Dogged Hillary practises some new granny tricks

Contender seeks to be seen as dog with a bone compared with feline Obama

After running as a man last time around, Hillary Clinton is now running as a woman.

Matthew Dowd, the former George W Bush strategist who became an independent, says Hillary got it backwards: She should have run as a woman in 2008, when she was beating back a feminised anti-war candidate. And she should have run as a man this time, when Americans feel beleaguered and scared and yearn for something "big and masculine and strong", as Dowd put it.

Despite the deafening dearth of excitement among younger women, Clinton has cast herself as Groundbreaking Granny. She has campaigning with Lena Dunham, Katy Perry and Demi Lovato and is selling T-shirt pantsuits on her website. And she showed up last week on cable TV channel Lifetime, sharing a white couch with Amanda de Cadenet, who hosts a cosy chat show with women. Clinton shared the childhood woe of being told by boys in her neighbourhood that she couldn't play with them because she was a girl.

She told Rachel Maddow she wouldn't rule out an all- oestrogen ticket by choosing a female running mate. A group of women in the Senate – most of whom deserted Clinton for Barack Obama in 2008 – descended on Iowa on Friday in the spirit of sisterhood. "There's this element of women getting to where they are by working harder and being accountable," senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told me on the eve of their swing. "Right now, Americans are demanding that politicians be accountable because they're tired of all the bull going on."


And Clinton told Time reporter Jay Newton-Small for a new book, Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works, that she would govern differently as the first female president. "I just think women in general are better listeners, are more collegial, more open to new ideas and how to make things work in a way that looks for win-win outcomes," she said.

Hard-boiled alpha women

Of course, if she had been a better listener on her healthcare initiative and the Iraq invasion, those two towering issues might not have scuppered her. It always sounds nice to say that women are more collegial and empathetic and helpful to other women and that they see the big picture more clearly, and sometimes it's true. But sometimes it's not – especially with hard-boiled alpha women trying to break gender barriers.

Look at Carly Fiorina’s crash at Hewlett-Packard. Since we cannot know if a woman is going to overcompensate on machismo – as Clinton did on the unjustified Iraq invasion – we may want to look at it a different way. It may be more relevant to ask if someone is a cat or a dog.

The feline Obama began his aloof reign wanting to prowl alone on the stage and he is ending it the same way. His State of the Union speech was an exercise in thumbing his nose at the noxious obstructionist Republicans, and lecturing Americans – who have gone from strong and silent to weak and chatty – to grow up about Islamic State and stop acting as if the third World War has broken out.

The hyper-rational Obama, who disdains easy emotion in politics, has had a hard time offering comfort or capturing the public mood at moments when people don’t feel safe, from the Christmas underwear bomber to the BP oil spill to the rise of Islamic State.

Republican paranoia

Juliette Kayyem, his former assistant secretary for homeland security, said it's important to try to soothe people's fears by calmly explaining exactly what is being done to protect them. The author of the forthcoming Security Mom warned Democratic senators to take Americans' unease seriously when she spoke at the senators' retreat at Nationals Park last week. "Otherwise," she said, "the Republican paranoia, the craziness and hysteria of 'It's the Muslims' and 'Just keep them out' fills the vacuum."

She cited a recent Wall Street Journal story suggesting Republicans may get a boost from "security moms", women who moved towards the Republican Party after 9/11 and who have got jittery again after the spate of Islamic State attacks. The story noted that only 35 per cent of women in a CNN/ORC International poll from December approved of the president's performance on terrorism, compared with 64 per cent who disapproved.

You can paint the fear of Islamic State as overblown and irrational, as Obama suggested to columnists at the White House and in his State of the Union speech, but that's the wrong approach, Kayyem said. "You can say someone is more likely to die in a car this weekend than from a terrorist attack," she said. "But people are feeling it and you can't ignore that fear."

George W was all about the gut and Obama is all about the head and now Donald Trump is soaring by being the opposite of Obama, all about the gut again. Both Clinton and Trump have been emphasising that they will do a lot more schmoozing with legislators and others who disagree with them, vowing to be dogs with a bone, eager canines offering paws, not cool cats stalking away at the first sign of difficulty or when affection is most desired.

"You have to build those relationships and constantly be looking for common ground no matter how small a sliver it may be," Hillary told the Des Moines Register last Monday. At a town hall talk in Iowa on Friday, Trump made it clear that he would not be as scornful of wheeling, dealing and wheedling as Obama.

"You get them in a room and you say: 'Do it,'" Trump said about working on a budget with Congress. "Obama doesn't get anyone in a room. He tried, I think, for a little while and it failed. So he signs executive orders and then everybody sues and you're not supposed to be doing that."

“Cajole! Cajole!” Trump exclaimed. Have you ever seen a cat cajole?

– (New York Times)