Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Feeling badly for Hillary Clinton?

– not exactly because she welled up on camera. On Monday, Mrs. Clinton’s eyes filled with tears when answering a question about how she managed to keep going through the difficult campaigning process. By Tuesday evening, she had won the New Hampshire primary. I felt badly for Clinton on Monday, and it hasn’t totally dissipated with the win.

Predictably, Clinton’s tears are discussed in gender terms (see, e.g., Steinem and Dowd in the New York Times.) These particular commentators are women of the first feminist generation. They’re not the younger women that reportedly came out for Clinton in New Hampshire. Because there is a generation gap between these groundbreaking feminists and (“post-feminist”?) women in their twenties, it’s hard to know whether these younger women agreed with Gloria Steinem that Clinton’s tears were “courageous,” or whether, not (yet?) hardened by the boardroom battles of the past few decades, they simply related to Mrs. Clinton personally through her open emotionality. Just as likely, the tears had little or nothing to do with her win.

The reason I still have sympathy for Clinton is evident in Steinem’s comments, even though those comments were meant to be supportive. In suggesting that Clinton’s tears are “courageous,” Steinem is suggesting that she had a choice – to well up, or not to well up. This comment only makes sense from within the weird debate the media is engaging in over whether Clinton’s tears were genuine and unplanned, or a calculated move to make her seem more “human.” Every candidate is under enormous pressure and is surely exhausted at this point. They are trying to win, through a highly unpredictable and public process, a party nomination that they desperately want. In those circumstances, is it surprising that any candidate’s armor would develop the odd chink? And, seriously, would any other candidate’s authenticity be questioned to the same degree, in the same situation? Clinton wasn’t crying crocodile tears for someone else’s plight; she got choked up because, essentially, she was talking about how tired she was, how upset she was about the directions the present administration had taken the country, and how badly she wanted what she was running for. (Just for the record, bearing in mind the gender angle, I’d say that tears like that suggest nothing about whether someone has the mental toughness to be President of the United States.)

The fact that so many people question Clinton’s emotions, when there’s nothing about the context to suggest she was being insincere, just shows how damaged Clinton is as a candidate. Of course it is hard for women running for positions of power to appear both tough and likable at the same time, and of course Clinton’s run would be seen very differently if she were a man. There’s no question that quite a lot of the antipathy toward her has to do with her gender, but there’s more than that going on. Her real problem as a candidate has less to do with gender than with history and personality. What it seems she’s having trouble shaking is the perception that the Clintons are lacking a moral core – that they’re prepared to do absolutely anything to win. Even in 2008, when it seems that Democrats have a strong chance of retaking the White House (as, um, they did in 2004), this makes Clinton a risky nominee for the Democratic Party.

- posted by Cristie Ford

19 comments:

Michael C. Dorf said...

I don't disagree with what Cristie says here but I would draw a contrast with Obama (after noting that I have just returned from an Obama fundraiser): Yes, Hillary is a sometime victim of sexism but she also plays the gender card repeatedly. Barack, by contrast, has consistently risen above racial politics. I think the most apt (and damning) comparison for Hillary is her good friend and fellow neolib/neocon Joe Lieberman. In 2006, after losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Lieberman cast his decision to run for the Senate as an independent as something he had to do for the good of the people of Connecticut. Likewise, there was Senator Clinton in her teary moment pretending that her sadness was for the party and the country that would be so much the worse if the supposedly-not-ready-for-prime-time Senator from Illinois (that's Obama, not Clinton herself) were to beat her out for the nomination.

Paul said...

I think it is unlikely that antipathy towards her has anything to do with her gender. Her sex, perhaps, but not her gender.

In any event I think rather that her sex is working to her advantage. She (and her supporters) are hiding behind her sex as a means of dismissing otherwise legitimate criticism of her policies.

Mike raises her best comparable. I didn't care for Gore's choice of V.P. either and it had nothing to do with concerns that his being Jewish made him less electable. Like Clinton, Lieberman simply advocates bad policy.

I also concur with Mike on Obama. I am also an Obama supporter and while that mostly has to do with his policies, I also have to say that race being a complete non-issue for him and his campaign is in itself very attractive.

I agree that Clinton is a risky choice for the Democrats. They will lose votes (mine among them) from people who after 8 years of Bush would not otherwise consider voting for a Republican. But I think it is missing the mark widely to think that has anything to do with her sex.

egarber said...

A few observations:

1. I don't think the crying had much to do with her win. It turns out she had made up a lot of ground in the Monday polling after the debates (which tells me Obama's "you're likeable enough" line probably hurt him). The problem is that a lot of polling firms report rolling averages across days. That's probably the way to go in a marathon. But in situations like this, (imo) they should clarify what they're doing and release daily polls as well -- there's simply a lot that can change overnight in a a contracted primary window.

2. Is Hillary not allowed to simply be human? Sometimes people just break down -- I don't see why she shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt there.

3. I prefer Obama too. But folks, the experience issue IS valid. There's no reason to think Obama should be untouchable. I'm not saying HE thinks he is -- but there's a certain tenor out there (how dare you talk about his experience!) among some supporters when the issue comes up.

Michael C. Dorf said...

Obama has plenty of experience. E.g., he and I took a seminar together when I was a 3L and he was a 2L. Surely that counts for A LOT!

egarber said...

Obama has plenty of experience. E.g., he and I took a seminar together when I was a 3L and he was a 2L. Surely that counts for A LOT!

Well damn it! I want to see :30 spots all over the airways about it. Could be the difference! :)

Paul said...

"I prefer Obama too. But folks, the experience issue IS valid."

Only if you think being married to the President counts as experience.

Sobek said...

"Only if you think being married to the President counts as experience."

Experience is not an issue as between the viable Democrats. Paul correctly points out that Hillary doesn't have any experience that Edwards and Obama don't also have. But of course whoever the nominee is, Republicans will end up using inexperience as a talking point.

Yonatan said...

Christie - while I'm not sure I'd be a Clinton supporter if I had a chance to vote, I think both you and some of the comments here fail to give her enough credit.

You say that Hillary's candidacy is "damaged", but how much of that has to do with her gender? the bottom line is that it is Bill Clinton, not Hillary, who has lied to the American people (and presumably - also lied to Hillary in the process); it is Bill Clinton, not Hillary, who has proven many times that he'd do just about anything to get elected; if anyone's moral core should be questioned, by right it should be Bill Clinton, not Hillary. Nonetheless, allow me to speculate that if it was Bill Clinton who was now in the running, the Democratic race would have already been over; Obama would not have won a single state. Moreover, if Bill were to shed a tear about anything - as he has publicly done on several occasions in the past - I don't think anyone would have questioned his motivation or his sincirity. The simple fact is that ANYONE who's running for president is willing to do almost anything in order to win; while the public is happy to entertain that kind of drive in a man (especially if he has a successful record to back it up), a woman is assumed not to possess it. When she does, she's easily categorized as bit$%; and those, of course, are not supposed to cry, unless they expect to get something in return.

Turning to Prof. Dorf's comment - I think it also gives Hillary less credit then she deserves. Having gone back to YouTube to watch Hillary's comment again, she makes it very clear that this is a personal thing for her, which seems perfectly believable; as for mixing her personal and national concerns, I don't doubt for a second that any person who's crazy enough to enter this race wholeheartedly believes that he/she would do a better job than his/her opponents. Do we really think that Hillary thinks Obama is just as good a candidate and is running purely to satisfy some personal ambition? Do all the Obama supporters here think that of Obama too? I very much doubt that. Thinking of oneself as god's gift to the American people is exactly the kind of hubris presidential candidates surely possess. And BTW - while I understand Prof. Dorf's skepticism about Senator Lieberman's sincirity, one must not forget that the people of Connucticut agreed with him, sending th Democratic Party a pretty clear message about their appreciation of its inner politics.

Ori H. said...

Professor Dorf - I have not been following the campaign as closely as I should to make this statement, but here it goes – it occurs to me that unlike what Professor Dorf claimed the Obama campaign has been using race in a very subtle way. There is a sense in his campaign that somehow the mere fact that he is a viable candidate is in it self a great achievement and is in it self the CHANGE I keep hearing about (without ever really understanding exactly what it means). This is never done overtly but there is a very strong subtext to the campaign and to his speeches suggesting that Obama embodies this CHANGE and UNITY, not so much the content of his policies, or his ideas or his record (which does not qualify him for the job as far as I can tell).

Professor Ford – I think you are perfectly right about the fact that this “crying” hysteria proves that gender is an issue in this race. At least people are addressing it (unlike the race aspects which seem more of a taboo)

Yonatan – You are correct that Hillary Clinton is suffering to an extent from the sins of her Husband, however at least one of the main reasons she is a leading candidate for the nomination also has a lot to do with her last name. Neither is her fault, but the enormous leg-up she derived from her association also comes with some baggage.

Anil Kalhan said...

Ori - that doesn't by itself add up to use of race. Rather, the claim you identify has as much to do with not being the choice of the Democratic establishment -- i.e., not being Hillary Clinton. If Bill Bradley had as much success as Barack Obama, he'd have been making very much the same argument in very much the same terms.

Incidentally, the somewhat odd "controversy" over the sincerity of HRC's tears overshadowed another significant moment in the life of the Clinton campaign: the escalation of its argument that the Clintons are indispensable to national security:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/22546400

Ori H. said...

Anil,

That is the official line - Obama is the clean new outside contender. My point is that when I listen closely I hear and see and even feel something more. Something Bradley simply could not have expressed even if he used similar rhetoric. Perhaps it’s just me, maybe being foreign makes my ear not sufficiently fine-tuned and I am hearing nuances where none exist.

Yonatan said...

No, Ori, it's not just you. Not to mention that right now, even the very essence of the Democratic establishment would represent a significant change in government. Obama is clearly talking about a different kind of change; so while there's nothing overtly African American in the campaign - he's not using race in the Jackson/Sharpton tradition - race is never out of the picture.

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