Letter to the Editor of Vanity Fair

*published in October 2008

It makes perfect sense, in the aftermath of a failed endeavor, to attempt to explain the failure.  But the analysis of Hillary’s failed campaign in the August issue of Vanity Fair falls short of the kind of thoughtful critique that could afford Hillary some measure of the enormous positive recognition she deserves.

There’s nothing wrong with examining the ways in which Hillary and her team might have contributed to their own downfall.  I say, let’s look at what went wrong internally—but let’s abandon the mocking tone and the now-tired starting assumption that Obama did it right, Hillary did it wrong, and “blaming sexism and the media” is a cowardly aversion of responsibility. Readers of this article are directed to look no further than the campaign’s internal challenges for its cause-of-death.  A more respectful, judicious argument would have at least acknowledged legitimate alternative explanations.

I, along with millions of others, believe that “sexism and the media” are particularly salient alternative (or concurrent) explanations for Hillary’s failure.  The author may believe Hillary “Inflat[ed] her cause to equal that of the abolitionist movement and the suffragettes’ struggle for the women’s vote,” but I see little inflation there. The feminist movement may no longer be as much about achieving big-ticket civil and political rights that men already enjoy, but it may be a harder struggle now than ever.  Now, we have to deal with the most internalized forms of discrimination against women—the forms that are hard to recognize and so very easy to glibly dismiss as “[another woman] blaming sexism and the media” for her mistakes.

Maybe Hillary’s campaign management (or mismanagement) was, in the end, a net liability.  But I’m not convinced the strategies she and her team adopted were necessarily or obvious liabilities as suggested in the August article.  I’m certainly not convinced spontaneous implosion is a sufficiently complete explanation for her failure.  At the very least, I would have liked to see greater sensitivity to the bigger picture, and to a truly incredible candidate, from Vanity Fair.

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