Bruce Parker

When the Best Just Isn't Enough: Hillary Clinton

Filed By Bruce Parker | February 20, 2008 8:03 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Clinton campaign, feminism, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michelle Obama, politics, Presidential Campaign, women

I have said it before and I will say it again, Barack Obama is pretty fucking impressive. I am not one of the folks who will critique him as being all style and no substance. On some level, when he starts out his more recent speeches, such as the one after Tsunami Tuesday, by saying that he is speaking to the folks who want to believe that change is possible, he is talking to me. I haven’t been shy in my assertion that if he wins against Hillary, I will gladly support him in his quest to become the first man of color to be President of the United States. That said, this primary season has been ridiculously frustrating for me.

Can we talk about Hillary Clinton for a minute? Here is a successful female attorney who has risen to the top of legal and political life. Here is the first woman to have anything resembling a chance to become President of the United States. The reality for those of us paying attention is that there isn’t exactly another woman positioned behind her to try again in four of even eight years.

Hillary Clinton, much to the chagrin of the haters, has been successful. This doesn’t mean that her campaign has been successful or even that she will become President of the United States. It does mean that we have to wonder about the price of success on her level for any woman. Are the poll-driven, triangulation based decisions and intense, unrelenting focus on her experience and qualifications responsible for her being as successful as she has been?

When Clinton shoots from the cuff and expresses her more human side as she did in New Hampshire the voters seemed to respond well. The pundits and her fellow candidates did not. They mocked her and most progressive bloggers have at least implied that she faked her tears. I think that crying or not crying during a town hall discussion has little to do with being a good president. I also think that Hillary probably cried because she was probably pretty sad. Just like any of us would be if we were losing. If change that we had spent our lives fighting for was coming and potentially tragically leaving us behind as it moved forward.

I want to give a nod to the fact that I don’t think becoming the first person of color to be a serious candidate for President is a small accomplishment. I believe that it is huge. I also believe that there is something to be gained from speaking honestly about sexism without it being qualified or silenced. Hillary Clinton’s career from day one has been faced with the hurdles that the patriarchy consistently places in front of women.

All the pant suits, haircuts and stylists in the world can’t change the fact that during the initial years of Bill’s rise to political prominence Hillary wasn’t pretty enough, was too bookish, too engaged and too present for the taste of many voters. When Bill claimed that theirs would be a “two-for-the-price-of-one” special the country was not pleased.

Hillary knows the issues better than the other candidates and has in many ways met the unreachable standards that a woman has to meet in order to be a serious candidate. However, meeting those standards has not been enough in the face of such a talented orator as Obama. This whole post was largely inspired by an article over on about feminists feelings about the Clinton Campaign failure.

I think I would feel a little better about all of this if Michelle Obama wasn’t placed into the role of keeping her husband real and left outside of substantive policy conversations. I like Michelle. I like the idea that her voice and ideas would be a part of leading our country if Obama wins. I would like it even more if the Obama campaign wasn’t relegating a strong intellectual successful woman to the role of caretaker and emotional grounding for her husband.

I know, I know, Hillary Clinton is a poll-driven, kitten eating, baby hating, racist partisan to many of you, but to me I see a woman who has done the best she can to support social change, good causes, the country, children’s rights and her husbands career. I am proud that I have been a Hillary fan for more than a decade before Barack took his Senate Seat.

When I was younger and Hillary was still a hotly unloved first lady by many, I asked my mother if she thought Hillary would ever run for President. My mom told me no. That it would be a long time before we would see a female President. Every night that there is a primary my mother calls me to tell me how she thinks Hillary's campaign is going and how worried she is that she isn’t going to make it. I have stopped reassuring my mother because I am pretty sure she isn’t going to make it as well.

I wonder if change doesn’t mean that a candidate is allowed to be human, that a woman can run for and lose the Democratic Nomination for President without being said to “use her claws” or to be moody if she decides to engage in negative campaigning. When Obama and Edwards flanked Hillary and beat her and her experience back from frontrunner status no one worried that it was because they were moody. We might as well argue that she is hysterical for wanting to win.

Hillary Clinton has not had an easy life as a woman, doing the work that is important to her. Her husband hasn’t exactly been perfectly respectful of her with the eyes of the country watching. All in all Hillary hasn’t done too badly.

Might I suggest that if Obama is your candidate, as he may be mine soon enough, that it doesn’t mean we have to bash women, applaud sexist language, or ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton has fought many of the fights that matter. I, for one, hope that, nomination or no nomination, she continues the important work she has done. Maybe losing will give her a change to be more honest than she has been thus far in her political career? Maybe she will tell some the men to kiss her ass? Then again, maybe not.

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Might I suggest that if Obama is your candidate, as he may be mine soon enough, that it doesn’t mean we have to bash women, applaud sexist language, or ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton has fought many of the fights that matter.

This is the one area that has bothered me most about this primary season. You have people who are voting for Hillary just because she's a woman. On the other hand, you have sexist pigs (both male and female!) who won't vote for her just because of her sex.

Idiotic all the way around. We should be past this by now.

The reality for those of us paying attention is that there isn’t exactly another woman positioned behind her to try again in four of even eight years.

That's a pretty broad claim to be making....

If we turned back the clock 8 years, would many people have expected Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, and Mike Huckabee to all be serious contenders for president? More precisely, would people have even known who they were, besides Clinton?

8 years is a long time and I'm sure there are lots of talented women who will gain some national attention between now and then or who'll work their careers within the party and run as relative no-names (like Mitt and Obama did) in 8 years. I mean, just because you can't name them now, doesn't mean they don't exist.

And I'd say Kathleen Sebelius is there. I think Obama, should he win, would do well to nominate her as VP. That'd be a cool ticket.

I dunno about this "Hillary ran the best campaign but she's still losing" arg either. I mean, no matter her gender, she did pick Mark Penn and Terry McAuliffe as her closest advisers, and as Pam pointed out this morning, they've all been running a pretty 1999 campaign. To pin the fact that she's run out of money or had no plan for states after Super Tuesday or that she and her staff make fun of any state that she loses or that she can't comprehend the need for anything more than a 10 state plan in the general election all on her gender seems a bit much. She's had her hand in a lot of these bad choices her campaigns made. You don't have to be a hater to see that.

It's idiotic to vote for Clinton just because she is a woman?

I wouldn't have voted for her in the presidential election for that reason (although it would have been on the short list) but that is exactly why I voted for her in the primary.

I like the idea of change too. There has never been a woman elected as president. I think that would be an incredible change. Positions and family history aside, I do think it would be a significant (and long overdue) change to have a woman run this shitty country.

Obama is all "change" all the time - like he invented the word (and people are acting like its some brilliant concept that no one thought of before he came along)...but he's still a man. And we've been playing that song for over 200 years.

Michael Bedwell | February 20, 2008 12:12 PM

All those other than Alex who aren't political junkies and have ever heard of Kathleen Sebelius please raise your hand? ...... How about "Kate" Sebelius? ..... Kathy? ..... Kater?...... KS?.....Anybody?

Bruce's MAGNIFICENT essay—thank you, Bruce—I now suggest you lock yourself in your basement. Several Obama Zombies are already looking for you with torches—used the verb "positioned" to try—not simply "talented."

Whatever mistakes Sen. Clinton and her campaign have made, and I acknowledge there have been many without bowing to the Obama Borg mentality that Pam, if you mean Spaulding, shamelessly tumbled into somewhere between McClurkingate and now, they have not been her biggest problem. They are not the reason we’re likely to see a canonization in Denver this summer, and I don’t mean of her.

The greatest political asset she had going into the election was nearly 15 years of name recognition, so, by simple math, Sibelius couldn't catch up with her within Bruce's eight-year span no matter what she does.

But she had something no other woman past or for the foreseeable future also had—the damage to her image, the albatrosses hung around her neck by the “Arkansas Project”—the DOCUMENTED millions of dollars spent by right wing political loon Richard Mellon Scaife in an attempt to destroy both she and her husband before she had ever run for any office [which, OF COURSE, they knew she would some day do]. I’m still amazed that, along the way, she let herself be buffaloed into not naming names, and dates and dollars, beyond alluding to a “vast right wing conspiracy” which by its very lack of specificity mostly got her further smeared with paranoia and excuse-making. Anyone unfamiliar with Scaife’s crusade should Google it for pure fascination of how much brainwashing of millions one obsessed little but rich man can do. Alas, much to his and Indiana’s Dan Burton’s chagrin, she’s yet to be indicted for having Vince Foster killed.

In short, most of the kind of negative “ops” damage that all campaigns do to a degree had already been done for anyone who would run against her. And, political junkie issue-related animosity aside, virtually all of what weighted her down before she even announced were about her as a person not her ideas, good or bad. The “negatives” that, as the spin goes, would prevent her from beating any Republican, even a dead one.

Even anti-Hillary Dems began repeating word-for-word the demonizing mantra straight out of the Republican playbook, while, when finding little to lynch her for in HER legislative record, pulled McCarthyism out of mothballs and lynched her for what her husband allegedly did or did not do.

While she had already been dressed up like a pinata of a female AntiChrist just waiting to be clubbed, Obama’s advantage was that he was, save for The Speech in 2004 whose actual eloquence was measured in inverse proportion to the barely able to speak at all Bush years, an empty vessel decorated with platitudes into which people could pour whatever they wanted to. He IS extremely intelligent, accomplished in some areas, and tried to be a little wonky early on, but his campaign manager quickly convinced him that just as Sen. Clinton’s greatest weakness was personality-related, alleged and real, he could make personality alone his greatest asset, alleged and real.

Which brings me to the observations of Blake Fleetwood at the Huffington Post:

"[Deval] Patrick was a political newcomer who swept office on the promise of change in a campaign crafted by the same Svengali, David Axelrod, who created and packaged both of them.

Both were black and came out of nowhere. Deval, with a prep school education, is perhaps an even more gifted orator than Obama, if you watch the original "Just Words" speech. …

The Obama campaign tells its supporters not to discuss policy... stick to the inspirational story and promises of change and hope. They are afraid that policy discussions will only bring out enemies.

Let Obama be what the voters want him to be -- is the theme campaign workers are told to stress."

And that quickly worked wonders. Mainstream media, already willing pawns of the Anybody But Hillary mindset, started clapping and woofing like trained seals. As pretty however hollow words were his first claim to national fame, he repeated the act over and over, with only minor variation, and when he ran out of his own words, Axelrod was ready with ones that had worked for Patrick.

Still, they got a huge shock in New Hampshire, when contrary to MSM preprinted obituaries, Hillary emerged alive and kicking. What to do? What to do? What can we hit her with that sticks like Super Glue before Super Tuesday?

Ta Duh! Ladies & Germs, we give you The Race Card! And dealing the first hand, on MSNBC the very morning after NH, was campaign co-manager Jesse Jackson, Jr. Those “tears” in New Hampshire that MSM has already been subjected to pseudo scientific analysis???? WHERE were her tears for Katrina victims????? Black South Carolina voters have a right to wonder about that. [You can look it up if you don’t believe that’s exactly how he spun it.]

Then begins to circulate a list of alleged racist comments by Clintonistas. Then allegedly above it all black Dem power player Donna Brazile weighs in saying that she’s offended AS an African-American because Mr. Clinton has suggested that the image of Mr. Obama as Mr. Wonderful is a “fairy tale.” Hmmm. I’ve been around quite a while, and have never seen that connection made.

And, now, long after having been happy to be made a superdelegate, Ms. Brazile is challenging the very idea of superdelegates—that is, if they should dare annoint anyone but……wait for it…….Barack Obama. And they say the Clintons will say and do anything….

But back to the observations of Mr. Fleetwood:

“In Massachusetts, a groundswell for change, and promises of change, were not enough for Patrick to produce change. Patrick eventually needed to succeed in the tough, stalemated political system that he was criticizing, and he failed miserably.

Deval tried to ignore the real world politics that dominated the Massachusetts legislature and quickly became bogged down with rookie mistakes. He squandered the goodwill of the voters and many of them turned against him. Many Democrats regretted their votes for someone they now consider a false prophet.”

Knowing virtually nothing about MA politics I have no idea if his description of contemporary reality is substantively correct. But the style, mes amis, the style—like the rhetorical ruffles and flourishes—I’ve been watching for the past 10 months.

It's quite easy to understand why Hillary's campaign is on its last legs while Obama continues to win state after state: America wants a President who is more leader than politician.

Hillary is the very definition of the term "politician". She parses her answers razor-thinly, saying what she'd prefer rather than what she'll actually stand for. She avoids taking a stand on issues that are controversial in even the smallest way (like our issues), and even when she does speak to those issues, she avoids definitives like the plague. While Obama uses words like "absolutely" and "must", Hillary uses terms like "I'd like", "I want", and "I'd prefer". In short, Hillary speaks like a politician looking to protect herself and her party from having to take a concrete stand on anything, while Obama speaks like a leader, someone who is willing to set a concrete agenda and work to bring it about.

In my opinion, more than anything else, that's what the American people are responding to in Obama and why as time goes larger and larger percentages of the electorate are turning toward him and away from Hillary. He inspires because he gives voters something to really believe in.

The American public is not quite as stupid as it used to be, as uninformed as Hillary and the Democratic Party leadership seem to think it still is. We've learned our lesson with Bush and the Republicans, and voters now recognize empty political rhetoric for what it is. Hillary doesn't represent change, not just because she's a Clinton, but because she still plays the game by the old rules, hoping that will be enough.

It isn't enough, not anymore. After 7+ years of Bush, America is demanding more than the same old political gameplaying and Hillary has made it abundantly clear that we cannot expect anything more from her. On the other hand, Obama has been campaigning on the idea that Americans no longer have to accept that kind of politics, that he offers something different and something better.

In any case, it's too late for her now. She's waited to long to present herself as a real leader. The momentum is on Obama's side, and this late into the process, it's just too late for Hillary to do a turnaround. Obama will be the nominee, and he will be our next President.

Simply put, Obama is the right candidate, with the right agenda and the right words, at the right time. Hillary is none of those things. In the end, it's really no more complicated than that.

I have to agree with Alex about the ineptitude of Hillary's campaign. This race was hers to lose and it appears she just may do it.

Terry McAuliffe is a fucking idiot and Clinton deserves to lose for keeping the son-of-a-bitch around this long. To have the tide against you for this long and not be able to pivot and change tactics speaks to a piss poor campaign staff and yes-men advisors.

That's the problem with loyalty - you get yourself fucked in the end. Like Bush, the Clintons expect loyalty above all else. Those who are blindly loyal are also blind to reality. Someone should have told her she was losing ground and suggested a fix. Someone should have told her to reign in Bill. Someone should have told her she was going to have to go beyond Super Tuesday and that ground work needed to start NOW.

It seems like they just told her everything was going to be all right and to calm her pretty little head.

I'm a Hillary supporter and I can see the inept campaign. She had the right campaign plan to start, but she didn't have a plan B. She had no counter to a grassroots movement. She didn't think it was possible because she was still playing old school politics.

Things have changed. The internet has engaged young people like no other time in our history. They're coming to the polls, they're sending money, and even though Hillary is just as historic a candidate as Obama, Obama was able to capitalize on this and turn his candidacy into a movement. Hillary was too busy telling everyone her nomination was inevitable.

It's sad really. The most competent, able, and ready woman ever to set foot into the presidential ring is going to get her ass handed to her by a veritable neophyte. And its all because she didn't pay attention to the sea change in politics brought about by the abusive Bush administration and the evolution of the Internet.

Bruce Parker Bruce Parker | February 20, 2008 3:02 PM

Surely it hasn't come to this. Jerame agrees with Alex? My heart has stopped.

I agree that Hillary's campaign has sucked. To be honest, I have found it very disapointing. My arguement is that her gender has in many ways placed her in a bind that doesn't give her room to run a totally different campaign.

While it has been hard to find much in Rebecca's writing about Obama to get on board with because I resist Obama Saviour Syndrome. I think she is onto something when she says the country is looking for a leader not a politician. Sadly, I don't think a woman would be allowed to frame a campaign in that way and if Hillary had operated as a "leader" not a "politician" she wouldn't be as far in the campaign as she is now.

Brylo, who use to contribute here, says that regardless of who wins we are all gonna have plenty of time to be disapointed. I tend to agree with her. It is pretty easy to frame yourself as leading a movement during a campaign but when the nitty gritty details of leading begin to consume Obama's time he will have to be a politician, an administrator, and a leader.

All in all, the criticisms that Alex levels against Hillary aren't something I would spend time debating. I would just argue that her gender isn't invisible in any of them or in the context that has directed many of her actions.

Obama's race has been front and center in the race thus far and the discussions around it. How can it not be? Hillary's gender seems to remain unspoken and off the list of acceptable things to think through regarding the race.

Alex take a deep breath and ask yourself if somewhere in your feminist male head you can accept that maybe Hillary's gender has been a factor in the media coverage of her campaign, in the type of campaign she has ran and in the opposition to her campaign that she has faced.

Michael Bedwell | February 20, 2008 3:36 PM

I agree Sen. Clinton is likely to get beaten, but, Jerame, again, I think you underestimate the fact that she enterred the race not just being "competent, able, and ready" but already demonized whereas he enterred with a blank slate—and has, in terms of avoiding substance, wisely kept it that way. Far from "her nomination to lose," it was destined to be an uphill battle against the appearance of any candidate with the three characteristics I named.

One of her appeals was that she declared without mentioning Kerry's name that she would, unlike him, fight back if the Republicans tried to Swift Boat her. Perhaps she is indictable for not anticipating that the most vicious attack would come from another Dem and it would fly under the flag of "Racist!" Someone, anyone, please tell me how a white candidate already being demonized in every other way can successfully fight back against a chorus of famous blacks from Jesse Jackson, Jr. to Donna Brazile singing that? Approach the answer, if you must, from a purely hypothetical standpoint; assuming it didn't actually happen as I believe.
If it had, what would you have told her to do?

Even before the Swift Boat Obama turned her campaign into the Titanic, think back at all the commentary that has appeared on Bilerico. The majority of what I've seen could be reduced to either Obama is the one simply because he's not Hillary [or rather I should say "the best one" because if he hadn't been running this mindset would have chosen someone else "not Hillary"] or Obama is the one because he blah blah blah which isn't Seinfeldian short hand for "etc., etc," but for Glorious Nothingness.

Rebecca's screed is yet another example of the latter. Classic "selective perception." Dumping on Hillary without documentation while documenting no SUBSTANCE about Obama. She's chosen to believe his hype [versus Hillary or another candidate's hype] and rhetoric, but, just one example, where's the "leadership" she talks about? NO ONE's political campaign proves leadership ability for the office at stake. Proving you're a great campaigner is not the same as a proving you'll be a great President. I grant you that well-intentioned people can "see" that in any candidate but it's a false construct regardless of whom we're talking about. I look at clouds and can "see" a ducky and a horsey.

Put another way, assuring someone you're trying to seduce that you're a great lover is just that, merely seduction. We ain't in bed yet. But Obama is right about one thing, though I doubt he'd like this application of it: not since Reagan have we seen more naked, throbbing proof that EVERY political campaign is ultimately religion-like at its core. And all Rebecca is demonstrating is that Obama is better at convincing voters he's the Messiah than Sen. Clinton or Edwards or Richardson or Biden or Dodd or Kucinich or Gravel were.

But, sadly, faith is not always fairly rewarded. I fear Rebecca has lost out as winner of the "Typical Obama Supporter Contest" who is:

Surely it hasn't come to this. Jerame agrees with Alex? My heart has stopped.

We agree on a surprisingly large number of issues. It's funny because we have pretty different ways of expressing ourselves, but we pretty much agree on everything of importance, at least as far as I've seen.

Alex take a deep breath and ask yourself if somewhere in your feminist male head you can accept that maybe Hillary's gender has been a factor in the media coverage of her campaign, in the type of campaign she has ran and in the opposition to her campaign that she has faced.

Wasn't saying that gender had no part, I was just saying that it was part of what's caused her campaign to hit the slump it's in. Part. Your post made it sound like it was the only thing, but there were choices she made that she didn't have to make, no matter her gender, that came back to haunt her.

But, then again, you don't want to discuss the choices that she could have made. But I'm wondering where a discussion about her campaign that refuses to go into specific decisions that she's made will end up. Probably no where fun, since I don't see any connection between being a woman and hiring a union-buster like Penn and an old-school campaigner like McAuliffe, unless it's the fact that she had much more access to the party's established machinery because of her husband. But she didn't have accept that sort of help, just as she didn't have to vote for the war, etc.

And in all this, it just seems like the fact that white women have historically had access to power through dynasty in ways that ethnic and racial minorities haven't (and Hillary's specific access to those power structures through her specific dynasty) is lost. You point out that it's historic a couple of times that Obama's getting this far but don't really seem to care, but I hope we aren't getting to the point where we're saying that being a black man is just as easy when it comes to getting a job like president as being a white man, or going further like some Clinton supporters have and saying that a Black man has it easier than a white man would because white progressives feel guilty and just make life so easy for Black people.

Obama's run a good campaign and he's seeing the results of it. Clinton hasn't and she's seeing the results of that. And honestly the only ones who really lose are us because neither of them is going to bring the troops home, get us single-payer health care, or pass anything in the list of progressive policies that the country was ready for 10 years ago because these two clowns are too afraid to move away from the center-right.