On Sunday, Hillary Clinton formally announced her candidacy for president in 2016. She has a website, a YouTube channel, and the hopes of millions of Democrats. Mrs. Clinton faces declared Republican candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and a host of unknown conservatives. She also comes with baggage; most notably, the much-trumpeted and thoroughly investigated Benghazi attacks. And the sexist and flat-out false attacks from right-wing “media” have already begun, thanks to Rush Limbaugh.
Last month, Limbaugh launched into a signature hateful tirade against Clinton, highlighting a group who call themselves “HRC Super Volunteers,” HRC standing for Hillary Rodham Clinton. This group is not affiliated with Clinton’s campaign in any way; they are just a group of very passionate supporters with a few social media accounts. The HRC Super Volunteers have been warning media outlets that if those outlets use what the group deems “sexist” commentary, HRC Super Volunteers will call them out for it. The group went so far as to contact a reporter for the New York Times, and according to the reporter, they told her not to use “sexist words” like “polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, and over-confident.” HRC Super Volunteers sent out a Tweet on March 25, which read:
We are HRC Super Volunteers, We are Legion, We do not allow sexism, We do not forgive words like “polarizing” or “calculating” Expect us.
While addressing this, Limbaugh told his listeners HRC Super Volunteers are the Hillary Clinton campaign. They aren’t, and have gone on the record stating they are not part of any campaign, and never have been. They are simply hugely loyal, over protective fans and supporters of Hillary Clinton. But Rush never lets the truth stand in the way of a good old-fashioned misogynistic rant. He called NYT reporter Amy Chozick “infobabe,” then proceeded to read some of the words with which the HRC Super Volunteers take issue. Limbaugh also said Mrs. Clinton is somehow behind the email to Amy Chozick:
…and Mrs. Clinton is not only asking for this, demanding for this result…
Hillary Clinton did not send an email to a NYT reporter, demanding certain words not be used to describe her. A group of Clinton fans sent the email – a group not affiliated in any way with Clinton’s campaign. John West, one of the group’s founders, told the Washington Examiner:
We’re not at all attached to the campaign, not at all. All we are is a Facebook group of Democrats. We met in 2007 and stayed connected afterwards.
To be fair, “polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, and over-confident” are not sexist words. One could use all of those to describe a male candidate, and many writers do. I personally have called Ted Cruz polarizing, ambitious, and over-confident. This doesn’t have anything to do with his gender, just his personality and beliefs. Most of the GOP candidates are polarizing, using fear, lies, and manipulation to divide this country even more than it already is. Does saying that make me sexist? No, and using those words to describe Hillary Clinton would not make the writer or pundit sexist, either – unless said writer or pundit included the words Rush Limbaugh snidely implied should be used to describe Mrs. Clinton. Those words include shrill, hysterical, bossy, wrinkly, and bitch. He didn’t say bitch, of course, he said “the word that rhymes with ‘witch.'”
HRC Super Volunteers might be a little tightly wound, and they might be warning against words that are not, in fact, sexist. Their lack of nuance does not mean the right-wing won’t use sexist commentary to attack Hillary Clinton. But by threatening reporters, and labeling everything sexist, HRC Super Volunteers makes it much more difficult to identify and protest actual sexism. Remember: not all right-wing pundits are as blatantly horrible as Rush Limbaugh. They’re subtle; they use code words and dog whistles, and most of them don’t just come right out and call a law student a “slut.”
Odds are, we will be inundated with attacks on Hillary Clinton’s gender, because conservatives are scared to death of her. She’s smart, she has appeal, she understands politics, and she happens to be married to one of the most popular former presidents in modern history. Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, pro-equality, and she received a score of 89% from The League of Conservation Voters. And she can win.
Whoever was behind that email from the HRC Super Volunteers, please stop. We need to be able to point out actual sexism and misogyny, which is made much more difficult if your group labels every adjective in the world as sexist and/or misogynistic. There will be plenty of horrible attacks against Hillary Clinton for you to rile against, just bide your time. I will rile against them, too, but I am not going to rile against the word insincere, or the word calculating, or the word ambitious.
It’s one thing to support a candidate; it’s quite another when you try to dictate how writers and reporters can write and report about that candidate. Whatever happens in the coming months, it is my sincere hope that HRC Super Volunteers learns to pick their battles, and does not continue to minimize true sexism and misogyny by calling every possible negative word written about Hillary Clinton sexist and/or misogynistic. That does a great disservice not just to Hillary Clinton, but to all of us.