased rates of displacement, detention, and physical violence for female and LGBT populations are among the likely consequences [7].

Clinton’s article also elaborated on the role of U.S. military power in advancing these economic goals. The past “growth” of eastern Asia has depended on “the security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the U.S. military,” and “a more broadly distributed military presence across the region will provide vital advantages” in the future. Clinton thus reaffirmed the bipartisan consensus on the U.S. right to use military force abroad in pursuit of economic interest—echoing, for instance, her husband’s Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who in 1999 reserved the right to “the unilateral use of military power” in the name of “ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources” [8].

In the Middle East and Central Asia, Clinton has likewise defended the U.S. right to violate international law and human rights. As Senator she not only voted in favor of the illegal 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq—a monstrous crime that has killed hundreds of thousands of people while sowing terror and sectarianism across the region—she was an outspoken advocate of the invasion and a fierce critic of resistance within the United Nations. Since then she has only partially disavowed that position (out of political expediency) while speaking in paternalistic and racist terms about Iraqis [9]. Senator Clinton was an especially staunch supporter—even by the standards of the U.S. Congress—of Israel’s military occupation and illegal settlement activity in the West Bank [10].

As Secretary of State, she presided over the expansion of illegal drone attacks that by conservative estimates have killed many hundreds of civilians and reaffirmed U.S. alliances with vicious dictatorships. She explains in her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, that her department sought to strengthen alliances with traditional authoritarian allies while expanding the U.S. military presence in the Middle East: “In addition to our work with the Israelis, the Obama Administration also increased America’s own sea and air presence in the Persian Gulf and deepened our ties to the Gulf monarchies” [11]. Clinton herself is widely recognized to have been one of the administration’s most forceful advocates of attacking or expanding military operations in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria and of strengthening U.S. ties to dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, and elsewhere [12]. Maybe the women and girls of these countries, including those whose lives have been destroyed by U.S. bombs, can take comfort in knowing that a “feminist” helped craft U.S. policy.

Secretary Clinton and her team worked to ensure that any challenges to U.S.-Israeli domination of the Middle East were met with brute force and/or various forms of collective punishment such as sanctions. On Iran, she often echoes the bipartisan line that “all options must remain on the table”—a flagrant violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition of “the threat or use of force” in international relations—and brags that her team “successfully campaigned around the world to impose crippling sanctions” on the country. She remained an unflinching supporter of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and ensured that Palestine’s UN statehood bid “went nowhere in the Security Council” [13]. Though out of office for Israel’s savage 2014 assault on Gaza, she ardently defended it in interviews. This context helps explain her recent praise for Henry Kissinger, renowned for bombing civilians and supporting regimes that killed and tortured hundreds of thousands of suspected dissidents. She writes that she “relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state” [14].

In another domain of traditional U.S. ownership, Latin America, Clinton seems to have followed Kissinger’s example. As confirmed in her 2014 book, she effectively supported the 2009 military overthrow of left-of-center Honduran President Manuel Zelaya—a “caricature of a Central American strongman”—by pushing for a “compromise” solution that endorsed his illegal ouster [15]. She has advocated the application of the Colombian model—highly militarized “anti-drug” initiatives coupled with neoliberal economic policies—to other countries in the region, and is full of praise for the devastating militarization of Mexico over the past decade. In Mexico the model has resulted in at least 80,000 deaths (by very conservative estimates) since 2006, including, it seems, the 43 Mexican student activists disappeared in late September and presumably massacred [16]. In the Caribbean, the U.S. model of choice is Haiti, where Clinton and her husband have relentlessly promoted the sweatshop model of production since the 1990s. WikiLeaks documents show that in 2009 her State Department collaborated with subcontractors for Hanes, Levi’s, and Fruit of the Loom to oppose a minimum wage increase for Haitian workers. After the January 2010 earthquake she helped spearhead the highly militarized U.S. response [17].

Militarization has plenty of benefits, as Clinton understands. It can facilitate corporate investment, such as the “gold rush” that the U.S. ambassador described following the Haiti earthquake. It can keep in check nonviolent dissidents, such as hungry Haitian workers or leftist students and teachers in Mexico. And it can help combat the influence of countries like Venezuela which have challenged neoliberalism and U.S. geopolitical control. These goals have long motivated U.S. hostility toward Cuba, and thus Clinton’s recent call for ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba is pragmatic, not principled: “It wasn’t achieving its goals” of overthrowing the government, as she says in her recent book. The goal there, as in Venezuela, is to compel the country to “restore private property and return to a free market economy,” as she demanded of Venezuela in 2010 [18].

A reasonable synopsis of Clinton’s record around the world comes from far-right policy advisor Robert Kagan, who, like Clinton, played an important role in advocating the 2003 Iraq invasion. “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy,” Kagan told the New York Times last June. Asked what to expect from a Hillary Clinton presidency, he predicted that “[i]f she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue, it’s something that might have been called neocon.” But—Kagan added—“clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else” [19].


Clinton on Women’s and LGBT Rights, More Narrowly Defined

All of these “enormous contributions” (to quote Feminists for Clinton) involve women’s and LGBT rights issues. For a moment, though, let’s confine our focus to that narrower set of issues more commonly associated with the rights of female-bodied and LGBT persons: namely, control over one’s reproductive system, the right to physical safety, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality.

Perhaps the best that can be said is that Clinton does not espouse the medieval view of female bodily autonomy shared by most Republicans and does not actively encourage homophobia and transphobia. She has consistently said that abortion should remain legal (but “rare”) and that birth control should be widely available, and when in office generally acted in accord with those statements. She has recently voiced support for gay marriage rights. These positions are worth something, even if they are mainly a reflection of pressure from below.

But nor does her record on these rights merit glowing praise. In addition to partly capitulating to the far-right anti-choice agenda in Congress, with disproportionate harm to low-income parents [20], Clinton and other Democrats have also actively undermined these rights. Some observers have argued that Clinton’s repetition of the Democratic slogan that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rarereinforces the stigmatization of those who choose that option [21]. Her narrow definition of reproductive rights—as abortion and contraception only—does not allow much in the way of material support for parents or young children. She insists that abortion must remain “rare,” but has also helped deprive poor expecting parents of the financial support they would need to raise a child (for instance through the 1996 welfare reform and the fiscal austerity regarding social programs that has become the bipartisan consensus in Washington). She has said little about the reproductive rights of immigrant women who give birth in chains in detention centers before being deported back to lives of poverty and violence [22]. Her very recent reversal of her opposition to gay marriage comes only after support for the idea has become politically beneficial and perhaps necessary for Democrats. Even recently, she—like Obama—has continued to speak about marriage as “a matter left to the states”—a position that analyst Mark Joseph Stern comments “is about as progressive as Dick Cheney’s circa 2004” [23].

Regarding non-discrimination, Clinton’s record is also worse than her reputation suggests. Her old company, Walmart, which is widely accused of discriminating against women employees, was recently praised by the Clinton Foundation for its “efforts to empower girls and women” [24]. Clinton has also given little serious indication that she opposes discrimination against LGBT individuals in the workplace. “Kind words are appreciated,” writes activist Keegan O’Brien, “but when in 29 states it is completely legal to be fired or not hired due to your perceived or known sexual orientation” and “in 37 states for gender identity or expression,” politicians’ “actions speak louder than words” [25].

At best, Clinton in these respects has been a cautious responder to progressive political winds rather than a trailblazing leader. This fact suggests that rights are to be won through building powerful popular movements, not by electing Democrats. By not confronting the exclusions of non-whites, immigrants, and working-class people from the Democratic Party’s agenda on reproductive rights and anti-discrimination (and other issues), liberal feminists are missing a crucial opportunity to create a more inclusive, more powerful movement capable of winning concessions from hostile and reluctant politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans.

On foreign policy, Clinton’s record is even more at odds with her reputation as a champion of women’s and LGBT rights. Her policy of support for the 2009 coup in Honduras has been disastrous for both groups. Violent hate crimes against LGBT persons have skyrocketed. In mid-2014, leading Honduran LGBT activist Nelson Arambú reported 176 murders against LGBT individuals since 2009, an average of about 35 per year, compared to just over 1 per year in the period 1994-2009. Arambú located this violence within the broader human rights nightmare of post-coup Honduras, noting the contributions of U.S.-funded militarization and the post-coup regimes’ pattern of “shutting down government institutions charged with promoting and protecting the human rights of vulnerable sectors of the population—such as women, children, indigenous communities, and Afro-Hondurans” [26]. Clinton has been worse than silent on the situation, actively supporting and praising the post-coup governments [27].

In a review of her work as Secretary of State, Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes concludes that while “Hillary Clinton has been more outspoken than any previous Secretary of State regarding the rights of women and sexual minorities,” this position is “more rhetoric than reality.” As one example he points to the U.S.-backed monarchy in Morocco, which has long occupied Western Sahara with U.S. support. Two weeks after Secretary Clinton publicly praised the dictatorship for having “protected and expanded” women’s rights, a teenage girl named Amina Filali committed suicide by taking rat poison. Filali had been raped at age 15 and, in accordance with Moroccan law, “forced to marry her rapist, who subsequently battered and abused her” [28].

Although Clinton’s liberal supporters are likely to lament such details as exceptions within an impressive overall record (“She’s still much better than a Republican!”), it is quite possible that her actions have harmed feminist movements worldwide. As Zunes argues,

Given Clinton’s backing of neo-liberal economic policies and war-making by the United States and its allies, her advocacy of women’s rights overseas…may have actually set back indigenous feminist movements in the same way that the Bush administration’s ‘democracy-promotion’ agenda was a serious setback to popular struggles for freedom and democracy….Hillary Clinton’s call for greater respect for women’s rights in Muslim countries never had much credibility while US-manufactured ordinance is blowing up women in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. [29]

Whatever the net effect of Clinton’s advocacy, it is worth emphasizing that feminists from Afghanistan, Iran, and many other countries have issued bitter criticisms of the policies pursued by Clinton—a point to which we return below.


Threading Needles

This summary of Clinton’s “enormous contributions” is just a partial sampling. On almost all other major issues, from climate change to immigrant rights to education to financial regulation, President Hillary Clinton would likely be at least as bad as President Obama: unless constrained by mass activism, the deportations, border militarization, school privatization, austerity, and business-friendly regulatory approach would continue as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and persistent sabotage of any effective global climate treaty accelerate climate change-related suffering and drive the planet closer to catastrophe [30].

Yet as in the case of Obama, it is of course necessary for Clinton to “call it something else,” in Robert Kagan’s words. The stark disjunction between rhetoric and policies reflects a well understood logic. Mainstream U.S. political candidates, and particularly Democratic ones, must find ways to attract popular support while simultaneously reassuring corporate and financial elites. The latter, for their part, usually understand the need for a good dose of “populism” during a campaign, and accept it as long as it stays within certain bounds and is not reflected in policy itself [31]. One former aide to Bill Clinton, speaking to The Hill last July, compared this rhetorical strategy to threading a needle, saying that “good politicians—and I think Hillary is a good politician—are good at threading needles, and I think there’s probably a way to do it” [32].

Clinton faces the challenge of convincing voters that she is a champion of “people historically excluded,” as she claims in her 2014 memoir [33]. The Hill reported that “Clinton is now test-driving various campaign themes,” including the familiar progressive promises to “increase upward mobility” and “decrease inequality.” Her memoirs, for those who dare to suffer through them, include invocations of dead leftists like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman (“one of my heroines”), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (referenced nine times in Clinton’s 2003 book) [34]. This public relations work requires that her past record be hidden from view, lest it create a credibility problem. Here Clinton has enjoyed the assistance of many liberal feminists. One former Obama staffer notes Clinton’s successful efforts “to co-opt the base groups in the past eight years,” which has helped preclude any serious challenges from the left [35].

Rhetoric is not totally meaningless. The extent to which politicians like Clinton have been compelled to portray themselves—however cynically—as champions of the rights of workers, women, LGBT people, and other “historically excluded” groups is an indication that popular pressures for those rights have achieved substantial force. In the case of LGBT rights this rhetorical shift is very recent, and reflects a growth in the movement’s power that is to be celebrated. But taking politicians’ rhetoric at face value is one of the gravest errors that a progressive can make.


The Feminists Not Invited to the Clinton Party

Liberal feminists’ support of Hillary Clinton is not just due to credulousness, though. It also reflects a narrowness of analysis, vision, and values. In this country feminism is often understood as the right of women—and wealthy white women most of all—to share in the spoils of corporate capitalism and U.S. imperial power. This strain of feminism focuses on breaking “glass ceilings” in order to place women in positions of institutional power while leaving institutional structures unchanged. It is intensely nationalistic and militaristic, celebrating the “right” of women and LGBT persons to kill and be killed in combat alongside men [36]. It values white lives, or at best the lives of U.S. citizens, over those of non-whites and foreigners. This feminism has life-and-death consequences for oppressed populations.

Alternative currents within the feminist movement, both here and globally, have long rejected this narrow and impoverished understanding of feminism. For them, feminism means confronting patriarchy but also capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, and other forms of oppression that interlock with and reinforce patriarchy. It means fighting to replace a system in which the rights of people and other living things are systematically subordinated to the quest for profits. It means fighting so that all people—everywhere on the gender, sexual, and body spectrum—can enjoy basic rights like food, health care, housing, a safe and clean environment, and control over their bodies, labor, and identities.

This more holistic feminist vision is apparent all around the world, including among the women of places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, whose oppression is constantly evoked by Western leaders to justify war and occupation. The courageous Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her feminist advocacy, has criticized illegal U.S. drone attacks for killing civilians and aiding terrorist recruitment. Yousafzai’s opposition to the Taliban won her adoring Western media coverage and an invitation to the Obama White House, but her criticism of drones has gone virtually unmentioned in the corporate media. Also unmentioned are her comments about socialism, which she says “is the only answer” to “free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation” [37].

In neighboring Afghanistan, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has equally opposed the Taliban, U.S.-backed fundamentalist forces, and the U.S. occupation. While liberal groups like Feminist Majority depict the U.S. war as a noble crusade to protect Afghan women, RAWA says that the United States “has empowered and equipped the most traitorous, anti-democratic, misogynist and corrupt fundamentalist gangs in Afghanistan,” merely “replacing one fundamentalist regime with another.” The logic is simple: U.S. elites prefer the “bloody and suffocating rule of Afghanistan” by fundamentalist warlords “to an independent, pro-democracy and pro-women’s rights government” that might jeopardize “its interests in the region.” Women’s liberation, RAWA emphasizes, “can be achieved only by the people of Afghanistan and by democracy-loving forces through a hard, decisive and long struggle” [38]. Needless to say, Clinton and Obama have not invited the RAWA women to Washington.

A group of Iranian and Iranian-American feminists, the Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, takes a similar position in relation to their own country. In 2011 it bitterly condemned the Ahmadinejad regime’s systematic violations of women’s rights (and those of other groups), but just as forcefully condemned “all forms of US intervention,” including the “crippling sanctions” that Hillary Clinton is so proud of her role in implementing. The group said that sanctions “further immiserate the very people they claim to be helping,” and noted that few if any genuine grassroots voices in Iran had “called for or supported the US/UN/EU sanctions.” In Iraq there are similar voices, though they are likewise repressed domestically and suppressed internationally by Western leaders, corporate media, and liberal feminists [39].

In Latin America, too, many working-class feminists argue that the fight for gender and sexual liberation is inseparable from the struggles for self-determination and a just economic system. For instance, Venezuelan organizer Yanahir Reyes recently lauded “all of the social policy” that has “focused on liberating women” under Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, those evil autocrats so despised by Hillary Clinton. Yet she also emphasized the importance of independent feminist organizing: “Women from the feminist struggle have effectively brought to light the importance of dismantling a patriarchal system,” thus pushing Chavismo in a more feminist direction. “It is a very hard internal fight,” says Reyes, but “this is the space where we can achieve it”—under a government sympathetic to socialism, “not in a different form of government” [40].

This tradition of more holistic feminisms is not absent from the United States. In the nineteenth century, black women like Ida B. Wells and Sojourner Truth linked the struggles for abolition and suffrage and denounced the lynching campaigns that murdered black men and women in the name of “saving” white women. In contrast, leaders of the white suffrage movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony refused to include people of color in the struggle for citizenship rights [41]. Unfortunately this history continues to be distorted. In 2008 Gloria Steinem, the standard bearer of liberal feminism, said that she supported Clinton’s campaign over Obama’s in part because “Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot” [42]. Steinem conveniently ignored the history of Jim Crow terror, perpetrated by white men and women alike against black people, often over the right to mark a ballot.

Steinem’s assumption that all women are equally oppressed by patriarchy (and that all men are equal oppressors) was fiercely challenged by U.S. women of color, working-class women, and lesbians in the 1970s and 1980s. During this era, feminists of color analyzed their gender and sexual oppression within the larger history of U.S. slavery, capitalism, and empire. In New York the women of the Young Lords Party pushed their organization to denounce forced sterilizations of women of color, to demand safe and accessible abortion and contraception, and to call for community-controlled clinics. They redefined reproductive rights as the right to abortion and contraception and the right to have children without living in poverty [43]. This view challenged the racism and classism of the liberal women’s movement, which often frames abortion as a solution to poverty, ignores economic obstacles that impede abortion access, and ignores attacks on families of color.

In recent years, a radical LGBT movement has fought for reforms like marriage equality while also moving beyond marriage and condemning how the state, from prisons to the military, is the biggest perpetrator of violence against gender and sexual non-conforming peoples, particularly trans women of color and undocumented queers [44]. These queer radicals reject the logic that casts the U.S. and Israel as “tolerant” while characterizing occupied territories, from U.S. to Palestinian ghettoes, as inherently homophobic and in need of military and other outside intervention [45]. They condemn U.S. wars and the Obama administration’s persecution of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning (who helped expose, among other U.S. crimes, military orders to ignore the sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees and the trafficking of Afghan children) [46].

Adopting a more robust vision of feminism doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t defend women like Hillary Clinton against sexist attacks—we should, just as we should defend Barack Obama against racist ones. But it does mean that we must listen to the voices of the most marginalized women and gender and sexual minorities—many of whom are extremely critical of Clintonite feminism—and act in solidarity with movements that seek equity in all realms of life and for all people [47]. These voices are almost entirely excluded from discussion, even as their oppression is cited by sanctimonious liberal feminists in the West. They are the feminists not invited to the Hillary Clinton party, except perhaps to serve and clean up.


Kevin Young is a historian and journalist based in El Salvador. Diana C. Sierra Becerra is a doctoral candidate in History and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. They belong to the Organization for a Free Society. The above is an expanded version of an article published in the March-April 2015 issue of Against the Current magazine.




[1] “Clinton Endorsed by National Organization for Women during Day of Women’s Outreach” (campaign press release), March 28, 2007, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=92334; Christine Stansell, “Feminists for Clinton,” Huffington Post, updated May 25, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-stansell/feminists-for-clinton_b_86929.html.

[2] “Ready for Hillary,” one of her unofficial campaign organizations, “has signed up tens of thousands of supporters and sold “Out and Ready for Hillary” rainbow T-shirts at booths at 28 gay pride festivals and on college campuses nationwide.” Amy Chozick, “Hillary Clinton’s Gay Rights Evolution,” New York Times, August 31, 2014: ST1.

[3] See Stephen Zunes, “Sexism, the Women’s Vote and Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy,” Common Dreams, January 27, 2008, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2008/01/27/sexism-womens-vote-and-hillary-clintons-foreign-policy.

[4] Brian Ross, Maddy Sauer, and Rhonda Schwartz, “Clinton Remained Silent as Wal-Mart Fought Unions,” ABC News online, January 31, 2008, http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=4218509; Hillary Rodham Clinton, Living History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 111; Ward Harkavy, “Wal-Mart’s First Lady,” Village Voice, May 23, 2000, http://www.villagevoice.com/2000-05-23/news/wal-mart-s-first-lady/; Patrick Caldwell, “Retail Politics: Hillary Clinton Heads to Costco, Skips Walmart on Latest Book Tour,” Mother Jones online, June 14, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/06/hillary-clinton-costco-walmart.

[5] Clinton, Living History, 370; Jeffrey St. Clair, “Down and Out with Hillary Clinton,” Counterpunch, August 1-3, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/01/down-and-out-with-hillary-clinton/; Janell Ross, “Welfare Reform Leaving More in Poverty,” Huffington Post, August 23, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/23/welfare-reform-poverty_n_932490.html; Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010), 55; lobbying noted in Matt Bai, “Mrs. Triangulation,” New York Times Magazine, October 2, 2005: 64.

[6] Elizabeth Dwoskin with Indira A. R. Lakshmanan, “Secretary of Commerce,” Bloomberg Businessweek (January 14-20, 2013): 22-25.

[7] Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy (November 2011): 57, 62; Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, NAFTA’s 20-Year Legacy and the Fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (February 2014), http://www.citizen.org/documents/NAFTA-at-20.pdf; Mark Weisbrot, Stephan Lefebvre, and Joseph Sammut, Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Assessment after 20 Years (Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 2014), http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/nafta-20-years.

[8] Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” 62-63; William S. Cohen, Annual Report to the President and the Congress (1999), Chapter 1, http://www.fas.org/man/docs/adr_00/chap1.htm.

[9] Stephen Zunes, “Hillary Clinton on International Law,” Foreign Policy in Focus, December 10, 2007, http://fpif.org/hillary_clinton_on_international_law/; Stephen Zunes, “Clinton’s GWU Iraq Speech,” Foreign Policy in Focus, March 25, 2008, http://fpif.org/clintons_gwu_iraq_speech/; Maximilian Forte, “A White Woman’s Burden: Hillary Clinton, Imperialism, and Racism,” April 22, 2008, http://zeroanthropology.net/2008/04/22/a-white-womans-burden-hillary-clinton-imperialism-and-racism/; Amy Hagopian, et al., “Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003-2011 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study,” PLOS Medicine 10, no. 10 (2013). Clinton’s paternalistic views of people of color, in the U.S. and elsewhere, show little sign of abating. For instance, she writes in her 2014 memoir that successful efforts to promote Haiti’s sweatshop economy were gratifying “for all of us who had lived through Haiti’s darkest days.” See Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 541.

[10] Zunes, “Hillary Clinton on International Law.”

[11] Clinton, Hard Choices, 438; Kevin Young, “The Real Enemy in the Middle East: Why U.S. Leaders Fear Arab Democracy,” Z Magazine (September 2012): 41-44. On drone attacks see International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law, Living under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan (2012), http://www.livingunderdrones.org; Bureau of Investigative Journalism website, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/.

[12] Michael Crowley, “Hillary Clinton’s Unapologetically Hawkish Record Faces 2016 Test,” Time, January 14, 2014, http://swampland.time.com/2014/01/14/hillary-clintons-unapologetically-hawkish-record-faces-2016-test/; Stephen Zunes, “Hillary Clinton’s Legacy As Secretary of State,” Truthout, February 7, 2013, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14401.

[13] Clinton, Hard Choices, 420, 434, 483.

[14] Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Hillary Clinton Reviews Henry Kissinger’s ‘World Order,’” Washington Post online, September 4, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/hillary-clinton-reviews-henry-kissingers-world-order/2014/09/04/b280c654-31ea-11e4-8f02-03c644b2d7d0_story.html.

[15] Clinton, Hard Choices, 257, 265-68.

[16] Kevin Young, “Two, Three, Many Colombias,” Foreign Policy in Focus, December 29, 2010, http://fpif.org/two_three_many_colombias/; Clinton, Hard Choices, 250-53.

[17] Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives, “WikiLeaks Haiti: Let Them Live on $3 a Day,” The Nation online, June 1, 2011, http://www.thenation.com/article/161057/wikileaks-haiti-let-them-live-3-day; Ansel Herz, “WikiLeaks Haiti: The Earthquake Cables,” The Nation online, June 15, 2011, http://www.thenation.com/article/161459/wikileaks-haiti-earthquake-cables.

[18] Ansel Herz and Kim Ives, “WikiLeaks Haiti: The Post-Quake ‘Gold Rush’ for Reconstruction Contracts,” The Nation online, June 15, 2011, http://www.thenation.com/article/161469/wikileaks-haiti-post-quake-gold-rush-reconstruction-contracts; Clinton, Hard Choices, 265; Young, “Two, Three, Many Colombias.”

[19] Quoted in Jason Horowitz, “Historian’s Critique of Obama Foreign Policy Is Brought Alive by Events in Iraq,” New York Times, June 16, 2014: A7.

[20] Jill Filipovic, “The GOP Assault on Women’s Health Began with the 1976 Hyde Amendment,” The Guardian online, October 3, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/03/hyde-amendment-abortion-gop-women.

[21] Tracy A. Weitz, “Rethinking the Mantra That Abortion Should Be ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare,’” Journal of Women’s History 22, no. 3 (2010): 161-72; Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton Must Reject the Stigma That Abortion Should Be Legal But ‘Rare,’” The Guardian online, July 9, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/09/hillary-clinton-abortion-legal-but-rare.

[22] Cristina Costantini, “Undocumented Women Forced to Give Birth While Shackled and in Police Custody,” Huffington Post, September 21, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/undocumented-pregnant-woman-gives-birth-in-shackles_n_971955.html.

[23] Quoted in Chozick, “Hillary Clinton’s Gay Rights Evolution.”

[24] Caldwell, “Retail Politics.” Walmart was the target of the biggest class action suit in U.S. history, involving 1.5 million female employees, for its discrimination against women. The case was, quite predictably, dismissed by the far-right U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

[25] O’Brien further argues that since 2009 the Obama administration has been “the most egregious offenders in undermining the basic human rights of LGBTQ people globally” (“Obama, Clinton, and Gay Marriage: Why We Need More Than Rhetoric,” Rainbow Times, March 26, 2013, http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/2013/03/26/op-ed-obama-clinton-gay-marriage-why-we-need-more-than-rhetoric/).

[26] Allison López, “Nelson Arambú, of Honduras: ‘We Do Not Want to Come Back Here Next Year to Report More Murders of the LGBT Community,’” Latin America Working Group, August 5, 2014,  http://www.lawg.org/action-center/lawg-blog/69-general/1363-nelson-arambu-of-honduras-we-do-not-want-to-come-back-here-next-year-to-report-more-murders-of-the-lgbt-community-. See also Center for Constitutional Rights/International Federation for Human Rights, Impunity in Honduras for Crimes Against Humanity between 28 June 2009 and 31 October 2012 (November 2012), http://ccrjustice.org/files/Honduras%20ICC%20Submission.pdf; Majo Siscar Banyuls, “Dios también decide en las elecciones de Honduras,” El País, November 16, 2013, http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2013/11/16/actualidad/1384567695_229741.html.

[27] Dana Frank, “Honduras: Which Side Are We On?” The Nation (June 11, 2012): 11-17.

[28] Zunes, “Hillary Clinton’s Legacy”; Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks with Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Saad-Eddine al-Othmani after Their Meeting,” February 26, 2012, http://m.state.gov/md184667.htm.

[29] Zunes, “Hillary Clinton’s Legacy.”

[30] Obama’s minor climate policy reforms to date, which at best are likely to reduce U.S. emissions by a single-digit percentage over 1990 levels, are praised in Clinton’s latest book along with the administration’s allegedly bold global leadership on a climate treaty (Hard Choices, 491-506).

[31] One telling example is the Walton family, which has continued donating to Clinton campaigns despite Hillary’s (muted) public criticisms of company practices in recent years. See Caldwell, “Retail Politics.” Author Paul Street has ably analyzed this and other aspects of the Obama phenomenon in numerous writings over the years.

[32] Alexandra Jaffe and Amie Parnes, “Clinton Sharpens Her Message,” The Hill, July 23, 2014, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/213062-clinton-message-is-taking-shape. See also Kevin Cirilli, “Clinton Not Running Away from Wall Street,” The Hill, July 27, 2014, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/213434-clinton-doesnt-run-away-from-wall-street#ixzz3ADtlZDFc; Amy Chozick, “Economic Plan Is a Quandary for Clinton ’16,” New York Times, February 8, 2015: A1. In 2008 a former Clinton official compared the contrast between Obama’s progressive messaging and his emerging policies to “the violin model: you hold power with the left hand and you play the music with the right” (quoted in Paul Street, “Obama’s Violin,” Z Magazine [May 2009]).

[33] Clinton, Hard Choices, 576.

[34] Jaffe and Parnes, “Clinton Sharpens Her Message”; Clinton, Living History, 462. She also claims that Bill Clinton’s favorite novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude, the classic 1967 book by anti-imperialist and socialist Gabriel García Márquez (Hard Choices, 252).

[35] Quoted in Jaffe and Parnes, “Clinton Sharpens Her Message.” A lengthy profile from 2005 noted that “the thinking among her closest advisers holds that unlike other prospective candidates with conservative leanings,” Hillary Clinton “doesn’t have to worry about winning over more liberal base voters; she’s an icon of the left, and short of climbing into a tank and invading a country all by herself, she couldn’t do much to change that” (Bai, “Mrs. Triangulation,” 66). This statement may be an overgeneralization—not all U.S. feminists who support Clinton do so that blindly—but it certainly applies to Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal, and many other prominent liberal feminists.

[36] See, for instance, Megan H. MacKenzie, “Let Women Fight: Ending the U.S. Military’s Female Combat Ban,” Foreign Affairs (November/December 2012): 32-42.

[37] Quoted in Ben Norton, “The Malala You Won’t Hear About,” Socialist Worker online, October 15, 2014, http://socialistworker.org/2014/10/15/the-malala-you-wont-hear-about. See also Rania Khalek, “Seeing What They Want to See in Malala,” Extra! (December 2013), http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/seeing-what-they-want-to-see-in-malala/.

[38] “The US and Her Fundamentalist Stooges Are the Main Human Rights Violators in Afghanistan,” December 10, 2007, http://www.rawa.org/events/dec10-07_e.htm; “On the Situation of Afghan Women” (undated), http://www.rawa.org/wom-view.htm; “Peace with Criminals, War with People! Statement of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) on ‘Consultative Peace Jirga,’” June 1, 2010, http://www.rawa.org/rawa/2010/06/01/peace-with-criminals-war-with-people.html; Ian Sinclair, “Interview with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan [spokesperson Mariam Rawi],” ZNet, May 6, 2009, http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/interview-with-the-revolutionary-association-of-the-women-of-afghanistan-by-ian-sinclair/. On the support of many Western feminist groups, particularly Feminist Majority, for the Afghanistan invasion/occupation see Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006); Elizabeth Miller, “An Open Letter to the Editors of Ms. Magazine,” April 21, 2002, http://www.rawa.org/tours/elizabeth_miller_letter.htm.

[39] Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, “Solidarity and Its Discontents,” Jadaliyya.com, February 19, 2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/683/solidarity-and-its-discontents. One survey of major newspaper editorials over a two-year period found that not a single one considered Iranian civilians’ views on sanctions; see Kevin Young, “Contempt for International Law: A Survey of New York Times and Washington Post Editorials on Iran,” NYTimes eXaminer, March 16, 2012, http://www.nytexaminer.com/2012/03/contempt-for-international-law-a-survey-of-new-york-times-and-washington-post-editorials-on-iran/.

[40] “Women and Chavismo: An Interview with Yanahir Reyes,” trans. Pablo Morales, NACLA Report on the Americas 46, no. 2 (2013): 35-39.

[41] Louise Michelle Newman, White Women’s Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[42] Gloria Steinem, “Women Are Never Front-Runners,” New York Times, January 8, 2008: A23.

[43] Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (New York: Kitchen Table, 1983); Jennifer Nelson, “‘Abortions under Community Control’: Feminism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Reproduction among New York City’s Young Lords,” Journal of Women’s History 13, no. 1 (2001): 157-80.

[44] Dean Spade, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law (Brooklyn: South End Press, 2011).

[45] Robin Riley, Chandra Taplade Mohanty, and Minnie Bruce Pratt, eds., Feminism and War: Confronting US Imperialism (London: Zed Books, 2008).

[46] Katrina Bacome, “Free Chelsea Manning Now,” Socialist Worker online, August 26, 2013, http://socialistworker.org/2013/08/26/free-chelsea-manning-now.

[47] Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).


  1. avatar
    libbyliberal March 29, 2015 6:31 pm 

    ps I meant to mention how meeting and working with Green Party’s Jill Stein showed me what a true conscience and savvy woman candidate — and “human” candidate — is like compared to the zombied and pimped out pols we are now witnessing. How ferociously and effectively the media would not allow her any national attention during the 2012 election!

    Hungry shopping progressives are myopic and cherry pick the qualities of even an Elizabeth Warren, say, instead of looking seriously closely at both her domestic and foreign policy stances and bobble their heads with the faux-progressive tv personality over character commentators!

    We need to do the homework as citizens and exercise critical thinking. Stop being part of the “bewildered” consumer identity not citizen identity herd!!!

  2. avatar
    libbyliberal March 29, 2015 6:24 pm 

    kevin and diana,

    I am standing up applauding having read this. we who are not enthralled to the propaganda need to call out Hillary as as much a corporate frontperson Trojan Horse as Obama is and was, exploiting identity politics. What you say about the Clinton and modern view of feminism that corrupted the true spirit of feminism, a patriarchal paradigm blocking the true paradigm of partnership and cooperation, began a long time ago with the feminist elite nurtured by the patriarchy and the corporate media.

    I am so glad to have discovered this website and the articles I have read thus far lift my level of hope, not easy.

    You both certainly are thorough in separating pr from reality.

    As a New Yorker I remember writing to Hillary about my needs as a “temp” employee and being insurance-less when she was helping Bill as prez with health care.

    And later when she was senator writing about having been outsourced when my job went to India. (now it is being done by someone in Philippines). No response of course.

    When I googled the agents who were promoting our outsourcing I came across a photo of the outsourcers, Bill Clinton and Indian officials sealing the deal on out-sourcing commitments.

    Hillary’s total surrender to Israel happened I am sure all along the way, including as NY senator and especially SoS. Settlements as being “unhelpful” as how she put it said a lot. Turns out, the amorality re plight of Palestinians and other non-media acknowledged lives and deaths is gobsmacking for both Hillary and Obama.

    We have been knifed in the back by the Dem Party. Amazing that thanks to MSNBC and pseudo-progressives there is such gobsmacking (that word again) minimization and denial. Our arms are very short to box with mainstream CORPORATE media, but that is what we must do. We must keep raising the consciousnesses of our fellow humans. Invite them to be humans with consciences!!!

    best, libby

  3. avatar
    Kevin Young March 11, 2015 10:01 pm 

    Thanks folks. I’ll relay your comments to Diana (the Z blogs apparently don’t allow you to specify co-authors). Kelvin, I see your point about the “crisis of liberal feminism”—certainly most Clinton supporters don’t see that crisis. I guess it’s only a crisis for those of us looking at it from outside.

  4. avatar
    Joe Emersberger March 11, 2015 12:29 am 

    Fine essay Kevin. Loved your closing line in particular.

    • Kelvin Yearwood March 11, 2015 2:37 pm 

      I agree, Joe. The piece articulately states many of the thoughts that have been rumbling around about my head in a less well-formed way.

      The problem I have is that I’m not sure liberal feminism is having much of a crisis.

      While liberal feminism signs up to the dreadful realities of militarised neo-liberalism, plus more high-profile female co-ordinators, there will only be a crisis if militarised neo-liberalism encounters a crisis, in the form of a collective immovable opposing force.

      Look at the things Hillary’s liberal feminist supporters are choosing to ignore – she actually watched the extra-judicial murder of Osama Bin Laden in front of his family; she called President Mubarek “one of the family” – the guy who’s security forces targeted women activists with sexual harassment and any public humiliation to get them off of the streets, off of the public stage and back in the domestic space where they belong.

      Kevin has marshaled much more in terms of her atrocious record, but who’s listening? – the circus is coming to town and the liberal feminists want Hillary as ring-mistress.

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