In politics, timing can be everything. Reductive, maybe, but true—just think about how the state of the economy can impact voter priorities; how big international (or national, for that matter) disasters can cast a positive or negative glow upon certain officials; or how the health of a potential presidential candidate can hurt supporter numbers (get well soon, Bernie!). Not that timing is always something that happens to politicians, of course. More often, timing is something that can be leveraged to manipulate responses, make headlines, and act as a distraction from other inconvenient truths.
Take, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s recent media tour de force for the book she co-wrote with daughter Chelsea Clinton: The Book of Gutsy Women. Released on Oct. 1, the book climbed to no. 2 on Amazon’s Best Sellers list by the second day, and nary a day has gone by since its release that Clinton hasn’t been making headlines for one provocative thing or another that she’s said in relation to her marriage, her 2016 presidential run, or that “corrupt human tornado” in office. Suffice it to say that words matter, and that fans and critics alike are hanging on her every comment and ascribing meaning where it may or may not really exist.
It’s a smart media strategy, given that Clinton’s appearances are doing two things at once: helping her shill a book that is ostensibly about “gutsy women” (and who can argue with that cause?), and helping to grease the wheels that drive her toward some much-needed political capital. Promoting her book gives her a reason to reassert her political know-how to a captive audience (because, inevitably, talk show hosts will ask her to weigh in on Ukraine, or Trump’s latest tweet, or her emails); talking about current events gives her a platform to promote her book. A win-win situation, to be sure.
The only problem, though, is that even a well-oiled political machine like Clinton can hit a snag from time to time, and hers came earlier this week when she chose to “jump in” during an interview with People magazine and offer up her two cents about Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his eyebrow-raising tendency to touch women and sniff their hair without permission.
“For goodness’ sake, I’m sorry, I have to jump in because I’ve heard a little bit about that,” she said. “I mean, I don’’t think that the Twitterverse is the American electorate, but there are lots of vocal voices that say all kinds of things.” (False: the Twitterverse unfortunately is, in fact, the American electorate, and disbelieving this truth is part of the reason we got into this four-year mess in the first place.)
Clinton went on to call Biden’s behavior “a little annoying habit … that people are going to pick apart and disagree with,” but that, ultimately, is not the biggest deal. “We can pick apart anybody,” she said. “I mean, that’s a great spectator sport. But this man who’s there in the Oval Office right now poses a clear and present danger to the future of the United States. So get over it. Look at the candidates, look at what they’ve accomplished, look at what they have fought for — and vote for anybody to get rid of Donald Trump.”
And there it is. Though it’s hard to argue with anyone who says the words “get rid of Donald Trump,” regardless of what the context is, it is hard to focus on Clinton’s point when those three words essentially brush aside everything she’s been preaching in her promotion of Gutsy Women: “Get over it.”
Her argument is a defensible one: We need to stop letting in-fighting distract us from the bigger goal of defeating Donald Trump. But her word choice was poor, and detracted from her message, and now here we are. Also, trying to downplay questionable behavior just because you like the guy is the ultimate reprehensible politician move, and a poorly played one at that. There are myriad other reasons aside from Biden’s hair-sniffing that should bring the man under totally valid, justifiable scrutiny, and asking the electorate to “get over” even one of them is in poor taste. But I digress.
With three words, Clinton dismissed the very women who came forward to accuse Biden of inappropriate behavior, setting the tone for anyone else who might feel marginalized and unable to speak up, and — to her own detriment — adding another three-word slogan to her growing cache of damaging catch phrases. (Surely, it hasn’t been long enough that voters have forgotten Clinton’s headline-making, possibly election-losing “basket of deplorables” comment?) Isn’t Lucy Flores a “gutsy woman” too? Amy Lappos? Hell, while we’re at it, wasn’t Anita Hill? Isn’t “get over it” the sort of condescending response that old white men have used to downplay the seriousness of their misbehaviors for decades? And is Clinton aware of how hypocritical and harmful her comment could be to not just to her, but to her party in general?
Granted, this time around, Clinton’s not the one who’s running for the presidency; her good buddy Joe Biden is, but her grating verbiage still reeks of an old boys’ club sensibility (read: patriarchy) that may just turn a lot of younger voters off from the Democratic frontrunner—an unfortunate side-effect of the whole “birds of a feather” idiom. And in turn, this could negatively impact the Democrats’ chance at defeating Clinton’s sworn nemesis, if the polls are to be believed (that Biden is the only chance the Dems have to defeat Trump.)
It’s a dramatic cause-and-effect assumption to make, but the domino effect is not an impossible one, especially since Clinton will likely continue to make her rounds on the media circuit in coming weeks and months, acting as a proxy for Biden specifically and the Democratic party more generally. Time will tell whether or not Clinton’s seemingly dismissive comment will come back to haunt her, but given that the electorate set to make the biggest impact in the 2020 election skews younger, nonwhite, and female—the demographic that rallied behind the women who came forward against Biden — there’s a very slim chance that voters will “get over it” anytime soon.