The whole thing devolved into one of those Volume Level 10 stretches of the debate. But first, Hillary Clinton started off low and slow — as if to say, 'I am a serious as a heart attack here, America.'
Here's how the Democratic debate exchange between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), MSNBC debate moderator Rachel Maddow and the former secretary of state began:
SANDERS: So, Rachel, yes, Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent, I hope, ordinary Americans, and by the way — who are not all that enamored with the establishment. But I am very proud to have people like Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva in the House, the co-chairmen of the House Progressive Caucus.
CLINTON: Well, look, I've got to just jump in here because, honestly, Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment. And I've got to tell you that it is ...
It is really quite amusing to me.
Oh, goodness. Did Clinton really mean to suggest that she is not and cannot be a part of the "establishment" because she is a woman, on a Thursday night, on a debate stage in New Hampshire? Well, intended or not, she really did.
And this, folks, should not pass unnoticed.
There are those who insist that race, gender and any other aspects of identity which are immutable or visible are held in one's pocket — or somehow cease to exist until such time that individuals elect to pull them out and "play" them like some kind of cultural ace card. These people are, to put it very simply, plain wrong — or, at least, fortunate enough in their own social standing to remain blissfully unaware.
So, Clinton's fundamental claim that her status as a precedent-setting candidate — the first woman with a real and solid chance at a major party's presidential nomination — is not the problem here. She is who she is. This is a statement of fact.
The problem is what followed — the "exemplifying the establishment" and the "quite amusing" parts. She all but said that a woman cannot be a part of the establishment.
And this, we must say, is simply false.
As of the latest reports, Clinton and the outside groups backing her White House run, had together raised well more than $150 million. That's a figure that makes her campaign war chest the biggest in the entire race — both Democratic and Republican. That, folks, is simply not an outsider's campaign finance ledger.
But this is not simply about money.
Does Clinton truly believe that her time working as a young lawyer on a congressional committee, her time in the Senate, her time as secretary of state, her two presidential campaigns and yes, even her marriage to a U.S. president and role as one of his principal advisers, gave her no power, no connections, no access to those with influence that differs at all from what others can truthfully claim?
The same cannot be said about most women — or even most men.
Has Clinton been a constant champion of reforms of in each of these roles? The answer is clearly some, but almost certainly not all.
Surely, when Clinton comes in contact with other women around the country on the campaign trail, or the woman — and it is almost certainly a woman — who cleans Clinton's home, does Clinton emerge with no sense that these women inhabit spaces much farther flung from "the establishment" than her own?
That's not an attempt to compare or rank women's exclusion or inclusion. That's an attempt to say this: Clinton has no claim — none at all — to outsider status. And she gains little by making such claims on a debate stage.