Rhetoric, Code Switching, and Some Defenses of Hillary Rodham Clinton

During Democratic debates Hillary Rodham Clinton regularly interrupts and speaks over Bernie Sanders and the various moderators against official rules. This is not news, of course. However, this has been on my mind, as I try to understand what happened and look at it from various points of view.

My latest thought is that if we analyze the rhetoric of “polite” conversation, voice, sexism, and the general political situation in the United States since its conception, Hillary Rodham Clinton is not interrupting per se. From her perspective, I hypothesize that she is doing what society generally and especially other politicians specifically have taught her is absolutely necessary to even have a chance of speaking, let alone having people actively listening. 

Not too long ago people en masse firmly believed that women were incapable of speaking in public – that such women would harm the entire human race if they survived such physically demanding tasks. Hillary Rodham Clinton cannot be criticized or discussed without such proper contextualizations and recognitions. Regardless of exactly what she says and if it is true or not, her very public political career is living proof of how misguided and sexist science can be (and was).

This training from being First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, New York Senator, and Secretary of State carries forward in her conversations–many of these problematic–in one-on-one situations, including with everyday people. What we potentially see as Hillary Rodham Clinton belittling and interrupting concerned citizens, she may not even think about necessarily. She is in “survival” mode. And no, not in a evolutionary sense. Survival mode of wanting to be heard.

Take recent examples where Black women have asked her hard questions about her past comments:  

These are perfect examples of where Hillary Rodham Clinton did not (and potentially, could not from a psychological and physiological perspective) successfully code switch from speaking with/to other politicians and world leaders to speaking with the everyday concerned citizen. As a result, the rhetoric of these conversations rubs people the wrong way, especially those very aware of historical and contemporary racism and that a “riot is the language of the unheard.”

From the same perspective that the woman in the first video above is considered a hero for “interrupting” and staging a “riot,” Hillary Rodham Clinton is also “interrupting” and staging a “riot” for similar deeply rooted legacies. The problem becomes that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s success is dependent on votes and her ability to code switch and ability to relate to people. This means accepting that in cases she holds supreme power, in at least specific relationships. As she continues to have more power (which increases as the Republicans continue to lose their mind) she becomes less and less “the Other” in most cases.

701909_1565560480424935_8018356191643430922_oHillary Rodham Clinton’s popularity is also increasingly suffering because she has not successfully code switched to a political scene where people are tired of establishment politicians and politicians (at least potential presidents) who say anything less than the full truth. We all know politicians regularly lie, but with the Internet and a generation of the world’s best researchers ever, things are increasingly different. The collective public mind and research skills have access to all kinds of information.

Political success, then, for Hillary Rodham Clinton doesn’t just require that she internalize that she has far more power and voice than the 99% (and successfully make the corresponding code switches), but it also requires that she code switches to a new political and technological environment with brand new hopes and fears, that she code switches to a society where e-v-e-r-y t-h-i-n-g she says will be researched, recorded, and responded to by thousands and thousands on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress/Blogger blogs.

In the 2012 presidential cycle, Mitt Romney was accused of being like an Etch A Sketch board because he so easily changed positions and voiced different positions depending on the exact audience at that time. In some ways too, Hillary Rodham Clinton operates in a similar way – she overly code switches, per se, in this case. She also receives much criticism for presumably lying, misspeaking, and misremembering on a regular basis – all prerequisites of a political philosophy and political structure under attack. Or perhaps less just now under attack and more that people have the everyday power to expose and learn about such code switching. The rules, or the enforcement, of the rules are changing, as are the enforcers. 

As a serious, educated woman in a sexist society, Hillary Rodham Clinton is forced to navigate untraveled roads as the first woman who could really become President of the United States. She has to successfully role-play / code switch from talking with mainly male politicians to talking to the general public in a way no other candidate has because they didn’t have to fight to even be heard. (Of course intersectionality is important – politicians who are male but also non-White, non-Protestant, non-Heterosexual have had struggles as relates to being heard, too.) 

Indeed with 21st-century technology and activism, what it means to be a politician is changing for every one. Hillary Rodham Clinton would do well to try and embrace and help exemplify the Political Revolution rhetoric espoused by Bernie Sanders and his millions of supporters. But then again, just imagine the additional outpouring of sexism that would likely result if she rejected Super PACs, rejected the political status quo, rejected Republicans and conservatism, and called for life in the United States to be revolutionized for the everyday citizen. 

This blog was partly inspired by Professor Miguel A. De La Torre’s “In Defense of Trump,” and his call for people to deliberately find ways of understanding and supporting candidates with whom we disagree. 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda