Hillary Clinton: a man in a woman’s world

There are 1,001 reasons to hate Hillary. The fact that she’s driven and ballsy is not one of them. PLUS: Sean Collins on Democratic dysfunction.

Brendan O'Neill
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Here, Brendan O’Neill argues that Hillary Clinton is the only man left in the presidential campaign. Further below, Sean Collins reports on the bizarre outbreak of Democratic dysfunction over the weekend.

Hillary Clinton can’t seem to do right for doing wrong. When journalists asked her recently, for the 12,672nd time, why she is clinging for dear life to the primary process, despite the fact that Slate magazine’s ‘Hillary Deathwatch’ now puts her chances of winning the nomination at 0.4 per cent, she said: ‘My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? And we all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.’

Eh? Come again? What exactly was Hillary implying here? That she’s staying in the nomination process in case another, certain Bobby Kennedy-style politician gets bumped off? Even worse, was she secretly – in some bizarre Clintonesque code understood only by disgruntled white underclass voters – ‘wishing an assassination attempt’ on Obama? The media went wild over what is now known as ‘Hillary’s assassination remark’; even after she expressed regret for her fairly innocent slip of the tongue, online ‘Hillary Haters’ feverishly discussed her wicked plans to have Obama taken out of the frame.

The most striking thing about ‘Hillary’s assassination remark’ was the media’s insistence that she should publicly, sincerely and probably endlessly apologise for it. And when she didn’t – instead issuing what were denounced as ‘non-apology apologies’, including the claim that she only mentioned Bobby’s assassination because poor Ted Kennedy has been on her mind since his cancer diagnosis – the media went in for a kill of their own. ‘Clinton just can’t show weakness’, sniffed one observer. ‘It must always be strength.’

Apparently, says one commentator, normal people react to offensive slips of the tongue by saying ‘we’re really, really sorry; we bare ourselves to the party we offended; we speak to them personally; we look them in the eye; we say we don’t know why those words came out of our mouths and we ask their forgiveness’. Not Hillary. She just brushes the incident aside and carries on fighting for the Democratic nomination like a political Cujo. What. A. Bitch.

The attempt to put Hillary in the stocks for failing to apologise shows what lies behind much of today’s ‘Hillary Hate’, the frequently bile-spattered commentary on her character and campaign. At least one reason why Clinton has fallen so dramatically out of favour over the past six months is because she isn’t open, emotional and apologetic enough; she’s too tough, too steely, too stern. She doesn’t fit in a world where politics has become feminised and where politicians are expected to be fragile and flawed. Various feminist writers describe the attacks on Hillary as ‘misogynistic’, claiming that men hate her because she is a ‘woman trying to do a man’s job’. Not so – the reason some people dislike her is because she’s trying to do a man’s job at all; no one, not even men, is supposed to do that these days.

Hillary is continually derided for her ‘masculine’ attitude and values. Feminist academic Camille Paglia slates Hillary’s ‘raw ambition and stubborn, grinding energy’, traits that feminist writers might once have admired, at least before they went into eternal hibernation in academia and took up writing super-dull tracts about the female stars of Alfred Hitchcock movies. A Guardian writer questioned Hillary’s ‘need to seem invulnerable and in control and above error’. Yet as Janet Bagnall at the Montreal Gazette argued: ‘Raw ambition and stubborn grinding energy sound like good qualities in someone who wants to lead the Free World.’ Indeed. And feelings of invulnerability and wanting to appear ‘in control’ (the horror!) might also come in handy if you’re president of America and commander-in-chief of the most powerful army on Earth.

Bagnall believes that ‘Hillary Hate’ shows that even though it is 40 years since women burnt their bras, still ‘the qualities admired in men are found repugnant in women’. Not quite. In fact ‘male qualities’ per se – whether it’s ambition, drive, forcefulness, gumption – are found repugnant in everyone now; they’re seen as alien and inappropriate. So where Obama is congratulated for writing candid memoirs that tell of his identity crisis and drug problems, and where even John McCain is praised for talking about his illnesses and for his constant apologising (‘John McCain is the king of the mea culpa. He admits mistakes he didn’t even make’, says the Guardian), Hillary is attacked for failing to realise that ‘real strength… comes in admitting the mistake’.

Hillary is hated not because she’s a woman, but because she’s the only man left in a presidential stand-off involving a let-it-all-hang-out rich boy from Hawaii and a grizzled old man of the military who has learnt the ‘personal touch’ in recent years. It seems people would prefer it if Hillary kept on blubbing, as she did in New Hampshire, rather than – eurgh! – staying in control. The irony, of course, is that Hillary’s feminine partner (Bill) did a great deal to institute this new politics of emotionalism.

Of course, there are 1,001 reasons to hate Hillary Clinton: her militarism, her political opportunism, her divisive use of the politics of identity. And her insistence on staying in the primaries reveals a great deal about disarray in the Dems: in lieu of any clear party will over who should be the nominee, and what he or she should represent, one woman’s personal ambition can become the driver of political affairs. Yet there is at least one reason to admire Hillary. Her zeal and sense of self-drive are decent qualities, and we could probably do with more of them in modern politics. If today’s politics of emotionalism captures the unheroic spirit of our age – where leaders are expected to emote and empathise with the people rather than provide us with a broad political vision of a better world – then Hillary at least shows that old masculine values live on. I might hate Hillary. But I hate Hillary Haters even more.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here.

A bizarre display of Democratic dysfunction
by Sean Collins

This year’s primary season to determine the Democratic Party’s nominee for president has revealed the party to be seriously divided. And the division took a visible and circus-like manifestation over the weekend.

In Washington DC, the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee gathered to determine the fate of the Florida and Michigan delegations, whose primaries were considered unofficial because they were held earlier than the party had allowed. According to the Washington Post, large numbers of Hillary Clinton supporters were bussed in, shouting and waving signs such as: ‘Count my vote or count me out!’ A smaller number of Obama people were on hand, but they, too, were vocal. One shouted ‘Cheaters!’ at a mother and her four-year-old child who were carrying Clinton signs (1).

The result was a compromise only a bureaucrat would love. To punish Florida and Michigan for leapfrogging the others, their votes were cut in half. The Florida delegates were allocated to the two candidates according to the state’s primary results, while the distribution of Michigan delegates was a negotiated solution lacking any obvious rationale. The outcome was that the Clinton camp received a gain in delegates, but fewer than they had hoped for, meaning that overall it was a win for the Obama team.

Boos and cheers greeted the announcement in the meeting; one heckler called it ‘Lipstick on a pig!’ Chants of ‘Denver! Denver!’ went up from those rallying for a continuation of Clinton’s fight to the party’s convention in the city of Denver in August. And perhaps most worryingly for the Democrats, some started to shout ‘McCain ’08!’ (2)

This embarrassing spectacle of Democratic dysfunction was, ostensibly, the product of a Byzantine nominating process. Allowing the public to select the party nominee is arguably more democratic than, say, a method whereby members of parliament choose their leader. Certainly, the idea behind the American system is to allow more popular input, thus forcing the candidates to broaden their support and build coalitions. In reality, however, the Democrats’ system is a messy patchwork: some states hold primaries, others caucuses, and a few both; and how the delegates are eventually allotted to candidates after the votes are counted also varies from state to state.

When Florida and Michigan held their primaries earlier than the central party liked, the discussion that followed was mainly about how to punish them. But the real question was: how could a modern national party not have control over how its nominating elections were held? Having a variety of selection methods, with states leapfrogging over one another against the central party wishes, shows that the party is not in command. And the end result is more sticky problems – like the ones posed by Florida and Michigan – which can only be resolved by bureaucratic diktat. And, of course, such diktat further undermines any notion of democracy.

Moreover, the fudge over the Florida and Michigan delegates shows that the Democratic Party is not a party in a traditional sense. Will Rogers, the cowboy and performer, famously cracked: ‘I belong to no organised party. I am a Democrat.’ But joking aside, the Democrats lack the central control that most Western parties have, or at least used to have. Although the party has always been a coalition of interests, in more recent years its base of support has been eroded, leaving the party as an institution in disarray (3).

It was assumed by most that the Clintons had an iron grip on the party hierarchy. But this campaign has shown how uncertain their grasp really is. One of the first warning signs was the way in which Obama was able, early on, to raise more money from the big party funders than Hillary. The meeting in Washington at the weekend revealed how much the Clinton ‘machine’ has ground to a halt. It was ironic that the Clinton fixer, Harold Ickes, who wrote the ground-rules for the Rules and Bylaws Committee, was left to plead his case hysterically to committee members, which included Clinton supporters who abandoned her and backed the compromise. As one commentator put it: ‘This is Barack Obama’s party now.’ (4)

The outcome in Washington had very little impact on the overall delegate math. After yesterday’s primary in Puerto Rico (which Clinton won by a two-to-one margin), and with primaries approaching in Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday, Obama will have a majority of elected or ‘pledged’ delegates. However, he will not have enough delegates to claim a majority of all delegates. To do that, he will need help from the so-called ‘superdelegates’, the party officials who comprise about 20 per cent of the total vote. As we went to press, Obama needed approximately 25 of these superdelegates, and he may obtain that many by Tuesday evening and thus be in a position to declare victory. Even if he doesn’t close it out on Tuesday, he is likely to do so some time this week.

But the political world still wonders: what will Hillary do? Will she concede this week? Or will she continue her fight to the convention? At this point, it seems more likely that she will drop out. She has already been winding down her campaigning. But, you never know, this primary season has been full of surprises.

Clinton would need to balance any inclination she might have to press on against what are bound to be resounding calls for her to step aside in the name of party unity. Indeed, for some time now, Obama supporters have been putting pressure on her to shut up shop. Although Clinton has been trying to defy very unfavourable odds, her desire to continue is not really surprising – it’s a traditional power play, and she is trying to strengthen her hand for the future, whether that be in a Obama cabinet role, the Senate or perhaps another run for the top job in the future. The calls for her simply to quit show an unwillingness on the part of the Obama campaign to engage in political debate (5). For weeks now, the media coverage has been all about the ‘Hillary Deathwatch’, with one burning question being asked: ‘Will she exit graciously?’ This has taken the place of any debate on issues.

Obama may be a virtual lock-in for the nomination, but the way in which the primary season has ended has exposed real problems for him and the Democrats. Since 4 March, he won only six of the 13 Democratic contests held, drawing 6.1million votes, less than Clinton’s 6.6million (6). And now he will need the superdelegates to carry him across the finish line.

More to the point, the Obama-Clinton battle leaves the Democrats bitterly divided on the basis of identities: black/white; men/women; old/young, and so on. Obama may be able to overcome these rifts in the general election; the contest against McCain is likely to have its own dynamic. In previous elections, candidates who lost certain groups in the primaries were then able to regain them in the general election, and there are signs already that Obama might gain more support among white workers than Al Gore did in 2000 (who lost them by 17 percentage points) or John Kerry in 2004 (who lost them by 23 percentage points) (7).

But deals like the one reached about Florida and Michigan will not repair divisions – as the reactions to the compromise showed, the deal seems to have exacerbated the divisions. Technical fixes will not address what are, underneath, political problems. Obama is now being called on to ‘tend to’ certain groups, to look after their interests. The problem is that a focus on any particular group holds out the potential of antagonising another one.

The divisions in the party have emerged because, in the absence of political direction, Democrats have turned inward and attacked each other. Only a universalistic political vision can provide the basis for common purpose, but, Obama’s rhetoric notwithstanding, there has been no sign of that in practice so far – and I wouldn’t advise holding your breath waiting for one.

Sean Collins is a writer based in New York.

(1) Democrats come together to tear their party in half, Washington Post, 1 June 2008

(2) No end for the Dems’ disunity, Time, 1 June 2008

(3) See The hole at the heart of the Democratic Party, by Sean Collins, 28 March 2008

(4) Is it Barack Obama’s party now? Firstread 31 May 2008

(5) See After Pennsylvania: demography is destiny, by Sean Collins, 24 April 2008

(6) Clinton wins Puerto Rico, but her fate is still uncertain, New York Times, 2 June 2008

(7) Class Dismissed, New York Times, 29 May 2008

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