Hillary Clinton and Sexism

by Don Boudreaux on May 24, 2008

in Current Affairs, Politics

In this article in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, I discuss Hillary Clinton’s allegations that her bid for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination has been harmed by sexism.  (In case that first link doesn’t work, try this one.)

Here’s my concluding paragraph:

I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. But if I ever become
convinced that Mrs. Clinton is correct that sexism played a role in her
disappointing showing in the Democratic primaries – and that
she truly is her party’s strongest candidate to take on John McCain – I
might finally join a party: the GOP. At least it’s not infested with

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Xmas May 24, 2008 at 10:58 am

Your logic here is like judo. Thank you.

Speedmaster May 24, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Big smile on my face this morning in Starbucks (proudly drinking non-fair-trade coffee) when I flipped through the WSJ and saw your letter. ;-)

Justin Bowen May 24, 2008 at 2:30 pm

I wonder if your arguments will be repeated by the talking heads…

Mesa Econoguy May 24, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Peggy Noonan has a great juxtaposition of Hillary with 3 other politically powerful women in the Wall Street Journal:

Sex and the Sissy

effay May 24, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I loved the piece in the Journal when I saw it today. My only disagreement is that Hillary is probably the stronger candidate because Republicans and independents are even more racist than Democrats, rather than less sexist. The main point, though, is great: Republicans aren't the only racist and sexist voters out there – there are also these people called Democrats.

brian May 24, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Your logic is faulty, Don. It's perfectly consistent to say that (1) Hillary is a victim of sexism, but (2) she is the stronger candidate against McCain. However valid these claims are individually, they are not mutually exclusive, and they are still perfectly consistent with (3) Republicans being more sexist than Democrats.

Here's why:
Define sexism as a tendency to favor males of females (but not a single minded focus on this factor–people can care about more than one factor)

Assume that X% of Republicans are sexist
Assume Y% of Democrats are sexist, where X>Y.
Consider a sexist Democrat. He will therefore vote for Obama, making Hillary a victim of sexism (1).

Now, the general election of McCain vs. Hillary:
The Y% of Democrats who voted for Obama are not single-mindedly focused on sexism–they also care about policy! Sexism is simply a tendency, however strong. Therefore, a large majority of the sexist Democrats will decide that their desire to see Democratic policies outweighs their tendency to favor males. Thus, Hillary wins much of sexist Democrat vote in the general election, making her (2) the stronger candidate against McCain, despite the fact that Republicans are more sexist (3).

vidyohs May 24, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Mesa Econoguy,

Thanks for the connection to Peggy Noonan's piece. Good stuff

I only have one comment though:

Everyone should remember that these words Peggy wrote will work equally well for Obama:

"It is insulting, because it asserts that those who supported someone else this year were driven by low prejudice and mindless bias.

It is manipulative, because it asserts that if you want to be understood, both within the community and in the larger brotherhood of man, to be wholly without bias and prejudice, you must support Mrs. Clinton (Barrack Obama)."

To show the world that we are "……….whatever" is the most stupid reason I can think of to vote for someone.

Lee Kelly May 24, 2008 at 6:12 pm

"Define sexism as a tendency to favor males or females" – Brian


In the good ol' days, to say that someone was racist or sexist meant that they supported inequality of legal status between the races or the sexes, not simply that they have "a tendency to favour males or females". It would seem that I am both a racist and sexist, and it is not something about me which I plan on "fixing".

Jay May 24, 2008 at 6:15 pm

Does anyone think Hillary is regretting printing her first name "Hillary" on all her campaign propaganda instead of "Clinton"?

You can point to multiple incidences where Hillary invoked sexism to gain votes of those that are sexist in that they will prefer a female to a male (yes this contingency exists).

brian May 24, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Lee Kelly:

Fine. Define sexism as a tendency to prefer someone for social or political position on the sole basis of his or her gender. My argument still holds. The issue I was trying to illustrate in my definition make is that sexism is a tendency. For example: a sexist man is unlikely to prefer Adolf Hitler to Mother Teresa simply because he's a man.

The problem with Boudreaux's argument is that it doesn't take into account second-preferences. He's assuming that all sexist voters will vote for McCain, no matter how much they prefer Hillary's policies. I'm saying that assumption is unjustified because people care about more than one thing.

Xmas May 24, 2008 at 8:47 pm


Your argument that sexist Democrats would still prefer Hillary over McCain fails for one interesting reason.

For the life of me, I cannot discern any major policy differences between the two. Sure, they have their differences in the fiddly bits of policy, but clear policy differences…not too much.

So, what you are saying that people will vote against Hillary and for Obama and his much more left of center views on the role of government, the war in Iraq, and foreign policy positions, just because he's a man. But when it comes to the general election, they'll ignore the previously very strong sexism and vote for the Democratic centrist candidate over the Republican centrist candidate just because she is a Democrat.

Lee Kelly May 24, 2008 at 9:10 pm


I know the "problem" with Boudreaux's argument. The fact that assumptions are implicit does not make them mistaken, and it is not a critique of such an assumption to cast doubt upon it–every assumption ought to be doubted.

The Dirty Mac May 24, 2008 at 10:00 pm

At least Hillary is ready in the event that Obama gets gunned down.

Mark Brady May 25, 2008 at 1:24 am

Don, I must agree with Brian.

That said, it seems the commissioning editor didn't spot the logical flaw. And you can be pretty sure a goodly number of Journal readers didn't either.

brian May 25, 2008 at 7:05 am


I disagree about your view of the policy differences between the candidates. I think Hillary and Obama are more similar than Hillary and McCain. But it doesn't affect my argument anyway.

Here's why:
Assume you're correct for the sake of argument. If you're right that Hillary is similar to McCain, then in the general election Obama would lose her supporters as they flock to McCain. This would make him weaker candidate of the two in the general election.

Lee Kelly

But I am saying plain and simple that his assumption that people are single-mindedly focused on one factor when choosing a President is just plain wrong. People can care about more than one thing. When you recognize that it's wrong, you realize that his entire argument collapses.

vidyohs May 25, 2008 at 12:02 pm

In the midst of our focus on the B.S. of life, here is a story that will make you feel good.

No meanness, no hate, no greed, no stupidity, and no seeking advantage.


David P. Graf May 25, 2008 at 11:33 pm

FYI. DB's comments were mentioned and favorably commented upon by Tim Russert on today's edition of Meet the Press.

Greg May 27, 2008 at 2:12 pm

This kind of original thinking in an op-ed is all too scarce. Thanks, and congrats on its and your mention in Meet the Press. Too bad Russert didn't mention the blog.

Justin Bowen May 30, 2008 at 1:47 pm

I think someone read your piece…


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