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