November 6, 2007

Unsex me ... not

Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty.
Macbeth - Act I, scene v

via memeorandum

Regarding the recent Democratic debate the New York Times asks if there are Different Rules When a Rival Is a Woman?

A critical question in this campaign — how to run against a female presidential candidate, or as one — has burst into the foreground in the aftermath of a Democratic debate last week at which Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was repeatedly challenged by her rivals and the event’s questioners.

Some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are accusing rival candidates and the questioners of “piling on,” to use the words of the Clinton campaign, at the debate, which rattled the Clinton camp. They noted that John Edwards had been especially critical of Mrs. Clinton.

“John Edwards, specifically, as well as the press, would never attack Barack Obama for two hours they way they attacked her,” said Geraldine A. Ferraro, the 1984 vice presidential candidate who supports Mrs. Clinton. “It’s O.K. in this country to be sexist,” Ms. Ferraro said.

“It’s certainly not O.K. to be racist. I think if Barack Obama had been attacked for two hours — well, I don’t think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours.”

This is, of course, utter nonsense. If Barack Obama were leading the field everyone would be piling up on him. (And there'd be his defenders who would claim that this only happening because he's black and that if Hillary Clinton were running she wouldn't be subjected to the same scrutiny.)

What bugs me about Hillary's stance (and I'm assuming that her defenders are promoting her talking talking points) is that Hillary wants it both ways. She wants to be taken seriously as if she were "one of the guys" but she also wants protection from criticism on account of her gender.

We actually saw this scene before seven years ago in her first campaign for the Senate. Her opponent was Congressman Rick Lazio of Long Island and in their first debate, he approached her asking for a commitment to shun "soft money."

In the initial New York Times editorial about the debate, Rep. Lazio's ploy isn't given much attention.

He also scored the evening's theatrical coup when he approached his opponent's lectern and dared her to sign a pledge to swear off soft money. But Mr. Lazio also ran the risk of seeming overbearing, or even rude, and he stumbled a bit when questioned about an independent campaign ad with a doctored picture of Mr. Lazio and Senator Moynihan.

However that same day columnist Joyce Purnick raised the rhetorical ante

It was a reminder that the playing field is not level and that there are unwritten rules for women in politics, still. Just as an aggressive female politician will be labeled shrill and unappealing while an aggressive man will be, well, manly and tough, a male candidate can't be too harsh toward a female opponent because he will come across as a bully. Same for the reporters. Mr. Russert was doing his job and did it well. But his style made this viewer, and surely others, cringe. Same for Mr. Lazio.

Not fair, absolutely. Not fair. But that's how it is and that is why, we predict, the Russert-Clinton moment, followed by the Lazio paper-signing act, will be what most viewers take away from last night's debate in Buffalo.

She used the "b" word. Lazio was a bully.

The next day opinion columnist Gail Collins upped continued the theme

We're getting carried away. As did Mr. Lazio. He called Hillary Rodham Clinton ''shameless,'' and invaded her space, stalking across the stage waving a campaign finance pledge. When a question about her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky left her looking as if she'd had the wind knocked out of her, Mr. Lazio eagerly piled on with a verbal kidney punch.

Now this is a guy who's supposed to be romancing the suburban women voters. People, how many times do we have to point out that women do not like men who yell?

(emphasis mine)

Again we see that Lazio wasn't wrong because he broke the rules of decorum for a debate; he was wrong because he did it to a woman.

It took a few days but Hillary Clinton picked up the theme and ran with it.

Most pointedly, however, Mrs. Clinton exploited an opportunity before a friendly audience of women to make a concerted attack on Mr. Lazio's debate tactics. Many supporters of Mrs. Clinton said they found Mr. Lazio to be pushy and disrespectful during the debate in Buffalo -- bullying her in a way that he would not have bullied a male opponent.

Mrs. Clinton's senior advisers have seized on that notion to blunt favorable portrayals of Mr. Lazio as strong-willed and determined, and Mrs. Clinton joined the effort yesterday. Expanding on a comment she made the morning after the debate, Mrs. Clinton received knowing chuckles and applause when she said having two younger brothers was the best preparation for her sometimes bruising encounter with Mr. Lazio.

Though the word "bully" only appeared in a few stories over the next month, it was a characterization that stuck to Lazio and he lost rather badly in the general election.

In order to achieve her ambition, Lady Macbeth wished to harden herself and forget her vulnerable side. Sen. Clinton seeks to achieve her ambition by exploiting that vulnerability.

Columnist Gerard Baker of the London Times captured that aspect of her campaign beautifully.

There stood Mrs Clinton, the little woman, caught like a frightened doe between her two principal rivals. The shameless John Edwards pounded her repeatedly over her tough foreign policy stance and her dishonesty. Barack Obama, the more reluctant pugilist, landed softer jabs, still designed to tenderise her. From the wings, the also-rans - all male - threw a few lusty punches.

Needless to say, the Clinton campaign seized on the opportunity that the spectacle presented. They issued a video after the debate that emphasised the narrative - Little Woman Waylaid by Big Bullies.

It was pure Clinton. Having spent a lifetime insisting that women should be treated exactly the same as men, Mrs Clinton has been quite brilliant at exploiting her femininity.

Any candidate for office will obviously exploit any advantage he or she can. Hillary Clinton is no different. But it's hard for her to claim that she, in some way, is a feminist pioneer when she uses claims of gender specific helplessness to advance her political career.

John Podhoretz aptly calls it "self parodying feminism."

Getting back to the Times's question up top, if the rules are different when a woman is running. They may well be different, especially with Sen. Clinton. And if so, the Times appears to have had a role in establishing those rules.

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz had a good take on the subject.

The initial wound is certainly self-inflicted. Hillary did sound like someone trying to have it both ways by praising Eliot Spitzer's plan on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants without endorsing it, by saying that she and her husband aren't blocking release of her first lady records when they've certainly slowed it down.

It's the damage-control phase, though, that's really striking. Was it wise for Hillary strategists to gripe, on background, about Russert's questions? And would the media reaction have been the same if Rudy had been grilled by Tim and complained afterward about unfair treatment? Somehow I doubt it.


Posted by SoccerDad at November 6, 2007 6:08 AM
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