Hillary Clinton must learn to access her inner bitch
Is there nothing between Macho Man and Humble Granny for Hillary?
In 2008, Hillary Clinton took advice from two men – Bill Clinton and Mark Penn – and campaigned like a man. Now she must figure out how to campaign as a woman. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters
The most famous woman on the planet has a confounding problem. She can’t figure out how to campaign as a woman.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton took advice from two men – Bill Clinton and Mark Penn – and campaigned like a man. Worried about proving she could be commander in chief, Hillary scrubbed out the femininity, vulnerability and heart, in image and issues, that were anathema to Penn. Consciously tamping down the humour and warmth in Hillary and playing up the muscularity and bellicosity, her strategist modelled Hillary on Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher.
“In analysing the current situation, regardless of the sex of the candidates, most voters in essence see the presidents as the ‘father’ of the country,” Penn wrote in a memo. “They do not want someone who would be the first mama, especially in this kind of world.”
Trying to project swagger, she followed her husband’s advice and voted to authorise the Iraq war without bothering to read the unpersuasive National Intelligence Estimate – a move she now surely knows helped cost her the election. Bill Clinton’s philosophy after 9/11, as Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr reported in their book Her Way, was encapsulated in what he told a group of Democrats in 2003: “When people feel uncertain, they’d rather have someone who’s strong and wrong than somebody who’s weak and right.”
Hillary followed this maxim on the day of the war vote in the Senate when, as Gerth wrote last year in ProPublica, she “went further than any other Democratic senator – and aligned herself with President Bush – by accusing Saddam Hussein of giving ‘aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al-Qaeda.’ ”
Gerth asserts that Clinton’s aversion to the subject of Iraq kept her from engaging fully as the nation’s top diplomat during the period when Iraq was crumbling and the Islamic State was rising.
Tears for fearsIowaNew HampshireBarack Obama
She misted up, talking to a group of voters in New Hampshire when a woman asked her how she kept going, while staying “upbeat and so wonderful”.
Her aides thought the flash of tears would be a disaster, that she would seem weak. But it was a triumph because she seemed real. As the Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote in his campaign book, it “let a glimmer of her humanity peek through.”
Hillary always overcorrects. Now she has zagged too far in the opposite direction, presenting herself as a sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van, so self-effacing she made only a cameo in her own gauzy, demographically pandering presidential campaign announcement video and mentioned no issues on her campaign’s website.
In her Iowa round tables, she acted as though she were following dating tips from 1950s advice columnists to women trying to “trap” a husband: listen a lot, nod a lot, widen your eyes, and act fascinated with everything that’s said. A clip posted on her campaign Facebook page showed her sharing the story of the day her granddaughter was born with some Iowa voters, basking in oestrogen as she emoted about the need for longer paid leave for new mothers: “You’ve got to bond with your baby. You’ve got to learn how to take care of the baby.”
She and her fresh team of No-Drama ex-Obama advisers think that this humility tour will move her past the hilarious caricature by Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live of Hillary as a manipulative, clawing robot who has coveted the role as leader of the free world for decades. But isn’t there a more authentic way for Hillary to campaign as a woman – something between an overdose of testosterone and an overdose of oestrogen, something between Macho Man and Humble Granny?
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler showed the way in 2008, deploring the sexism against Hillary and hailing her as the unapologetically tough chick. It was a precursor to her cool “Don’t mess with me” Tumblr meme, showing her with dark glasses serenely checking her BlackBerry on a military plane.
“Bitches get stuff done,” Fey proclaimed in a “Weekend Update” segment on Saturday Night Live that ended with, “Bitch is the new black.”
In one skit, Amy as Hillary described how she would battle Big Oil: “It’s going to take a fighter, not a talker, someone who is aggressive enough and relentless enough and demanding enough to take them on. Someone so annoying, so pushy, so grating, so bossy and shrill, with a personality so unpleasant, that at the end of the day the special interests will have to go ‘Enough! We give up! Life is too short to deal with this awful woman! Just give her what she wants so she’ll shut up and leave us in peace.’ And I think the American people will agree, that someone is me.”
As she hits the trail again, Hillary is a blur of competing images, a paean to the calibrated, artful and generic, a low-key lady who doesn’t stand for anything except low-keyness. She has seen, over and over, that overcorrecting can be self-defeating for her and parlous to the nation, but she keeps doing it.
Let’s hope that the hokey Chipotle Granny will give way to the cool Tumblr Chick in time to teach her Republican rivals – who are coming after her with every condescending, misogynist, distorted thing they’ve got – that bitch is still the new black. – (New York Times service)