A lot of fuss has been made over this the last couple days. Fox News has been running features with titles like “Reince Priebus blasts NBC, CNN Hillary Clinton film projects,” while Politico reports “GOP to NBC and CNN: Drop the Hillary Clinton Documentary, Or We’ll Drop You.”
At the core, there are really two reasons that the Republicans are all in a tizzy about the Hilary Clinton documentary. The GOP is both: A) angry that they cannot be the party representing the women’s movement and feminism in the upcoming elections, and B) assuming that the documentary will be flattering pro-liberal propaganda. The first is (largely) accurate; the second is (mostly) stupid.
The first: the history here is pretty straight forward. While women have never voted as a unified block—a great fear around the suffrage debates in the early 1900s—since the 1960s and 1970s feminists (and women) increasingly sided with the Democrats, and for good reason.
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed by President Johnson. It included a ban on sex discrimination along with other categories. And yes, I know, the Democrats didn’t necessarily advocate for its inclusion in the bill—the important thing is that they didn’t oppose it, and they subsequently got credit for it.
They, unlike their conservative colleagues, also supported and staffed institutions such as the EEOC (even if it took massive grassroots mobilization to make them do this as historian Nancy MacLean points out). Democrats also supported and got credit for making women’s health more accessible—everything from making contraception a thing average people could gain access to abortion.
The Republican Party didn’t help matters: activists like Phyllis Schlafly helped to cripple the almost-successful ERA amendment. And while we can debate (happily) whether Schlafly was a “feminist,” latter generations of women—for the most part—didn’t see her that way. Instead, she became a symbol for the New Right, organized around issues of forced racial desegregation, religion, and taxes.
What’s all this got to do with Clinton? Well, she herself (and Bill, and my parents) came out of that era and represents the sort of individual who became loyal to the Democratic Party.
The Republicans are so pissed because they don’t have such a legacy to draw upon to attract female voters, and they don’t want that to be the conversation headed into the next presidential election. Instead, they have to play a game whereby they try to convince women that voting for “women’s issues” makes them somehow less than the average (read: male) voter.
This brings us to point two: the GOP is also riled because they assume, quite stupidly, that the documentary will be flattering to her. This assumption is based on all that history and memory sketchily sketched out above. It’s also based on a surprising faith in the “liberal media” they revile so much.
“Equal pay for equal work” is now an accepted norm. More or less, most people won’t explicitly and publicly say that women can’t be a CEO or a lawyer or a doctor or a university professor. Contraception and abortion have survived attack after attack. Contemporary society has shown that Clinton (and my own mother for that matter) were on the right side of history. So, on one level, Republicans should be afraid of an accurate and politically contextualized biography of Hilary Clinton.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things that haven’t happened, which means there is plenty of opportunity for them to play catch-up:
The Clinton documentary, however, is bound to dig up any and all dirt on Clinton whether or not it is or was significant. Why didn’t she leave her husband? Did she do any drugs when she was younger? What’s the most radical (gasp!) thing she wrote back in her salad days? Issues like these will more likely than not play a disproportional role in the feature.
And thus, the Republican Party should have let it play out. By making a fuss and airing false claims about “equal time,” they’re highlighting the historical memory that they are not the inheritors of. They’ve also raised the status of the film to a level it would have never reached without their intransigence.
After all, would a documentary on Mitt Romney really have helped him out in the last election? And will it help the Republicans this time, if–like with the women voters question of previous decades–the GOP candidate’s views on immigration/Latinos is made more prominent?