Don’t Fall for the (De)Humanizing of Hillary Clinton

By Peter Daou

If I had a dollar for every time a pundit said Hillary needed to be “humanized” I’d be a wealthy man. Of the many anti-Hillary memes I analyzed in the Hillary Decoder, the implication that Hillary lacks humanity is the most insidious.

You can only humanize someone who is not human.

It is one thing to concede the gap between a public figure’s image and their true personality, another to use that gap as a means to dehumanize them. In Hillary’s case, we see the latter playing out repeatedly. 

Everyone who knows Hillary personally knows the depth and strength of her character. Far from being inhuman, Hillary embodies the best of what we admire in human nature: intelligence, perseverance, discipline, fortitude, humor, grace, compassion.

In my advocacy for Hillary, someone I advised for three years and whom I admire immensely, I’ve shared personal stories that reflect the quality of her character. One episode shines above the others. It is her reaction when a reporter impugned the integrity of her relationship with her daughter Chelsea.

Out of respect and propriety, I will not mention the time, place or venue. Suffice it to say that Hillary’s words and emotions were seared into my mind. In an instant, I saw her pride, her protectiveness as a mother, her sense of dignity, her humanity.

When I say “don’t fall for the humanizing of Hillary” I mean don’t buy into the fallacious narrative that a strong, accomplished woman is somehow not normal, not human. Stripping Hillary of her humanity makes it easier for her more virulent detractors to spew their sexist venom. Terms like "monster" and "machine" are used toward that same goal.

Melissa McEwan elaborates:

This is the most basic, primitive, unapologetic misogyny: Dehumanizing a powerful woman by calling her a monster.

In the New York Times, Amy Chozick writes about Hillary’s mother Dorothy and what she means in the 2016 campaign:

It took a long time for Hillary Rodham Clinton to fully understand the story of her mother’s devastating childhood. But now, four years after her death, Dorothy’s story is forming the emotional foundation of her daughter’s campaign for president.

I had the privilege of seeing the strong bond between Hillary and her mom on several occasions during the 2008 campaign. It reinforced my appreciation for the Clinton family and it informed my understanding of the chasm between Hillary the person and Hillary the public figure.

Of course that chasm exists, as it does for any world leader, popular public figure, or celebrity. Of course a campaign’s task is to bridge that chasm and help the public get past false impressions and connect with the actual person. But let’s not unwittingly enable a major anti-Hillary frame, namely that she lacks basic humanity and is a machine bent on nothing but power and control.

No, Hillary does not need humanizing.


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.