Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hillary Clinton - A Woman of Convenience

Official Portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States

Rumors are flying back and forth across the internet that Hillary Clinton is a woman.

In fact, she is, but she flip flops on the issue. She is, one might say, a woman of convenience. She is a man in a man's world, but also a woman with all the privileges and immunities thereof, just as she chooses to be. Maureen Dowd calls it her "Don't hit me, I'm a girl" strategy.

As I have just begun the overwhelming task of grading 90 undergraduate papers, I will limit this post to giving you the links to helpful articles, both past and current, on this topic, along with a few teaser quotations.

Maureen Dowd, in "Gift of Gall" (NYT, Nov. 4, 2007), gives us a humorous look at Hillary's reserved right to contradict herself and in general to be "slippery and opportunistic" without having to endure the rudeness of any man confronting her on it.
Women need to rally to support Hillary and send her money because there are men, men like Tim Russert, who have the temerity to ask her questions during a debate. If there are six male rivals on stage and two male moderators and heaven knows how many men manning lights and boom mikes, the one woman should have the right to have it two ways. It’s simple math, really, an estrogen equation.

If she wants to run on her record as first lady while keeping the lid on her first lady record, that’s only fair for the fairer sex. And if she wants to have it both ways on illegal immigrants getting driver’s licenses, then she should, especially if those illegal immigrants are men, or if Lou Dobbs is ranting on the issue, because he’s not only a man, he’s a grumpy, cranky, border-crazed man.

She should certainly be allowed to play the gender card two ways, or even triangulate it. As her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, said after the debate, she is “one strong woman,” who has dwarfed male rivals and shown she’s tough enough to deal with terrorism and play on the world stage. But she can break, just like a little girl, when male chauvinists are rude enough to catch her red-handed being slippery and opportunistic.
After Rick Lazio invaded Hillary's space at a 2000 senatorial debate in Buffalo, which was almost Hillary's McKinley ending before she even started, Dowd wrote "Her Brute Strength" (NYT, Sept. 17, 2000). "Like Al Gore, Hillary Clinton may not be the warmest candidate, but both do their homework." Dowd observes that Hillary is aware of the need to "be careful to balance her ambition and cold calculation with periodic bouts of victimhood." The BBC observed one such bout. "Rick Lazio...seized an early opportunity to refer to the Monica Lewinsky affair, and accused Mrs Clinton of guilt by association with her husband. When questioned directly about it, she showed a rare glimpse of vulnerability, saying it had been a very painful time for her, and that she still could not look at it from the perspective of history." It was touching, I'm sure.

Dowd puts it succinctly: "Hillary can move up only when she is pushed down." Tim Russert gave her a boost by bringing up the Monica Lewinsky scandal in that 2000 debate. "Mr. Lazio did her the favor of acting sanctimonious, giving her a chance to act sad and vulnerable." Her rise to power has been fueled in no small part by sympathy generated by her husband's infidelity. Dowd cites David Gergen saying that the Clinton relationship, "operates like a see-saw. If he goes down in the relationship, she goes up, and vice versa."

(Incidentally, I recall a liberal female journalist (I think it was Maureen Dowd), writing just after Bill Clinton left office, writing quite candidly on how inhumanly cold Hillary Clinton is, and thus what a horror it would be for her to be president. Perhaps I read it in TIME. Can anyone help with that?)

Peggy Noonan, in "Things are Tough All Over" (OpinionJournal, Nov. 9, 2007) compares Hillary's conveniently played "Don't hit me, I'm a girl" card to the conduct of genuinely great stateswomen (she includes Angela Merkel):

The point is the big ones, the real ones, the Thatchers and Indira Gandhis and Golda Meirs and Angela Merkels, never play the boo-hoo game. They are what they are, but they don't use what they are. They don't hold up their sex as a feint: Why, he's not criticizing me, he's criticizing all women! Let us rise and fight the sexist cur.

She then points out criticism of this maneuver from the feminist left:
When Hillary Clinton suggested that debate criticism of her came under the heading of men bullying a defenseless lass, an interesting thing happened. First Kate Michelman, the former head of NARAL and an Edwards supporter, hit her hard. "When unchallenged, in a comfortable, controlled situation, Sen. Clinton embraces her elevation into the 'boys club.' " But when "legitimate questions" are asked, "she is quick to raise the white flag and look for a change in the rules."
Finally, she compares Thatcher's toughness with Hillary's:
A word on toughness. Mrs. Clinton is certainly tough, to the point of hard. But toughness should have a purpose. In Mrs. Thatcher's case, its purpose was to push through a program she thought would make life better in her country. Mrs. Clinton's toughness seems to have no purpose beyond the personal accrual of power. What will she do with the power? Still unclear. It happens to be unclear in the case of several candidates, but with Mrs. Clinton there is a unique chasm between the ferocity and the purpose of the ferocity. There is something deeply unattractive in this, and it would be equally so if she were a man.
This is the difference between statesmanship and self aggrandizement, between government properly speaking and elective tyranny.

Lastly, let me draw your attention to what Judith Warner wrote this past spring, "The Really Real Hillary" (NYT, March 14, 2007). She argues that Hillary's problem is precisely her inability to do "the woman thing."
Poor Hillary Clinton. Not only does she have to overcome the electability thing, the likability thing and — with some voters at least — the Bill thing. Now she’s got to live up to the whole woman thing — the promise that, as Ellen Malcolm, president and founder of the fund-raising group Emily’s List, recently proclaimed on behalf of all women nationwide, she will be “a president of the United States who is like us.
Hillary doesn't get the women's vote just by being a woman. She has to come across to women as "real." Claire McCaskill did "real" at an Emily's List luncheon.
“I can’t believe I’m here. ... I can’t believe I’m in the room with these giants in our government,” she told the crowd, recalling the “pinch-me moments” she’d experienced upon arrival in Washington. (She also said she wanted to hug every person in the room.)
Warner admires Hillary Clinton, but sees the different natures she has to combine (or feign to combine) if she is going to get elected president.
Hillary’s a real tear-stopper. She has a voice that is metallic and somewhat atonal. She has the sentence structure and cadences of a political science professor. I do not mean these things as insults; she is trying out, after all, for the job of president of the United States, not fairy godmother. Nor, for that matter, your best friend. Hillary’s friends say she is warm and certainly very real. But she clearly isn’t wired to project “realness” on the national stage. And frankly, for political figures, projection is what matters most. It’s the mimicry of authenticity that carries or sinks them. It either rings true — in the case of women, by setting off lots of “just like me ... or my sister ... or my mother ... or my best friend” bells — or it falls flat.
Two who have this ability, whether by nature or by self-nurture, are Nancy Pelosi and Hillary's chief political adviser, her husband.

Pelosi’s got her reality show down pat. She’s an Everymom, the strict taskmaster who will rip the throat out of anyone, including her own kids, who behaves badly. When she swells with pride — as she did the other day, twisting her shoulders in girlish excitement as she discussed Hillary’s run — you get all warm and happy inside. You can picture her shaking a finger in the face of major potentates, filling them with fears they didn’t know lay dormant in their psyches. Her performance of femininity is so far superior to Clinton’s that it’s painful. That doesn’t mean she’s a better woman or more “real”; it’s just that she’s got the schmaltz factor all sewn up. Schmaltz — what my piano teacher, with some desperation, used to urge me to put into my playing — is something that Bill Clinton just oozes. But Hillary doesn’t.
We can see her addressing this issue.

Just as her husband was the first black president, Hillary Clinton may become not only our first woman president, but also our first transgendered president.

(Well that was a lot more than I had hoped to do. Off to class prep and grading.)


dilawar khan said...

So this insistence on being "real" breaches even the political arena. I am reminded sharply of a comment Dr. Wood made and echo his sentiment when I say that I have no desire to elect Holden Caulfield.

David C. Innes said...

Yes indeed. I am continually amazed at this inability on the part of many to see the humanity of a person in his ordinary public conduct. They cannot accept him as "real." Students are delighted when they see any silliness in me. Then I'm real. Then I'm human. It's as though people can't relate to someone until they have seen him in his underwear. As a pastor I was counseled to cry more. People would know that I was human. But why should there have been doubt? Perhaps the successful presidential candidate will be the weepy one who makes lots of mistakes on the campaign trail and promises to make even more when in office, i.e. the one who best convinces us that he or she is "human."

dilawar khan said...

Even more ironic is the fact that we do seem to be most "human" when we make mistakes, which would lead me to conclude the fallen state of man is well evidenced indeed. However, you know secular life has reached a sad place where alternatives Christ are no longer alternative means of salvation ie good works, secret words etc. but rather our alternative is a celebration of our sinful state.

David C. Innes said...

"secular life has reached a sad place where...alternative means of salvation ... is a celebration of our sinful state." Yes that is indeed very telling. Something very Romans 1 about that.