Factchecking Gail Collins

Gail Collins wrote this ludicrous paragraph in her New York Times column today:

The bottom line on Hillary Clinton is that she’s spent her life championing women and their issues. She began her career with the Children’s Defense Fund, fought for better schools in Arkansas, for children’s health care as first lady and for reproductive rights as the senator from New York. As secretary of state she spent endless — endless — days and weeks flying to obscure corners of the planet, celebrating the accomplishments of women craftsmen, championing the causes of women labor leaders, talking with and encouraging women in government and politics.

These assertions bear a rather casual relation with the truth:

  • Yes, Hillary did “begin her career” at the Children’s Defense Fund, but the job lasted only about a year. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1973, and by 1974 was off working on the Nixon impeachment committee. She joined the Rose Law Firm, representing the elite of corporate Arkansas, in 1977, and became a partner in 1979. While at Rose, Wal-Mart—a company for whom sex discrimination has long been a way of life—was among her clients, and she later joined the retailer’s board of directors. Hillary gets a lot of mileage out of this brief “first job.” CDF’s founder, Marian Wright Edelman, broke with Hillary over her support of welfare reform during Bill’s administration. Though they’ve since reconciled, as recently as 2007, Edelman said this: “Well, you know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they [sic] are not friends in politics. We have to build a constituency, and you don’t—and we profoundly disagreed with the forms of the welfare reform bill, and we said so.”
  • Hillary’s fight for “better schools in Arkansas” included a war on the state’s teachers’ union, making her a pioneer of neoliberal education reform, which holds teachers’ unions in deep contempt. The school reform initiative, which Hillary led, imposed competency tests on teachers. That act that was widely seen as racist because the teaching corps was disproportionately black, earning the enmity of civil rights organizations in the state. According to Carl Bernstein, this criticism “deeply pained” Bill and Hillary, but not enough to make them rethink the struggle. As for making the union the enemy, Bernstein noted that “the ASTA [Arkansas State Teachers Association] was not exactly the antichrist, and in fact had done some pretty good things in a state where the legislature had typically accorded more attention to protecting the rights of poultry farmers to saturate half of Arkansas’s topsoil with chicken feces than providing its children with a decent education.”
  • Hillary is widely seen as a staunch advocate of reproductive rights, but she’s got an immense capacity for equivocation. At a 2005 event in Albany, on the same day as the annual anti-abortion rally in Washington, Hillary described abortion as a “sad, even tragic choice to many, many women,” talked up abstinence education and “teenage celibacy,” and sought common ground with right-to-lifers. She has often said she wants to make abortion “rare,” a characterization that stigmatizes a medical procedure that should bear no stigma at all.
  • Her efforts on behalf of women while Secretary of State were mostly in the realm of symbolism, not actual policy. As I wrote in an earlier post: “[J]ust what did Hillary do to “elevat[e] women and girls as Secretary of State…”? There’s a rather sympathetic book—so sympathetic that the foreword is written by someone who declares a twenty-plus-year friendship with Hillary—on the topic by Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex & American Foreign Policywhich is rather long on citing directives and rather short on reporting accomplishments.” There’s one preposterous anecdote about a “Bees for Widows” program in Iraq—see the link for the full quote—but little to justify the hype. Hillary did, however, help quash a minimum wage increase in Haiti, which would have benefited women garment workers in that country (so much for “championing the causes of women labor leaders”) and supported the coup against Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, who, among other things, fought to make the morning-after pill available in a socially conservative Catholic country. In a 2014 interview, Berta Cáceres, the indigenous rights and environmental activist who was murdered by forces that the coup helped promote, blamed Hillary for legitimating and institutionalizing Zelaya’s overthrow. So much for encouraging women in politics.

But when you’re writing about Hillary for the newspaper of record, you can stuff a lot of baseless nonsense into a single paragraph, and few readers will doubt you.

3 Comments on “Factchecking Gail Collins

  1. You make excellent points. I’ve long wondered about the discrepancy between Clinton’s pronouncements, qualifications and competency, on the one hand, her actual accomplishments, which are often horrid, on the other hand.

    She’s great in debates, and people who work with her agree she knows her stuff. But knowing and reciting stuff in her case either yields no results or results we’d be much better off without. She’s sort of a female Larry Summers.

    I suggest you write to Collins and the Times. Maybe they’ll publish your letter or invite a counterpoint for the Sunday Review.

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