Response to Zelda Bronstein

Response to Zelda Bronstein

At first glance, Zelda Bronstein seems to make a half-dozen plausible arguments in “Feminist Pundits on Hillary Clinton”: to start, feminist pundits didn’t pay enough attention to the Clinton administration’s health care reform effort; second, feminist pundits didn’t pressure Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) hard enough for the single-payer model; third, they didn’t criticize HRC long enough or hard enough for proposing a different model; fourth, they didn’t criticize HRC long enough or hard enough for bungling the entire reform effort; fifth, they didn’t debate “public partnership marriage” sufficiently with respect to its effect on women or the issue of power without accountability; and sixth, by muting their criticism of HRC and other women with political clout, feminist pundits have squelched dialogue and further enfeebled an already debilitated women’s movement.

I call Bronstein’s arguments plausible, but I don’t find them convincing. She evaluates criticism of Rodham Clinton in quantitative terms (how hard? how much? how long?), but these criteria remain vague and subjective. She insists the feminist pundits did too little; the pundits can counter that they did plenty; and there we are—at an unenlightening impasse. Quantitative standards obviously work well in some evaluations, but they don’t in Bronstein’s article. Her scattered examples from the work of almost twenty writers don’t add up to a compelling case.

The overall picture of feminist pundits on Rodham Clinton gets more muddled when Bronstein describes (as she should) how several pundits changed their positions over time and criticized HRC more vigorously. Yes, they did say the correct thing here and there, but even the improved positions didn’t satisfy Bronstein. Too little, too late. In the end, the pundits let the rest of the feminist world down by never adequately defending what Bronstein assumes to be feminist positions on health care and political partnership marriages.

What troubles me most are Bronstein’s implicit presuppositions. She assumes that feminism is so monolithic that all people calling themselves feminists should hold the same positions on health care and political partnership marriages. Feminists—by definition, it seems—have single-payer health care as a top priority; feminists don’t approve of politicians appointing their unelected spouses to important policy-making positions because spouses have too much access to power. I’m a feminist who happens to agree with these positions, but I don’t understand why the positions are inherently feminist.

The single-payer health care model comes from the socialist tradition, from the left. As a functioning system in the real world, it belongs to the “classic” social democratic program that many European nations implemented after the Second World War. Many feminists might support single payer because it looks like the most just and humane model, b...