Whitewashing Hillary: When Lena Dunham and Her Celebrity Ilk Become DangerousPhoto by Scott Eisen/Getty Politics Features Lena Dunham
Not long ago I came across an image—don’t remember where or why—in which celebrated writer and feminist Lena Dunham was clad in a red, white and blue shirt emblazoned all over with the name “Hillary.” It struck me as curious that someone held up publicly as an example of enlightened 21st century thought (I’m not aware of whether Dunham considers herself as such; perhaps she doesn’t) would feel comfortable broadcasting so unabashedly her affinity for Mrs. Clinton, so I looked into it further.
“Nothing gets me angrier,” Dunham said in January to a crowd in Iowa prior to that state’s caucus, “than when someone implies I’m voting for Hillary Clinton simply because she’s female.”
Fair enough; it must be insulting to have strangers imply, or otherwise assert, that her endorsement of Clinton can be reduced to a sort of blind gender loyalty. And to Dunham’s credit, she has attempted to spell out exactly what is it about Clinton she finds so enchanting. The least we can do is consider her own words on the matter.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Clinton’s “commitment to fighting for women” is at the top of the list. After all, it’s an important issue, one about which Dunham is ostensibly serious and which Clinton allegedly “comes at … from every direction.” For example: She “fights for equal pay”; she says she will “fight for more funding” of Planned Parenthood; she “stays current on prenatal-nutrition research”; and she “flies to countries where women are routinely denied basic freedoms … and puts their leaders on blast.”
Summing it up: “In a million ways, for women and girls in every walk of life, Hillary does the damn thing.”
Dunham is also fetched by Clinton’s alleged opposition to racism. “I’ve been moved,” she writes, “by the stories of people across the country who attest to Hillary’s decades of working for social justice in their communities.”
Gun control, “a feminist issue,” factors into the equation as well: “Hillary has a plan specifically to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.”
And lest her audience mistakenly perceive that she finds no fault in her favored candidate, Dunham would like us to know that she recognizes that Hillary has “made mistakes.” One such mistake, as Dunham sees it, is Hillary’s vote in favor of Bush’s invasion of Iraq. But while this was a “huge miscalculation,” Dunham is encouraged by her belief that Hillary “worked her heart out as secretary of state to make up for it.”
“Wouldn’t it be cool,” Dunham inquires rhetorically, “if everyone else who voted for that war did as much to promote peace and human rights around the world?”
One charitably assumes that Dunham either doesn’t know what she’s saying or doesn’t mean it. Otherwise she can and should be disregarded as yet another vulgar propagandist whose supposed empathy doesn’t extend beyond the margins of her own very narrow perspective.
Before continuing, I’ll make a distinction that shouldn’t have to be made because it’s self-evident: we are dealing with someone of a degree of cultural significance who has been enthusiastically campaigning for Clinton from the beginning; we are not dealing with someone prepared to cast a vote for Clinton because they are persuaded by the lesser-evil argument. These are two very different casts of mind and are not equally assailable.
There’s no question that Clinton professes to care about women, just as Barack Obama professes to oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or Mrs. Clinton’s husband professed to believe that the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant he blew up was used by terrorists to produce chemical weapons. The question, of course, is whether we’re justified in taking them at their word. The historical record, as well as common sense, suggest that we’re not.
Dunham’s remark about Hillary flying around “to countries where women are routinely denied basic freedoms” to put “their leaders on blast” is interesting. There are two possibilities: either she fails to recognize the inanity of her own comment, or else she’s trusting that her audience will fail to recognize it. In the former case, she’s ignorant and irresponsible; in the latter she’s dishonest and hypocritical, and should be exposed as such.
Saudi Arabia, as all but the most uninformed of people fully understand, is world’s leading exporter of Wahhabism, the radical Islamic ideology that reduces women to chattel. According to this ideology—which, thanks to US foreign policy, can now be observed all over the Middle East and elsewhere—women are fit to be kept as sex slaves, fit to be genitally mutilated, fit to be punished for exposing their skin in public, fit to be punished (or killed) for resisting an arranged marriage, fit to be punished for being gang raped. With that said, the misogynistic thugs governing Saudi Arabia produce oil and are hostile to Iran; ergo they are a crucial US ally.
As such, while serving as secretary of state, Clinton facilitated billions of dollars in munitions sales to Saudi Arabia; in fact, US arms exports to Saudi Arabia increased by 97 percent during this time. (Recall that, according to Dunham, Clinton is very concerned about keeping weapons out of the hands of those who are liable to use them against women.) These weapons are now being used to massacre civilians—including, of course, women and children—in Yemen and to bolster Saudi Arabia’s regional (and thus global) influence. When said influence increases, so too does Wahhabi-style persecution of women, a circumstance any feminist—indeed, any decent human—finds utterly despicable and ought to resist.
This, presumably, is one way in which Hillary “worked her heart out as secretary of state to make up for” her Iraq war vote.
Another way is perhaps her support for the 2009 military coup in Honduras, whereby, according to Greg Grandin of The Nation, “Clinton allied with the worst sectors of Honduran society.” Grandin’s article, a eulogy for a female activist in Honduras who was gunned down by political opponents, is of particular relevance considering Dunham’s assertion that Hillary is dedicated “to women’s reproductive health and rights” and moreover has a “holistic approach to protecting the vulnerable.”
Consider the following details regarding the rights of women following the military coup Mrs. Clinton helped to consolidate:
Despite the fact that he was a rural patriarch, [toppled president Manuel Zelaya] was remarkably supportive of “intersectionality” (that is, a left politics not reducible to class or political economy): He tried to make the morning-after pill legal. (After Zelaya’s ouster, Honduras’s coup congress—the one legitimated by Hillary Clinton—passed an “”absolute ban on emergency contraception, criminalizing “the sale, distribution, and use of the ‘morning-after pill’—imposing punishment for offenders equal to that of obtaining or performing an abortion, which in Honduras is completely restricted.”)
Elsewhere, Honduran feminists have spoken plainly about the devastating effects of the US-sponsored coup in their country. Believe it or not, many of them reject the idea that Clinton empathizes with their plight. Take for instance the words of Neesa Medina, of the Honduran Women’s Rights Center:
The 2009 coup had repercussions for sexual and reproductive rights for Honduran women…. As a member of a feminist organization severely affected by the support of the U.S. for militaristic policies of recent governments, I must say that it is important that voters take the time to do a critical structural analysis of all of the information in the campaign proposals and previous actions of those running for president. United States support for militarily invasive policies in other countries has a negative impact on the women in these countries.
The current dictatorship under [President Juan Orlando] Hernandez is part of [Hillary Clinton’s] creation. The misery doesn’t just affect women with more brutality, but also our bodies are exposed to the militarist ideology with which they uphold poverty and kill us; to the conservative fundamentalism with which they deny the exercise of our sexual autonomy; and to the possibility of being creative people and not just workers for their factories and way of life.
Clinton, to my knowledge, has yet to put the Hernandez regime, for which she and President Obama bear major responsibility, “on blast” for its abominable treatment of women.
There is also, of course, NATO’s military bombardment of Libya, a horrific and illegal policy decision—spearheaded by Clinton’s State Department—which effectively invited an assortment of misogynistic Islamic gangs to reap the benefits of the chaos sown by the removal of Muammar Gaddafi from power.
According to a March report by Human Rights Watch, Libyan women living in Sirte (now ISIS-controlled territory) endure extraordinary repression. The rule of the land is a hardline interpretation of Sharia Law, imposing unprecedented restrictions on Libyan women’s freedom. For instance, “all women and girls as young as 10 or 11” are required by law “to cover themselves from head to toe in a loose black abaya outside their homes, and to never leave without … a male relative such as a husband, brother or father.” If a woman is caught violating the dress code, her husband is either fined or flogged. Furthermore, “shop owners are whipped and fined and their shops are closed if they receive an unaccompanied woman.” And it perhaps goes without saying that men residing in Sirte are coerced into surrendering their daughters over to ISIS militants, who then force marriage and God knows what else upon the girl.
No doubt the women of Libya can appreciate Clinton’s image, in the eyes of the West, as a model feminist. Remember: she “does the damn thing” for “women and girls in every walk of life.”
In Gaza, where the Israeli government (with unilateral US support) has imposed an illegal siege for nearly a decade, 36 percent of pregnant women suffer from anemia, a direct result of the fact that a staggering 80 percent of Gaza’s Palestinian population is dependent on food-aid. Moreover, owing to regular IDF aggression against the besieged territory, as well as the Israeli government’s practice of administrative detention, women in Gaza are often left to support their families by themselves, all while being unable to find work.
“The siege affects us all, but it especially affects women,” said Tagreed Jummah, director of Gaza City’s Union of Palestinian Women Committees. “In recent years, more women have been forced to become heads of the family because their husbands have been killed, are in Israeli prisons, or are unemployed as a result of the siege. But the majority of these women have no means of earning money.”
In the summer of 2014, while Israeli missiles rained down on the people of Gaza (killing well over 1,000 civilians), Clinton gave an interview in which she dismissed international condemnation of Israel’s military aggression as “uncalled for and unfair”—just one of countless examples of her apologetics for Israeli terror. On that note, Hillary has promised that, should she win the election, she will invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (described by Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein as a “certifiable maniac”) to the White House in her first month in office. Such is her empathetic concern for the men, women and children writhing under the heel of Zionist brutality.
All of this is readily available to anyone mildly curious about Clinton’s humanitarian credentials. One wonders, then, how someone like Lena Dunham, whose primary concern (ostensibly) is the oppression of women, can laud Mrs. Clinton as a person genuinely troubled by and committed to eradicating that very oppression wherever it exists. How, for instance, could she seriously characterize Clinton as a politician who fights to “promote peace and human rights around the world”? Could Dunham be that confused? Or is she merely ignoring facts inconsistent with her argument? Does she understand that her comments could easily (and not illogically) be construed as evidence of a racist disdain for people who happen to have been born outside of the United States?
Dunham ought to clarify whether she believes Palestinians, Hondurans, Libyans, Yemenis, etc. to be somehow unworthy of the human rights she speaks and writes so passionately about. If this is indeed the case, then her arguments in favor of Hillary Clinton, while morally and intellectually bankrupt, make perfect sense.
If, however, she is appalled to learn of her chosen candidate’s (at best) callous indifference to the fate of women in other parts of the world, Dunham should revise her position accordingly. After all, she communicates not only to a broad audience, but a broad audience of young people who by and large represent the future of Western liberalism. By simply ignoring the reality of Hillary Clinton’s worldview (and all of this could just as easily have been said of Barack Obama), Dunham is assisting the corporate media in breeding a generation of “liberals” whose compassion is terribly shortsighted, and who are thus liable to stand back and observe their leaders’ crimes with equanimity—so long as progress is being made on other fronts. When this sort of truncated empathy reigns, as history has repeatedly shown, there’s virtually nothing a wayward government can’t do. And as Orwell demonstrated, there is perhaps nothing more terrifying than an omnipotent state.
I’ll say it again, since reading comprehension varies: this was not written as a rejoinder to the argument that Clinton is preferable to Donald Trump or any other opponent; it was written in response to a relatively influential celebrity who has repeatedly attempted to cast Hillary Clinton as a champion of human rights, which is manifestly preposterous and, in my view, ultimately dangerous. Any number of individuals (celebrities, journalists and pundits alike) could have been substituted for Dunham in this context. One can vote for Hillary Clinton without telling half-truths about her sordid record.