Socialism, it turns out, can be a form of identity politics. Some feminists, including Suzanna Danuta Walters, brandish a “red-diaper baby” heritage or some other cultural or sentimental affinity to hint that supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy doesn’t just represent some corporate gloss on feminism; it’s a genuinely radical position.
But no one who makes this argument can articulate what, beyond her identity as a woman, qualifies Clinton as a passable candidate for socialist feminists. That’s understandable because, in a primary against an independent socialist who has been attracting an astonishing level of grassroots support, there are no socialist-feminist reasons to support Hillary Clinton.
Socialist feminism assumes that redistribution is the best way to begin improving life for the vast majority of women, both materially and socially. To take a none-too-radical example, in countries like Denmark and Sweden—which offer a broad range of social benefits provided through the state rather than acquired in desperation, as they so often are here, through marriage or a job—women can live more comfortably; raise healthier, more secure children; and sleep with whomever they please. Throughout her long career, Clinton has demonstrated contempt for turning this project into policy.
As first lady of Arkansas, she led the efforts by her husband’s administration to weaken teachers’ unions and scapegoat teachers—most of them women, large numbers of them black—for problems in the education system, implementing performance measures and firings that set a punitive tone for education reform nationwide. Rather than trying to walk this back, Clinton recently said that as president, she would close any public school “that wasn’t doing a better than average job.” Fuzzy math aside, this suggests a regime of pressure on America’s mostly female teaching force—81 percent of elementary- and middle-school teachers are women—that would make her predecessors look like presidents of a giant homeschooling hippie collective. Hillary’s socialist-feminist boosters might want to ask themselves: What kind of socialist feminism supports undermining black women on the job while imposing austerity on the public sector? And lest you think Clinton’s financial hawkishness is reserved for K–12, she also opposes free college tuition, though the United States is the only country where students—57 percent of them women—are saddled with decades of debt as the price of attaining higher education. Defending this position, Clinton recently said that it was important for people seeking a college degree to have “skin in this game.”
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It would be hard to imagine a bigger blow to the material well-being of poor women in America than President Bill Clinton’s move in 1996 to “end welfare as we know it” by signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. As first lady, Hillary wasn’t a mere spectator to this; within the White House, she advocated harsher policies like ending traditional welfare, even as others in the administration, like Labor Secretary Robert Reich, proposed alternatives. Clinton defended her preferred policies by demonizing mothers struggling to get by as “deadbeats” who were “sitting around the house doing nothing.” Rush Limbaugh couldn’t have said it better. Asked recently to comment on this legacy, Hillary declined. And while the last Clinton administration claimed that it would offset welfare reductions with pressure to raise wages (the majority of low-wage workers in this country are women), and while a growing movement is demanding a $15 minimum wage, Clinton has made it clear that $12 is just fine with her.